Australian or not, if you’re not excited about Ben Simmons entering the NBA next season, then you’re not a Basketball fan. His talent has been much publicised as being a once-in-a-generation type talent, the likes of which we’ve not seen since LeBron James.
His game has been compared to that of James as well as Magic Johnson and Earvin himself seems pretty sold on his talent.
LSU's Ben Simmons is the best all around player I've seen since LeBron James came out of high school straight to the NBA!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 6, 2016
Whatever team selects Ben Simmons, will be getting a player that will have an immediate impact on their squad!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 6, 2016
While there’s no clever catch phrase like ‘Riggin for Wiggins’ this year, he’s still the favourite to be the #1 pick right now.
However, the 2016 NBA Draft is far from one-player deep. There is some incredible talent that is likely to be selected in the lottery, both from NCAA ranks and abroad, so it’s time we got to know these guys better.
Right now, NBA scouts are busy doing their own due diligence on the top prospects and one such scout has kindly offered to share some insights on how each of these prospects should fare next season.
Here’s Downtown’s first glimpse at those guys who’ve got next – the 2016 NBA Draft Class.
Ben Simmons, SF/PF, LSU (6’10, 240 lbs)
The hype-machine around Ben Simmons is in overdrive right now, but don’t think for a minute that it’s not justified. What he’s doing at LSU is nothing short of spectacular and he’s only played 23 games.
Simmons is a good chance to become the first player in SEC history to finish in the top 3 in the Conference in points, rebounds and assists, where he currently ranks 3rd, 1st and 4th respectively (per sports-reference.com through February 19). He’s also ranked 2nd in steals, 3rd in FTMs and 4th in FG%.
His PER of 30.5 leads the SEC and ranks 13th in the Nation.
Ben Simmons becomes the fourth-fastest first year player in LSU history to score 500 points in a season! pic.twitter.com/Sk1twJifbw
— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) February 18, 2016
Stats aside, Simmons’ game will translate beautifully to the pro-level. With his ability to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor, rebound and lead a fast break, run an offense, score inside and out, finish with either hand and get to the line (where he could improve), he can will make an impact right away on any team.
In January, ESPN ran an analysis of Simmons based on Player Impact Estimate (PIE). For those unfamiliar with this measure, per the article, it looks at the “percentage of game events a player achieved out of the total stats from games he appeared in. A player with PIE of greater than 10 is considered above-average, and players are rewarded for being efficient and contributing in multiple traditional stats.”
Simmons’ PIE through January 5 was 22.1, well ahead of any other pre-season All-American (Kris Dunn was 2nd at 17.8). When comparing his PIE with other one-and-done college players who’ve gone on to become NBA All-Stars – players such as Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant – Simmons tops the list, by a reasonable margin too. A good sign for sure.
His body, while not as thick as LeBron James’ at the same age, is definitely well advanced for a 19-year old so he doesn’t need to worry about spending his rookie season in the weight room.
You will, of course, hear criticism about his ability to shoot from long-range. Most of that is due to his lack of desire to shoot from that distance. He has attempted exactly three shots from downtown as a freshman, making one of those attempts, but that’s mostly because he is surrounded by talented shooters such as Antonio Blakeney, Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman. It’s simply not his role on this Tigers team, but his shooting mechanics are not in any way broken.
Per hoop-math.com, Simmons is shooting just 35.5% on 2-pt jump shots through February 19, while he’s hitting 74.1% of his FGAs at the rim. If no-one could stop you from getting to the rim, where would you focus your offensive efforts?
In any event, Simmons is the real deal. There will be some questions raised over his benching yesterday due to ‘academic reasons’, but the only questions that need to be asked are who will win the lottery and the right to draft him, and how quickly will he become a star at the next level?
SCOUT SAYS: “Simmons is an incredible talent that possesses the positional size, elite athleticism and high BBIQ that will translate to him being a very good player in the NBA. Whether he ever develops an ability to shoot the ball from distance will ultimately determine if he ever reaches his huge potential. Nevertheless, Simmons’ floor is extremely high and it’ll be very hard for any team to pass on a super talent like him.”
Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke (6’9, 195 lbs)
Former NBA All-Star come NBA and NCAA Analyst, Wally Szczerbiak tweeted on the weekend that he would take Ingram over Simmons #1 in the NBA Draft after watching them both all season.
After watching Ingram and Simmons all season. I would take Ingram over Simmons #1 in @NBA Draft.
