2016 NBA Draft Big Board: Version 1

With the NBA lottery just a week away, we size up the top of the NBA draft in our first big board of the season.

The Sixers would likely decide between Ben Simmons (pictured) or Brandon Ingram if they win May 17th's lottery | Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers would likely decide between Ben Simmons (pictured) or Brandon Ingram if they win May 17th’s lottery | Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA pre-draft combine coming up this week, and the lottery exactly one week away, NBA draft season is about to swing into high gear.

It’s a period of time the Sixers have a lot invested. Between their own pick — which, when you factor in the Kings pick swap, includes a 26.9 percent chance at the #1 pick and a 49.5 percent chance at a top-2 pick — the 44.2 percent chance they get an additional top-5 pick from the Lakers, along with the 24th and 26th overall pick from the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, respectively, the Sixers could finally get some of that certainty they’ve been chasing over the past few years.

With draft season now in full swing, we’re going to gear up our coverage leading up to the NBA draft, and the release of my first official big board will kick that off.

Keep in mind, this is my big board, which means it’s my own personal rankings, not how I predict the draft will unfold. If you want my latest mock draft, you can go check out the one I publish for USA Today. Also, this is very Sixers-centric, which basically means it’s what I would do if I were making the decisions for the Sixers. How does that impact the rankings? Not much, as when I’m looking at a top-5 pick, I’m mostly going for the best player available. If the Sixers had the talent to worry about fit, they’d likely not be in the position to draft in the top 5.

That being said big men, specifically those that don’t have enough range on their jump shots to space the floor, or that I don’t have confidence will develop range on their jump shot, and who can’t defend in space are knocked down a bit.

I will release at least one more big board before June 23rd’s draft, and one that will extend all the way out through the entire first round. Things will likely change, at least somewhat. While you can see from last year that my big board usually doesn’t change substantially (the first five iterations here, and the final big board posted here at Philadelphia magazine), I do re-evaluate things right up until the draft.

If rankings do change, it’s not so much  that whatever new information came out influenced the ranking, but instead that I went back and watched more tape, zeroing in on strengths or weaknesses I previously noted, and re-evaluating how that impacts my thoughts on their long-term projectability.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the prospects.

Tier 1

1. Ben Simmons, freshman, power forward, LSU

34.9 minutes, 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.0 steals per game, 56% FG%, 33.3% 3PT%, 67% FT%.

Ben Simmons is still the best talent in this draft, a stance I have held firm on the entire season. Yes, Brandon Ingram’s jump shot and two-way potential make him an easy fit on any team, but that’s not really the goal here. With how uncertain the Sixers future is, having a guy who you have to build around isn’t something to be avoided, especially when he has the kind of elite court vision and creativity Simmons has. That creativity, at a position that isn’t typically asked to initiate the offense and against defenders who aren’t frequently asked to deny dribble penetration or fight through high pick and rolls, could put an incredible amount of pressure on a defense, and also make roster construction much easier down the line. Point guards like Patrick Beverley, who you otherwise might focus on what he can’t do (mediocre playmaking and court vision, not a volume scorer, etc), you can now target because of his elite defense and reliable catch-and-shoot shot. Simmons’ unique skill set opens up the possibility for those type of players.

You’ll frequently hear people say “Simmons has great vision for a power forward”. No, he has great vision. No qualifiers are needed. In the Sports-Reference database, his 158 assists are the most by a freshman forward (small forward, power forward, combo forward, power forward/center) dating back to the 1993-94 season, and that’s in spite of the fact that his teammates, more or less, couldn’t shoot, and the one real legitimate shooter LSU had, Keith Hornsby, suffered through injury problems. It’s no coincidence that LSU’s season imploded when Hornsby went down for the year.

Much is made about how Simmons won’t be able to just bully his way into the paint in the NBA, that his lack of shooting will catch up to him. To a degree, that’s certainly true. But the spacing he’ll get offensively should be worlds better on a competent NBA team than it was at LSU. From rule changes (both hand checking and illegal defense), to the longer three-point line, to the NBA’s emphasis on spacing, the current league is tailor-made for a player of Simmons’ skill set to succeed.

At the top of the draft, I want unique, dominant, outlier skills. Simmons’ combination of athleticism and elite, preternatural, almost unprecedented court vision at his position has the chance to be the most outlier skill to come out of this draft.

