(The following is my initial preseason Top 5 big board for 2016 Draft Prospects derived mostly from observations when attending the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit and watching limited online tape. I broke each prospect down into four categories: Positional Size, Athleticism, Feel and Skill Level. All information pertaining to measurables were derived from).
1.Ben Simmons: LSU
6’10” 239 (7’0.25” Wingspan, 9’0.5 Standing Reach, Max Vertical 41.5”)
Age: 19 (7/20/1996)
Positional Size: At 6’10” with an NBA ready 239 pound frame, Simmons has prototype measurables for an NBA 4 despite average length.
Athleticism: Not only is Simmons incredibly explosive as a leaper/finisher, he’s extremely mobile and explosive with the ball in the open court. He had one transition play at the Hoop Summit where he got the ball at the foul line, accelerated past everyone at half court with the ball and finished at the rim. Few individuals his size have that burst with the ball. He also appears to have good foot-speed as he walled off Jaylen Brown on several dribble drive attempts at the HS.
Feel: This is the category that really separates Simmons from other prototype athletes. His court vision and passing ability is reminiscent of Lamar Odom, evidenced by his near triple double at the HS. It’s not just the highlight behind the back passes or dump-offs to baseline cutters either. The ball never sticks with him. He is always moving it unselfishly, whether it be up the court in transition to corner three-point shooters or just swinging it around the perimeter in the half-court to get the defense rotating. The two proven translatable skills statistically are steals and rebounds, but passing (and shooting) is really the skill teams crave to bend new overload NBA defenses. Simmons has perhaps the most advanced passing instincts of anyone at his position since LeBron.
Skill Level: Simmons has every skill you look for from a playmaking 4/point forward save for one, shooting. He has an explosive first step to attack closeouts and the awareness to make reads on the fly attacking the basket. He has the tight handle that enables him to navigate his way to the rim with his athleticism and to bring the ball up in transition, which as the Warriors have demonstrated with Draymond (and hopefully the Lakers with Randle) can be a devastating early offense tool. He also showcased rare ability at the HS to finish softly with either hand in traffic, demonstrating just how skilled he is. His one question mark is perimeter shooting.
Overall: It’s hard to find a more complete prospect, as Simmons really checks all the boxes here. Ideally used as a playmaking 4 though possessing the foot-speed to guard wings, he can shape the construction of a team from that position with his ability to create offense for himself and for others. He’s a bit on the older end for incoming freshman, but his game is already developed enough where that isn’t a concern. The nation will be watching his shooting progression closely, because if he develops a reliable jump shot he has superstar potential.
2.Dragan Bender: Maccabi Tel Aviv
7’0.5” 216 (7’2” Wingspan, 9’3” Standing Reach, Max Vertical 27.5”)
Age: 17 (11/17/1997)
Positional Size: Bender is all legs and arms right now with a frail frame, but he has insane measurables for a playmaking 4 (and even plus measurables for a 5), especially when you factor in his coordination and skill level.
Athleticism: This category is obviously Bender’s bugaboo as he isn’t an explosive vertical leaper, which caps his finishing upside in traffic. But vertical explosiveness is only one attribute of overall athleticism. 80% of the game is played moving laterally or backward, and for his size Bender is incredibly mobile laterally and recovering. He runs like a deer in transition and beats bigs consistently down the floor.
Feel: Similar to Simmons, Bender has outstanding feel for the game as a passer. In the limited tape I’ve seen, he has a knack for advancing the ball immediately in transition with Love-esque outlet passes and has demonstrated dominant passing instincts from the high post locating cutters and shooters. Patenting his game after idols like Kukoc, Bender might not ever be a go-to scorer, but he brings an unselfishness and passing instincts seldom found in bigs.
Skill Level: It’s hard to find players 7’1” who can take the ball coast to coast through a maze of defenders. His overall skill level for his size is basically unprecedented. He’s reportedly put in a ton of time on his three point shot over the summer, and showed promise as a spot-up threat in Chicago. He has the handle, passing skills and developing shot to be a triple threat making plays/reads attacking closeouts.
Overall: Often unwarrantedly compared to Porzingis, Bender is infinitely more skilled and has far greater wiggle and creativity as a playmaker. Defensively, Bender will obviously struggle some with strong post-players/rebounders until he fills out, but he projects as a fantastic pick and roll defender with his length, mobility and recovery ability. If he puts on more weight as expected he could be a dominant 5 in the league with his mobility, length and skill level, but he is easily skilled enough and enough foot-speed to play the 4 spot. He’s still 17, which is beyond bizarre, and could very well move up to #1 on my board. To say I’m intrigued is an enormous understatement.