— Wally Szczerbiak (@wallyball) February 13, 2016
I asked him what he thinks separates them (why he’d take Ingram 1st) and he responded that Ingram was the much better shooter and you have to be able to shoot in the NBA.
Szczerbiak is not alone in thinking that Ingram may have more upside than Simmons and he’s emerged as the clear #2 overall pick amongst scouts, however most still see Simmons as the safer pick.
Ingram though, has done a lot to impress this season for Coack K and is drawing comparisons to some pretty good NBA players. The most notable comparison is 2013/14 MVP, Kevin Durant and watching him play it’s very easy to see the similarities. Like KD, Ingram is a tall, long and wiry small-forward. Standing 6’10 but weighing less than 200 lbs, adding bulk to his frame is going to be his biggest challenge ahead of his rookie NBA season.
That aside, Ingram’s game will translate nicely to the modern NBA. He’s a shot-maker first and foremost, hitting .466 from the field and .409 from deep. He’s making over 2 triples per contest but also competes defensively where he’s averaging 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks along with 6.9 rebounds per game.
Like Simmons, Ingram needs to improve his FT% (.681) and his ball-handling, but he doesn’t turn it over much (1.8 per game) considering his usage (25.2%), has solid court vision and his PER of 24.8 indicates a special level of talent for someone of his limited experience.
He’s going to be special whether he goes #1 or #2.
SCOUT SAYS: “Ingram has really improved as the season has gone on. His size and length combined with his ability to space the floor with his outside shot are all translatable skills that should make him a top 3 pick in the draft. As the NBA seems to be going smaller, Ingram could be a perfect ‘4’ that can shoot the ball and defend multiple positions at the other end.”
Dragan Bender, PF/C, Croatia/Maccabi Tel Aviv (7’0, 220 lbs)
If you thought Kristaps Porzingis had a little mystery about him entering the 2015 draft, then you’re going to be extra fascinated by 18-year old Dragan Bender. His game is not as mysterious given the Dragonbender first started getting hyped after his showing at the FIBA U18 European Championships as a 16 year old in 2014, but the age old question of how it will translate Stateside still remains.
No, he’s not related to former Pacer and Knick Jonathan (I know you were wondering), but the Croatian stretch four is currently working on his game with European powerhouse club, Maccabi Tel Aviv (with whom he has a lengthy contract that would require a buyout) and despite some limited opportunities, he’s already showcasing the upside that has scouts wondering if another Zinger could be within reach.
Not quite 7’3, but still standing over 7 feet tall, Bender has incredible range already, connecting on 48.4% of his 3-point attempts in the Israeli National League (BSL) and 39.5% from deep across all competitions this season (through February 16).
While he’s not the shot-blocker that Porzingis is, his versatility for someone his size and his ability to guard multiple positions are impressive traits that will make him very hard to pass on once Simmons and Ingram are off the board.
Bender has all the tools to be an effective stretch big in the modern NBA. With his combination of ball-handling, rebounding and solid athleticism to go along with his range, it’s no wonder his playing time is increasing at Maccabi and he’s got NBA GMs dreaming of how he’ll fit on their roster.
Like Ingram, he needs to add strength but so did Porzingis, so that won’t stop him from being a high lottery pick come June.
SCOUT SAYS: “Bender is definitely the ‘mystery’ player in this year’s draft, if he declares. He’s barely played in any games during the past two seasons and is struggling finding minutes this year on a poor Maccabi Tel Aviv roster. His skill set speaks for itself though as he’s an agile 7ft PF with a smooth outside shot and great defensive instincts. Once his broad shoulders and frame fill out his upside could be as good as any in this year’s draft, which is why he could go anywhere from the top half of the lottery down.”
Jaylen Brown, SG/SF, California (6’7, 225 lbs)
After a tour down under last August to get his Collegiate career at Cal going, Brown got off to a really nice start, scoring in double-figures in his first four games and getting a double-double in two of them.
This long wing (and I mean long with his 7’1 wingspan) also has a powerful frame already, which allows him to attack at the Collegiate level relentlessly. His game is a combination of slashing, power and athleticism, while he also plays at the other end where he’s considered an impact defender.
Watching him reminds me of a combination of Kawhi Leonard and Stanley Johnson with some of the things he does, but honestly I see him as a taller version of Russell Westbrook with the way he attacks the paint. That’s a scary thought and the reason why he’s projected as a high lottery pick right now.
— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) February 19, 2016
Like a young Westbrook or Leonard, he’ll need to work on his jump shot and more consistent ball handling at the next level, but he can come in and make an impact right away with his size and aggressive style.
Brown is averaging 19.7 points per game over his last 6, up from his season average of 16ppg and he continues to figure out how to be more effective. He’s getting to the line a bunch and the more his confidence grows, the more scouts love him – and you will too.
SCOUT SAYS: “Brown has teamed up with another potential lottery pick in Ivan Rabb and put Cal basketball back atop the Pac12. A super strong and explosive athlete, Brown has the physical tools that should help him make an impact right away at the next level. Elite at getting into the paint and drawing fouls, how much he can improve his shooting will determine this kid’s ceiling. Potential top 5 pick in this year’s draft.”
Kris Dunn, PG/SG, Providence (6’4, 220 lbs)
Kris Dunn is a big, strong point guard in the mould of a John Wall, Russell Westbrook or Reggie Jackson and that size allows him to attack the basket relentlessly. He takes over 40% of his FGAs at the rim where he hits 61.2% of those attempts (per hoop-math.com).
This is from January, but holy crap Kris Dunn. pic.twitter.com/ACWopRucyC
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 21, 2016
He’s not a one-trick pony on offense though and has significantly improved his shooting mechanics and accuracy over his time at Providence. He missed virtually all of what would have been his sophomore season in 2013/14, so is now considered a junior. Dunn is connecting on just under 37% of his 3-point attempts this season and has now made more 3FGs this season than he did in his first two seasons combined.
The Providence product is also extremely athletic, super quick and has very active hands which swipe 3 steals per game. He’s still a little turnover prone but has improved in that area since last season on a per-40 minute basis, while his usage % has continued to increase (per sports-reference.com).
In addition, he sees the floor very well and creates shots for his teammates, meaning his game will translate very well to the modern day, ball-movement heavy NBA style. Oh, and he rebounds, making him a triple-double threat every time he steps onto the floor.
Dunn has already racked up one trip-dub this season and has been very close in at least seven other games. On New Year’s Eve versus then #9 ranked Butler, he put up 20 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists 2 triples and 2 steals in an 81-73 victory for the Friars. On January 24th in an overtime win over #4 ranked Villanova (now #1 in the nation), Dunn played facilitator with 13 points, 14 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 3-4 shooting from downtown.
The one knock on Dunn is around upside given his age. He’ll be 22 by the time the draft rolls around and upperclassmen rarely get drafted as high lottery picks any more. But when your play draws rave reviews, including from opposing coaches, that may trump his supposed lack of upside. Georgetown’s Head Coach, John Thompson III recently said “Kris Dunn is an elite player, best player in the country. As good a guard as I’ve seen in this league in a long time.”
SCOUT SAYS: “Dunn will be a 22-year old junior by the time the Draft comes around which is rare these days for a high lottery pick. A feisty competitor, who bet on himself and came back for his junior year of college, has really elevated his game to another level. An elite two-way guard who has the positional size, speed and ability to both score when needed and get others involved. A coaches dream in terms of competitiveness, don’t be surprised if he is a very high lottery pick come June.”
Henry Ellenson, PF/C, Marquette (6’10, 245 lbs)
Yes, yes, we’ve entered the token white American stage of our programming. Every year there’s one in the top 10 and every year they’re largely discarded as not having the talent to become a legitimate impact player at the next level.
Last year there were doubts over Frank ‘the Tank’ Kaminsky. The year before it was Dougie McBuckets. Before them, Cody Zeller and Meyers Leonard were criticised and the fact remains that each of these guys has become at least a solid rotational player if not a starter. None of them are in jeopardy of not lasting in the NBA, so this stigma really is unfounded.
Introducing this year’s candidate for the guy most likely to get booed on draft night – Henry Ellenson of Marquette. When nbadraft.net lists your comparisons as the two Brian’s – Scalabrine and Cardinal, you know you need to prove people wrong and that’s exactly what Ellenson has been doing …. all season.
— MarquetteMBB (@MarquetteMBB) February 16, 2016
He wasn’t listed in the first, second or third preseason All-American teams published by USA Today back in November. He didn’t even crack the honourable mentions. However, ask any scout or draft analyst now and Ellenson is listed as a sure-fire lottery pick.
Averaging 16.6 points, an even 10 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 0.9 steals, 0.9 3FGMs and ranking in the top 10 in the nation in defensive boards, Ellenson has certainly made his presence known in the Big East. His game is very polished both in the post and from the perimeter and he plays with energy every night.