I also think his defense has a chance of improving down the line, too, especially in today’s switch-heavy league, as Simmons was horribly miscast as a 5-man in a 2-3 zone, like he spent much of the season doing at LSU. The only way this pick changes for me is if you go through the interview process and major red flags are exposed, which isn’t 100% out of the question with how LSU ended their season, but of which I’m going to need more verification of than a few games at the end of a college season to rule out his unique talent.

2. Brandon Ingram, freshman, small forward, Duke

34.6 minutes, 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.4 blocks per game, 44.2% FG%, 41.0% 3PT%, 68.2% FT%

I like Brandon Ingram. A lot. I’d be happy if he ended up being a Sixer. I think he’s going to end up being a wing who can be effective both off the ball in catch and shoot situations and cutting to the basket, but also on the ball creating with those deceptive, long strides. I thought his body control and touch around the hoop were pleasant surprises and that, along with his height and unique physical attributes, really set him apart as a scorer, although I’d like to see him get more comfortable pulling up off the dribble to really develop into that go-to scorer I think people want him to be.

I do think he’s currently being overrated just a tad, though. I don’t think his first step or overall athleticism are as good as some advertise. Kevin Durant comparisons just aren’t fair. Second, his defensive reputation exceeds his current defensive production. His lateral mobility isn’t great, nor does he change direction at an elite level, and he doesn’t get into a good, low defensive stance as frequently as he should. His incredible length gives him pretty good recovery potential, and certainly helped him mask those deficiencies at the collegiate level, but that’s going to be harder in the pro’s. I do think his problems are mostly correctable and I do think he develops into a two-way player, but he’s not there yet, at least consistently.

Tier 2

3. Dragan Bender, 18 years old, power forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israeli League)

12.2 minutes, 4.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks per game, 42.6% FG%, 36.8% 3PT%, 71.9% FT%

Even in this pace-and-space offensive era, I think we underrate perimeter shooting and floor spacing, especially in the front court. I also think it’s hard to overstate the necessity of big men who have the lateral mobility to switch on pick and rolls and defend multiple positions. Finding somebody who can do both is not only rare, but a real competitive advantage. In this sense, Dragan Bender could be as much of a white whale as Kristaps Porzingis has proven to be for New York.

People are going to focus a lot on what Bender can’t do. They’ll focus on his frame, his missed rotations, not being an elite shot blocker, limited low post game despite his height, his lack of projectability as a go-to scorer, on playing just 12 minutes per game. All valid. But when you have a big man who can space the floor and also be a versatile defender, those are the kind of players who have the chance to contribute on every trip down the floor, on both ends of the floor, and you’re not really relying on a huge amount of skill development for him to be useful, as he doesn’t really need to be a complete player to have a role in the NBA. Even if he doesn’t develop into the first, or even second, option on a team, he’s going to have a lot of value, especially on a team that’s going to look to build a two-man game centered around a currently-unspecified-point-guard and one of their big men prospects (hopefully Joel Embiid, if he stays healthy).

Tier 3

4. Kris Dunn, junior, point guard, Providence

33 minutes, 16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.5 steals, 3.5 turnovers per game, 44.8% FG%, 37.2% 3PT%, 69.5% FT%

If there’s two things I don’t like in a point guard prospect, it’s turnovers and an inconsistent jumper. Kris Dunn has both of them in spades.

His turnovers can partly be blamed by Providence’s poor floor spacing, but not all of it. He simply makes too many poor, careless, borderline irresponsible decisions with the ball. His shooting is maddeningly inconsistent, draining a soft pull-up jumper one possession, then nearly breaking the backboard with a miss three feet off to the left on the next, with little difference in pressure from his defender. His pull-up and midrange game are better than a complete non-shooter, but his three-point shot is so inconsistent that his 37 percent mark isn’t very representative of his ability either, in my opinion.

That being said his physical profile — 6’4″ size, 6’9″ wingspan, elite elevation in traffic, ability to change direction and explode on a dime — is so great, and this draft so relatively weak after the top 2, that I’m willing to take a chance. Despite being a 4-year junior and 22 years old, his first two years were practically throwaway years because of shoulder injuries, so maybe he can correct some of these potentially fatal flaws. His defense, while overrated because of his gaudy steal numbers, still has the chance to be a huge plus at his position. There’s enough to work with here that I’m willing to take a chance. And, really, at this point in the draft, you’re taking a chance on any of them.

