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2017 Prospect Primer: The Wings

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Games Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed my point guard primer from yesterday, you can find it here. Today, I’ll be covering the wing class in 2017, which is also a very exciting class. I’ll then cover the big men, European prospects, and two days each of returning players, one for players I like, and one for players I think are overrated.

Here are the top freshman wings in the 2017 draft class.

Josh Jackson, Kansas

DX: 5, ESPN: 1, ESPN 100: 2

6’8 with shoes, 6’10 wingspan

Age: 19.8

Why you should be excited:

Josh Jackson is awesome. He’s my number one prospect before the games have begun. TL;DR on Jackson:

He’s a freak athlete with a motor that runs all day long. He’s a competitor who takes defensive match-ups personally, giving full-effort to contain them, and usually succeeding. He’s bouncy, mobile, and fluid, with elite speed to boot. If ever there were a prospect you could project to be a lockdown perimeter athlete without having played a college game, Jackson is it.

Even better, he has real, concrete skills on the offensive end of the court. In the high school showcases, he showed off passing vision, touch on floaters, and a handle to beat his man off the dribble. In the McDonald’s game alone, he showed comfort with an in-out dribble, spin-move, and jab step arsenal.

In the current NBA climate, elite two-way wings may be the most impactful players in the game. They provide the defense guards can’t, while also providing a team the perimeter skills necessary for offenses based on ball-movement and three-point shooting. Josh Jackson is the only player in this draft who can reach that highest ceiling of wing play, and that’s why he is starting off the season on top of my board.

Why to be worried:

His jump shot might be bad. But it also might not be! He shoots with a slight hitch before releasing, which gives his shot an ugly appearance. In the games that I watched, he did shoot an efficient percentage (although obviously in a very limited sample).

If he struggles to shoot off the dribble, there’s every reason to think he can still succeed at the next level. Adding a 3-point shot would simply raise Jackson’s ceiling.

Jackson is also particularly old for his class. Already 19, he’ll turn 20 before the end of his freshman season. Like Simmons last year, however, if Jackson’s play is strong enough, his age shouldn’t be an issue.

What to watch for:

His three point shooting. It’s the magic bullet that would turn Jackson into a generational prospect.

Jayson Tatum, Duke

DX: 4, ESPN: 7, ESPN 100: 3

6’8 with shoes, 6’11 wingspan

Age: 18.6

Why you should be excited:

Jayson Tatum has been one of the highly-billed “Big 3” in the 2017 class for years, along with Jackson and Tatum’s best friend, Harry Giles. Tatum has elite size for a wing with a plus wingspan, and has showcased an incredible array of skills that allow him to score from wherever he wants, 18-feet and in.

While he lacks elite athleticism, Tatum is a great athlete in his own right, with a smooth mobility that belies his explosion. His plus length and instincts allow him to make plays on defense, even if his man-to-man coverage lags behind Jackson’s. Tatum’s footwork and post-repertoire is unparalleled among his peers.

You can see that here, as he quick steps at the 3-point line, then Eurosteps through the paint to get to the rim.

Tatum is beginning to garner a reputation in the Twitter-sphere as a poor defender, which strikes me as unfair. He’s not as fast as Jackson, so he won’t be the type of lockdown player that Jackson is, but he is certainly a willing defender, and his good feel for the game and high IQ enable him to be a capable team defender off ball. He generated steals often in the showcase games, as well as in 2015’s FIBA U-19 tournament (although the US played a particularly aggressive scheme that encouraged steals and likely boosted those numbers), showing a knack for defensive playmaking.

Why you should be worried:

Tatum might be a dinosaur trying to live in a world that’s left him behind. His range does not extend to the 3-point line, and he does most of his work in the mid-range, often operating through mid-post isos to wriggle free for a semi-contested jumper. The most concerning game I’ve watch for Tatum was the McDonald’s AA game; Jackson shut him down from the first whistle. Tatum just didn’t have the athleticism to go by Jackson, and without the ability to leverage a shot-threat into space, he struggled to score efficiently.

What to watch for:

There will be two levels on which to watch Tatum this year. The first— how efficiently can he score? Are worries about his efficiency overblown, or does he appear unlikely to succeed as a primary option?