In an early season game against then ranked LSU, Ellenson more than held his own against Ben Simmons, going for 16 points and 11 rebounds in a 1 point win; one of his 15 double-doubles as a freshman so far.
He’ll need to improve his efficiency at the NBA level (.436 FG%, .277 3FG%) to truly earn minutes as a power forward, but he’s only just turned 19 so will continue to develop.
If I had to compare him to a white guy, the name that comes to mind is Tom Gugliotta. He’s that kind of skilled work-horse inside and any NBA team would love to have a player like that. He’s no token player.
SCOUT SAYS: “Ellenson’s combination of size, mobility and shooting is an attractive package for a young 19-year old. His ability to defensive rebound and then space the floor offensively is exactly what teams are looking for from their two big positions. Still not a finished product, he has a high ceiling as his body continues to develop. Don’t expect to see him slip out of the top 10 in this year’s Draft.
Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Kentucky (6’4, 205 lbs)
Jamal Murray has been on an absolute tear lately. His first five games in the month of February have seen him average a whopping 26.8 points, make 24-49 from downtown (.490 3FG%), 20-24 FTs (.833 FT%) and chip in with 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
That’s the kind of game he has and players who can fill it up like that, as well as play the point guard position are worth getting excited about.
The freshman combo guard from Ontario, Canada has been getting a lot of buzz and some are talking about him becoming the top PG prospect by the time the draft rolls around in June, but most are focused on his offensive ability.
“He can do it in a lot of different ways,” said Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.
“Whether he’s shooting with his feet set or he’s pulling up off the dribble, he just has a knack for knowing how to create space, how to play at different speeds … he takes a lot of tough shots but he also makes those.
“He’s not the most explosive guy but he finds ways to finish with his skill and with his intelligence, using floaters, and off-balance, off-hand finishes … all that Steve Nash stuff that the young guys are really studying today.”
He doesn’t pass like Nash, but he can create for his teammates, however his NBA destiny seems to be more of a scoring combo guard who can also play some point. Think Jamal Crawford, only broader or a young Leandro Barbosa only stronger and more athletic.
Speaking of athleticism, there’s been plenty of talk about that dunk on South Carolina.
It was a game he could have missed after a minor knee earlier this month. Instead, he had that highlight reel on his way to 26 points (4-11 3FGs), 5 rebounds a steal and a 27-point win.
Murray is the only freshman in Kentucky history to have scored more than 30 points twice and tied John Wall’s Kentucky freshman record for most points in a game with 35.
Pretty good credentials if you ask me.
SCOUT SAYS: “A 6’4 guard that is more of a combo than either a pure 1 or 2, Murray has continuously shown over the past few years that he can put points on the board, both off the dribble pulling up and getting to the rim. An average athlete at best, his BBIQ along with change of speeds help get him into the lane where he has also proven to be a willing passer. Concerns about his defensive ability are there but not enough to keep him from likely being a top 10 pick.”
Ivan Rabb, PF, California (6’10, 220 lbs)
The other Cal freshman is also long and athletic, but doesn’t yet have an NBA ready body like his teammate. What he does have is an attractive package of skills, which will allow him to compete from day one at the next level.
Rabb, who grew up in Oakland just 20 minutes from the Berkeley campus, has a solid low-post game with a very reliable lefty jump hook, strong rebounding and shot-blocking instincts and the ability to hit a mid-range jump shot.
He doesn’t yet possess three-point range; in fact he hasn’t attempted a single shot from deep this season, but his shooting mechanics are solid. He can stick a mid-range jumper and he hits nearly 70% from the charity stripe.
One curious thing about him though is he shoots his free throws and jump shots right-handed, but he is in fact a lefty when passing, shooting layups and hook shots. This is not some Tristan Thompson switch either. Rabb is truly ambidextrous and it makes him a rare prospect in that regard.
He needs to add strength to compete in the paint as a pro, and he needs to develop some counter moves in the post, but he has all the makings of a solid NBA power-forward and an exciting lottery prospect should he declare for the draft.
“I think it’s definitely a possibility,” Rabb told the San Francisco Chronicle when asked about declaring after just one year at Cal.
“But at the same time, I may want to be here two (years) … I can’t predict the future.”
SCOUT SAYS: “Rabb has been one of the surprises this year in terms of how quickly he has adapted to the college game with his consistent production. An elite rebounder on both ends of the floor, his 6’10 frame along with good length and athleticism have made him into an effective finisher within 5 feet of the rim. A big who plays hard on both ends of the court, don’t be surprised to see him picked around the middle of the lottery this year.
Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey/Anadolu Efes (6’7, 175 lbs)
Turkish basketball continues to impress. A nation that has given us Hedo Turkoglu, Mehmet Okur, Ersan Ilyasova, Enes Kanter and Omer Asik, now has another prospect ready to make his mark.
Furkan Korkmaz is a modern-day shooter with size and athleticism in the mould of 2015 European draftee, Mario Hezonja. Hezonja was as famous for his confidence as his skill heading into that draft and if this crazy showing at the recent Turkish League (BSL) Dunk Contest is anything to go by, Korkmaz ain’t lacking much in the confidence department either.
At 6’7 and with legitimate deep range, he’s going to be a very coveted prospect come June, should he declare. Currently plying his trade for Turkish Euroleague club Anadolu Efes, alongside other recent draftees in Dario Saric (PHI 2014) and Cedi Osman (CLE 2015), Korkmaz is connecting on nearly 46% of his 3-point attempts across the BSL and Euroleague play.
At just 18 years, like Bender he’s playing limited minutes but has started 5 Euroleague games and 3 BSL games. Even in limited time, he’s had his moments in this, his second professional season, capped by a 25-point outburst (including 5-10 from deep) in just 27 minutes in late November. He also had 13 points off the bench in less than 20 minutes against powerhouse Fenerbahce Ulker right before Christmas.
Make no mistake; he’s still raw. But the skill-set, confidence, athleticism and body type are all attractive to NBA GMs and scouts and a big reason why he’s getting legitimate top 10 hype right now.
SCOUT SAYS: “Korkmaz is another prospect who is a part of a very good generation of players from Turkey . A standout at the U19 World Championships last year, as well as the U18 Euros, Korkmaz has played consistent minutes for one of Europe’s best clubs, Anadolu Efes, the past two seasons. He’s a lean 6’7 shooting guard who has proven to be a big shot maker as well as being able to create his own offense off the bounce. Defensively is where he will need to improve, both in regards to foot speed and adding strength to his long, slim frame. He’ll have time to do this as he is considered more of a ‘draft and stash’ prospect for this year. Late Lottery is where the current market seems to value him in this year’s draft.”
Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah (7’1, 240 lbs)
Hailing from Vienna, Austria, Jakob Poeltl (pronounced Yaakob Pur-tle, like Turtle) is obviously feeling much more at home Stateside in his sophomore season with the Runnin’ Utes.
In just 6 more minutes per game over his freshman year, Poeltl has nearly doubled his scoring average, is grabbing 2.1 more rebounds and dishing out an extra 1.2 dimes per contest as he’s helping his Utah teammates to a 20-7 overall record; currently 3rd in the Pac-12.
Poeltl is drawing rave reviews along the way, even being compared to the likes of Pau Gasol by ESPN Analyst, Seth Greenberg and at 7’1, 240lbs, it’s no surprise.
— College B-Ball Ref (@collegebb_ref) February 15, 2016
He has a great blend of length, footwork, mechanics and soft hands. He operates very well in pick and roll situations which is key in the modern game and he is also a great athlete for someone that size in the way he runs the floor.
He projects as an elite defender, both in terms of shot-blocking and his lateral movement which allows him to hedge well or show hard when defending the pick and roll. Poeltl rebounds like Gasol too, not letting a more slender frame inhibit his ability to position himself in the right spots and go after boards.
The last Utah Centre to be projected this high goes by the name of Andrew Bogut and in some ways, Poeltl’s game is similar to what Bogut’s was back when he was a two-year player with the Utes. He is smart in the way he creates space, sees angles and establishes post position – all things Bogut did well at the same stage.
Poeltl will go somewhere in the top 10 on draft night and have everyone learning how to say his name in a hurry.
SCOUT SAYS: “Poeltl was another player who gambled on coming back another year to college and has really been rewarded with an outstanding season at Utah. A legitimate 7-foot center who has a big time motor and great natural instincts on both ends of the court. A defensive anchor who protects the rim as well as possessing good lateral quickness to defend ball screens on the perimeter. Offensively, he has great touch around the basket and the potential to expand his game further out at the next level. Don’t be surprised to see Poeltl taken in the top half of the lottery.”
Others to watch: Buddy Hield, Domantas Sabonis, Diamond Stone, Deyonta Davis, Skal Labissiere