I recently wrote a detailed scouting report on Kris Dunn for DraftExpress. Feel free to read that at DraftExpress.com.

5. Timothe Luwawu, 21 years old, shooting guard, Mega Leks (Adriatic League)

30.9 minutes, 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals per game, 39.9% FG%, 37.5% 3PT%, 68.9% FT%

This is the point where my big board starts to diverge from consensus.

I’m in a little bit of a weird position with Timothe Luwawu, a french wing currently playing in the Adriatic League. I was a fan of Luwawu heading into last year’s draft, when he was playing in anonymity in France’s second division. Since then he’s improved in a big way, finishing with averages of 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game, while shooting 37 percent from three-point range for Mega Leks.

That being said, Luwawu has developed a little bit of a cult following among some, likely fueled, in part, because of the uninspiring crop of prospects in this range of the draft. I’m not sure he’s as good of a prospect as some are making him out to be.

His defense, right now, is more potential than actualized production, as his defensive fundamentals, and focus, have him getting beat more than somebody with his quickness and physical tools should. Like Ingram, however, this should be corrected with time, experience, and coaching. The other area I think he’s overrated is as a scorer. In some ways, he’s a little bit like Andre Iguodala* in that you see him pull off these incredibly athletic dunks in transition and think he should be able to create at a high level off the bounce, but then he’ll struggle to finish at the rim when contested in the half court. He shies away from contact and doesn’t really have the touch to make up for that, and compounds that by being out of control and taking shots that he shouldn’t. I think this is probably the bigger long-term concern.

Still, his improved shooting is important, he has the size and athleticism to develop into an effective three-and-d wing player, and he has the ball skills and first step to potentially develop into more than that. My suggestion would be to go in hoping for a versatile, valuable role player, and be pleasantly surprised if he develops into more than that.

Disclaimer: When I say he’s a little bit like Andre Iguodala, I’m talking about his finishing at the rim, not his overall level as a prospect. While the two share some similarities, Iguodala’s defense is the exception to the rule, even among those with elite physical tools. I am not projecting Luwawu to be that level of a defensive player. 

Tier 4

6. Denzel Valentine, senior, point guard/shooting guard, Michigan State

33 minutes, 19.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.7 turnovers per game, 46.2% FG%, 44.4% 3PT%, 85.3% FT%

This is the tier where I start to go “Well, they have skill, but….”

It’s also the tier where things start to get really fluid. Depending on my day and mood, I could re-order these next three pretty easily.

Valentine’s interesting because he’s a wing prospect who might not be capable of defending anybody on the court, but he’s the rare non-defender who I absolutely love. His perimeter shot has steadily improved over the years, hitting on 44.4 percent of his 234 three-point attempts as a senior. He can shoot off the catch, off the dribble, and off of screens. He can change direction effortlessly with the ball in his hands. He’s crafty off of pick and rolls and knows how to get into the paint despite his limited athleticism. He rebounds the heck out of the ball for his position. But most impressive, to me, is his decision making, which goes beyond the 7.8 assists, to just 2.7 turnovers, he averaged per game, and a skill that I think is as important as any to team success.

I will always have a spot on my roster for elite decision makers, and Valentine was as good as any in the country over the past two seasons, making snap decisions and quick reads with the ball in his hand, and he doesn’t need to dominate the ball to make use of his passing talent. His defense is bad, and you’re going to have to try to hide him on the opponents worst wing player, but I think he’s a smart enough defender that, if you can get him to fully buy in on that side of the ball (something which should be easier playing less minutes and carrying less of an offensive burden), you should be able to accomplish this on most nights, and I think he absolutely has a role in this league.

This is also the part of the draft where just because I have somebody rated 6th doesn’t mean I think they’re going to be a star. A pre-draft ranking is in relation to the rest of the draft class, not the rest of the league. The rest of the draft class has enough uncertainty that I’m willing to “settle” for a role player I have a high degree of confidence in, and whose skill set I really value, which is why Valentine (and, to a lesser extent, Luwawu) is rated so highly for me.