If he continues to struggle scoring against NBA-caliber defenders, the second level will be to watch his peripheral game. How well does he pass? Does he play hard defensively? Is he fast enough to switch onto 1’s and 2’s? If it looks like Tatum won’t be a primary creator, these are the swing skills that will dictate how much value he has at the next level.

Jonathan Isaac, Florida State

DX: 12, ESPN: 8, ESPN 100: 12

6’10 with shoes, 7’1 wingspan

Age: 18.9

Why you should be excited:

Following Brandon Ingram’s emergence and growth into the second overall pick in 2016, Jonathan Isaac has generated a lot of excitement. After all, he’s another skinny, tall, and long wing player who has shown the ability to shoot the 3.

With his skillset, there is absolutely a place for him in the NBA. Playing him alongside Simmons or Covington would provide an awful lot of length and size on the wing next to whichever center emerges from the Sixers’ logjam.

Why you should be worried:

Superficially, the Ingram comparison works, but the players aren’t terribly similar beyond that. Ingram was far more polished as a ball-handler and a creator than Isaac, who is mostly relegated to spot-up duty at the moment. That’s fine, as there is undoubtedly real utility to lanky wings who can swing between the 3 and the 4 while spotting up from 3, but Isaac should be understood in those terms.

It’s also unclear how good Isaac is on defense. He certainly has the length to be a pain, but his lateral mobility seemed okay, not excellent when I watched him. I would bet that he tops out as a 3&D player with much of his value derived from how good his defense is.

What to watch for:

His defensive playmaking, handle, and passing skills. These are the skills that will help to define whether he’s an old-school stretch 4, a defensive stopper, or a two-way playmaking 4.

Terrance Ferguson, Adelaide 36ers

DX: 24, ESPN 20, ESPN 100: 11

6’7 with shoes, 6’9 wingspan

Age: 18.3

Why you should be excited:

You mean, other than this?

Ferguson is a knockdown shooter with explosive athleticism, NBA-size, and plus length. Add it all together, and you have the potential for a really nice piece to complement a team full of playmakers at the 4, 5, and (hopefully) 1 positions.

Why you should be worried:

It doesn’t look like there’s much else to Ferguson’s game outside of his shooting stroke. While it was impressive to set the Hoop Summit record for most 3-pointers made, the vast majority of those were in rhythm, catch-and-shoot attempts. In both All-Star games he played in, Ferguson showed absolutely no ability to break anyone down off the dribble, and also displayed little incisive passing.

While he is billed as a great defender, Malik Monk consistently beat him on backdoor cuts as he displayed very poor awareness. He doesn’t need to create much to be a useful player at the next level, but if he can’t defend, his shooting will be mostly useless.

What to watch for:

Ferguson will be hard to find this year, as he opted out of his commitment to Arizona and instead signed with the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian National Basketball League. If you do manage to tune into some games, pay special attention to his defense, both on- and off-ball. That’s his swing skill that will determine whether he has a place in the league or not.

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

DX: 26, ESPN 24, ESPN 100: 8

6’6 with shoes, 6’9 wingspan

Age: 18.6

Why you should be excited:

Because he’s a freak athlete who loves nothing more than he loves to jam the ball. The kid just throws down windmill, after windmill, after tomahawk, and it’s a blast. He’s got great wing size and length, and he’s strong enough to guard positions 1-4. He looks like a great candidate to fit right into the NBA’s switch-heavy defenses, given his athleticism, mobility, and size.

He also demonstrated good feel and a high motor in the games I watched. He’s unselfish, making a couple of highlight passes, and he plays hard all game. You can see some smart dump-offs here, in addition to his ridiculous dunks (and two steals).

Why you should be worried:

The scouting report on Bridges is that he’s a power forward in a wing’s body, and that he lacks the perimeter ball skills to properly play his position. That’s a view that I disagree with, but his lack of a handle is a reason for concern.

Similarly, it’s unclear whether he can shoot or not. The answer is probably that he cannot, which would hamper his future production greatly. His form looks fine to me, though, and there was some chatter during he Hoop Summit practices that he was the best 3-point shooter of the 3 best known wings (Jackson, Tatum, Bridges). So the jury is still out.

What to watch for:

His 3-point shot first and foremost. Beyond that, watch his ball skills to see if he can become a secondary or tertiary playmaker going forward. Bridges may be the freshman on which I most disagree with scouting consensus at the moment. We’ll see if my enthusiasm is justified.

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