When NBA officials claim the June draft will be one of the deepest ever, they aren’t lying.
In a recent random poll of five veteran NBA scouts and front office executives, no less than 21 players received at least one vote for being a potential lottery pick – or a top 14 selection.
“This draft is so much better than last year’s draft,’’ a longtime Eastern Conference player personnel director said. “There are a lot of good to very good players, one of the best we’ve had.’’
The only perceived negative to the 2017 draft class is the lack of a franchise-changing player. You won’t find any players the ilk of LeBron James in this cast.
Yet, NBA personnel are enamored with the fact that you don’t have to have a top three pick to come away with a potential star.
In fact, the prevailing opinion is that nine players could be impactful players in their first pro season. That elite list includes a slew of blue-chip point guards: Markelle Fultz of Washington, Lonzo Ball of UCLA, De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky and Dennis Smith of North Carolina State.
Rounding out that special group of nine players are shooting guard Malik Monk of Kentucky, small forwards Jayson Tatum of Duke, Josh Jackson of Kansas and Jonathan Isaac of Florida State and power forward Lauri Markkanen of Arizona.
And, who is the best of the best?
That would be Ball, who collected 65 points in the voting, which awarded 14 points to a player who was ranked first on each NBA official’s list to one point for the player who is ranked 14h-on their list.
“Ball has the complete offensive package,’’ an Eastern Conference scout said. “What I really like is that he can get his shot whenever he wants.’’
Added a Western Conference scout on Ball: “Nobody in this draft can change a game like him.’’
But Ball barely edged Fultz as the numero uno draft prospect among those polled. Ball received 63 points – a mere two points fewer than Ball. What’s more, Fultz was tabbed the top player by two NBA officials – the same number as Ball.
A longtimeNBA official, who has been heavily involved in the draft process for nearly two decades, said he chose Fultz for one reason: “He’s the best all-around player in the draft. He can do everything pretty well. I’ve always had him as the No. 1 guy in this draft. ’’
Two individuals who were polled, though, didn’t agree and didn’t even have Ball as one of their top two choices. One ranked Fultz third on his board, while another had Fultz fifth on his board.
Interestingly, the other remaining first-place vote went to Jackson. The NBA official who had Jackson first on his list conceded Fultz and Ball are better players now but contended Jackson’s long-range potential is better.
“I think when you look back three or four years from now, he’s going to be the best player in this draft,’’ the NBA exec said of Jackson. “I think he’s going to be great.’’
Jackson finished with 57 points in the voting, or just one point ahead of the fourth-place finisher Tatum.
After Ball, Fultz, Jackson and Tatum, there was a grouping of another four players, based on the voting. Those four were Monk (48 points), Fox (44), Smith (43) and Isaac (30).
While Smith was generally regarded as the seventh or eighth-best draft prospect by those polled, one personnel official rated him third, ahead of Fultz.
Smith, an explosive scorer, averaged 18.1 points per game for the Wolfpack this season. Of the top-nine ranked players in this survey, only Fultz (23.2 points) and Monk (19.8 points) averaged more points than Smith.
Markkanen, who is the prototypical “stretch four’’ with his exceptional shooting range, wound up ninth poll with 30 points.
There was then a distinct dropoff with the next highest vote-getter being Gonzaga freshman forward Zach Collins.
“This is where the draft gets interesting,’’ an NBA executive said. “Those nine guys are pretty much locked in. After him (Markkanen), there’s a lot of guys who could sneak into the tailend of the lottery.’’
Indeed, here is the voting results of the five officials and they ranked the 21 players who garnered at least one lottery vote:
- Lonzo Ball, PG,-UCLA – 65
- Fultz, PG, Washington — 63
- Josh Jacksond, SF, Kansas —57
- Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke — 56
- Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky — 48
- De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky —44
- Dennis Smith, PG, N. Carolina St. — 43
- Jonathan Isaac, SF, Florida St. — 38
- Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona — 30
- Zach. Collins, PG, Gonzaga — 13
- TJ Leaf, PF, UCLA — 12
- Frank Ntilikina, PG, France — 10
- Bam Adebayo, PF/C, Kentucky — 9
- Luke Kennard, SG, Duke — 8
- John Collins, PF, Wake Forest – 6
- Harry Giles, PF-C, Duke – 5
- Justin Patton, C, Creighton – 4
- Ivan Rabb, PF, California – 4
- Terrance Ferguson, SG, Australia – 3
- Jarrett Allen, C, Texas – 2
- Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA – 2
Some other draft tidbits gleaned from the poll:
- While it’s assumed Ball or Fultz will go 1-2 in the draft, Tatum actually had more second-place votes than either of them with two.
- The NBA official who has Anigbogu in the 14th spot on his draft board said, “That may be a little high, but I love his upside. He’s a man-child.’’
- Not one senior cracked the Top 14 list. There’s a reasonably good chance not one senior will even be selected in the first round.
- While a handful of point guards could be taken in the lottery, there might not be another drafted after that in the first round.
- An Eastern scout on Monk: “He’s just a natural scorer. And everybody in our league needs scorers.’’
- Giles is unquestionably the X-factor in the draft. While he is immensely talented, he’s been saddled with knee injuries and subsequent surgeries. Suffice to say, the medical reports on him at next week’s pre-draft camp in Chicago will go a long way in determining where he is selected.
- A Western Conference player personnel director on Zach Collins: “He’s the biggest riser in the draft.’’
- A Western Conference scout on Fox: “He’s the quickest guy in the draft; heck, he’s going to be one of the quickest guys in the NBA next season.’’
- Same Western Conference scout on Smith: “He’s maybe the most confusing guy in the draft. I will say this, though: nobody questions his talent.’’
Photo courtesy of Jeff Jacobsen, Kansas Athletics