7. Wade Baldwin, sophomore, point guard, Vanderbilt

30.4 minutes, 14.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.8 turnovers per game, 42.7% FG%, 40.6% 3PT%, 79.9% FT%

Another guy who I’m higher on than consensus, but I think some on the statistical community overrate slightly.

Baldwin’s intrigue starts around his physical profile, standing 6’3″ in height, with a 6’10” wingspan, and a strong, developed upper body. Like most young guards, his attentiveness frequently wanes on the defensive end, and his fundamentals need some work. But his wingspan, his lateral mobility, and his strength give him potential on the defensive side of the court few have, and he has a willingness to defend suggests he has a decent chance of reaching that potential down the line.

That defensive potential at the point of attack, and one without any glaring weaknesses (isolation, pick and roll, playing the passing lanes, etc), is the main reason he’s so high for me. His offensive game is mostly potential at this point in time. He’s a good spot-up shooter, which, along with his defense, makes him very intriguing in a scenario where the Sixers run their offense through a non-traditional position, like they might with Ben Simmons. His shooting breaks down a bit off the dribble which, combined with his below average ball handling, lack of misdirection moves, and not showing much feel for changing speeds, limits his shot creation in the half court, and something he has to improve upon.

I’d also like to see more of an in-between game from him. Not only the pull-up jumper, which is very inconsistent, but some form of a floater in the lane, if for no other reason than to make him less predictable when driving to the basket. He got to the line at an elite level in college, but when he goes up against NBA level interior defenders I think he could struggle a bit, at least early in his career.

That being said, there’s enough there — size, defense, spot-up shooting — that I’m willing to take a gamble here and hope he develops more than the norm.

I recently wrote a detailed scouting report of Wade Baldwin for DraftExpress. You can read that at DraftExpress.com.

8. Jamal Murray, freshman, shooting guard, Kentucky

35.2 minutes, 20.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.3 turnovers per game, 45.4% FG%, 40.8% 3PT%, 78.3% FT%

Murray can shoot. He can shoot really, really well. He can shoot on the move, after running off of a double baseline screen, as well as any young player in this draft. That skill, both in terms of having the knowledge to use those off-the-ball screens and having the footwork to consistently, and accurately, get that shot up is impressive. I also think that skill — shooting not only off the ball, but on the move — puts a lot of pressure on a defense, as it requires multiple defenders acting in concert with each other to effectively stop. Any time an offensive player can force multiple defenders to pay attention to him, it’s going to open up the offense, even more than a shooter typically would.

I also think Murray has more stuff as a passer than perhaps he is given credit for. It’s a weird thing to say, since his game really took off when Kentucky moved him off the ball and limited his responsibilities creating in the half court, but when you limit his shot creation to attacking closeouts and making the correct reads out of that, I think his decision making becomes a positive rather than the negative it was earlier on in the season. That makes him slightly more than a one-trick pony.

But man, the defensive concerns are real. I suppose the biggest endorsement I can give his defense is that not only is his poor defense a result of athletic concerns, but he’s also a poor technique defender. That’s a weird compliment, but at least it can be improved upon.

Perhaps most alarming, to me, is that I even have some concern that his shot may not translate at a high level, or at least at the elite level he would need it to be at in order to be effective with his limited defense. This concern exists for two reasons. First, he could struggle to get open off the ball against NBA caliber defenders. The game against Indiana, where he shot 7-18 overall and 1-9 from three against NBA caliber quickness and length, is the perfect example. Second, he has a low, in-front-of-his-head release that could need some slight modification when he loses that split second of time he needs to get his shot off. Bigger, faster, longer defenders who are just a split second crisper in their rotations always have a chance to throw shooters off of their games, and Murray, without elite size for his position and a low release, could be even more susceptible than most.

Murray should always be an extremely capable spot-up shooter, but that on-the-move ability I spoke of, which is crucial to his viability as a high draft pick, is going to be more difficult at the next level. Still, the potential is there.

I value off-the-ball scorers more than most, and especially ones who can shoot coming off of screens and on the move, and the pressure that puts on the defense, so I’m willing to take a gamble. But that kind of shows how weak this portion of the draft is, because it would be a very reluctant endorsement.

Tier 5

9. Demetrius Jackson, junior, point guard, Notre Dame

35.9 minutes, 15.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.2 turnovers, 45.1% FG%, 33.1% 3PT%, 81.3% FT%

I like Jackson. I have confidence in his outside shot, despite shooting just 33.1 percent from three-point range this season, the outlier in an otherwise solid college career from three-point range. He’s quick, can turn the corner coming off a pick, has the kind of pull-up game to keep defenders honest, and is a creative enough passer to make use of that. Despite his 6’1″ size, I think he has the requisite athleticism, long arms, and strength where to overcome that and have an effective NBA career.

10. Buddy Hield, senior, shooting guard, Oklahoma

35.4 minutes, 25.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 3.1 turnovers per game, 50.1% FG%, 45.7% 3PT%, 88.0% FT%

Few prospects in this draft are as polarizing as Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. For many who watched him take the nation by storm, he’s a star in the making. For those who heavily utilize statistical projection systems, he’s borderline undraftable. The truth is probably somewhere in-between.

While I share many of the concerns that those extremely low on Hield have — no real instinct or vision to create shots for his teammates, mediocre handles, undersized, lack of elite burst to turn the corner or athleticism around the rim, doesn’t get to the line much considering his usage — there are three reasons I’m willing to take a gamble he can develop into a capable role player.

First, I value off-the-ball, on-the-move scoring quite a bit. While Hield isn’t as good on the move as Jamal Murray, he can still ably utilize a screen and put pressure on a defense. Second, the improvement he’s shown over his four years at Oklahoma, where he was a complete non-prospect at the beginning, shows the kind of work ethic he has, something that has been corroborated by virtually everybody that has worked with Hield over the years. That’s important, especially in this draft, where you’re banking on somebody in this range improving more than the typical development curve suggests they should. Third, while he’s undersized for the two, he does have a 6’8.5″ wingspan and he’s a relatively willing defender. I think he can be capable at the next level when his offensive workload isn’t so insanely high.

Notable omissions: 

  • Jaylen Brown: Incredible athlete, but I have little to no confidence in his ability to play the game of basketball. When he wasn’t getting to the free throw line, he wasn’t making an impact. Has the chance to improve, and could make this look silly if he progresses more the typical curve, but I just don’t have confidence.
  • Jakob Poeltl: I think he’s a top-10 prospect, just not for the Sixers. Big men who can’t space the floor and have to stay near the basket defensively just don’t fit this roster, and would be unlikely to get much opportunity to showcase their skills early in their career.
  • Henry Ellenson: Like his potential offensive skill set, especially next to Joel Embiid and/or Nerlens Noel, as he has the potential to space the floor, has some face-up skills, and can rebound. I just don’t see him guarding anyone in the NBA, and I don’t think his offensive skill level is that much of an outlier to overcome that and still be an impact player.
  • Skal Labissiere & Marquese Chriss: Their long-term defensive rebounding concerns, at center and power forward, scare me off from drafting them. Both could take a couple of years before really putting it together, too, and I’m just not sure the payoff is worth it, although Skal’s combination of shot blocking / face-up game, and Chriss’ quick-twitch athleticism, are both reasons somebody could take a gamble on them late in the lottery.

Guys I like, but not enough to put into top-10 (aka target at 24/26):

We’ll discuss these guys in more detail in the coming weeks, but real quickly:

  • DeAndre Bembry: Do-it-all wing whose defensive versatility should be a real plus in the NBA. If his jumper can improve more than the mean, he could be a real solid piece.
  • Isaia Cordinier: Elite athlete who can drive to the hoop and shoot from three. Only 19 years old and was playing in second division France, so he’s extremely untested, but lots of upside for this late in the draft.
  • Caris LeVert: Talent far exceeds his ability to stay on the court. Good buy-low candidate just to see if he can get some luck down the line.
  • Gary Payton II: Will fall in the draft because of his age (23), and not an elite playmaker (32.9 percent assist rate) or shooter (31.4 percent from three, 64.2 percent from the line), but any player who can put the kind of pressure on the point of attack Payton can has my attention.
  • Patrick McCaw: Developing shooter, great size, skills handling the ball after playing point guard before a late growth spurt, good athleticism and dribble penetration ability, defensive potential. Hasn’t put it all together yet, but I like him quite a bit as a guy who has a chance put it all together and become a good all-around wing.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.