3.Brandon Ingram: Duke
6’9.5” 196 (7’3 Wingspan, 9’1.5” Standing Reach)
Age: 18 (9/2/1997)
Positional Size: Ingram has outstanding size and length for an NBA wing, and history tells us players of this mold seldom fail. Obviously he’s rail thin and might not test especially well athletically, but neither did Durant.
Athleticism: Ingram looked to be a plus athlete at the HS, possessing an explosive first step and comfortable above the rim finishing ability. He’s also mobile laterally. His ridiculous size and length will overcompensate for a lack of top-shelf athleticism.
Feel: This is the biggest question mark for me based on a lack of tape. There were no notable red flags, but it’s fair to say Ingram definitely looks to score (which is good). I want to see more of how he reads defenses with the ball and with more usage, especially attacking the basket. He looks natural defending off the ball instincts-wise playing passing lanes with his length.
Skill Level: Ingram’s obvious skill is his jump shot. He has a smooth, quick release, and looks to have 38%+ three point potential. He can blow by defenders who attack his shot-fake carelessly, and has the length to finish over shot-contests at the rim (all this was clearly on display at the HS). His handle looks ok, but again, the sample size was too small to make any conclusive judgments there.
Overall: Ingram has the size, length, scoring instincts and shot to be the best pure scorer in this draft (he also has the size and length to play some small ball 4 if he fills out). 3&D wings with defensive versatility are necessary in today’s game, and that projects as Ingram’s floor. He looks adept at shooting quickly off screens and can win in isolation situations. He also just turned 18, and is the youngest of the domestic players here. I knew very little about him before attending the HS, and he’s the guy who immediately stuck out. Right now I give him the slight edge over Skal but admit it’s probably a positional fit decision there.
4.Skal Labissiere: Kentucky
6’11.5” 225 (7’2” Wingspan, 9’0” Standing Reach, Max Vertical 35”)
Age: 19 (3/18/1996)
Positional Size: Skal has the height and athleticism you look for at the center position, but has below average length.
Athleticism: Evidenced at the HS, Skal is not only an explosive leaper but has rare quick second jump ability both on the offensive glass and contesting shots. He is very mobile on the perimeter, showing excellent closing speed contesting shots on the perimeter.
Feel: Skal had 0 assists at the HS and basically looked to score most of the time he got the ball either in the post or in the pick and pop game, so it’s difficult to judge his passing ability. He’ll draw comparisons to Towns because of the Kentucky connection, but he doesn’t appear to have anywhere near Towns’ passing instincts. He did demonstrate outstanding awareness and timing rotating over from the weak side to block shots.
Skill Level: For a center prospect, Skal has excellent touch out to foul line extended. Armed with a high release and displaying high arc, he looks to be a pick and pop threat from the 5 spot. He also has a soft touch in the post converting hook shots and follow-up opportunities. I want to see more of him as a playmaker out of pick and pop sets and him finishing/facilitating as a roll-man.
Overall: Skal looks to be an analytics darling with his floor spacing and rim protection potential. He’s likely a 5 in the league, lacking the skill level to be a 4, and that stretch 5 + rim protection potential is appealing. He has great defensive help instincts and mobility to overcompensate for his below average length. Calipari threw Towns into the post to develop that aspect of his game, and we’ll likely see the same with Skal. His court awareness as a passer in those situations is what I’ll be looking at most critically. As the oldest prospect here, he slides just under Ingram, but is an easy riser candidate.
5.Jaylen Brown: California
6’6.5” 222 (7’0.5” Wingspan, 8’9” Standing Reach)
Age: 18 (10/24/1996)
Positional Size: Brown definitely has the prototype measurables for an NBA wing in terms of height and length. He also has a developed frame for his age.
Athleticism: Brown and Simmons are easily the two best athletes on this list. Admittedly, Brown was lulling me to sleep at the HS until he took the ball from the foul line and suddenly exploded to finish what was the most impressive dunk at the event. He’s both an explosive leaper and sudden accelerator with insane burst and first step.
Feel: Brown frankly did not have a good HS game, so it’s difficult to judge him thoroughly, but he did not show much in the way of overall instincts or motor. He didn’t record an assist and didn’t demonstrate any off-ball movement understanding or court vision that I saw. He also looked to be a low-motor off-ball player that does not do the little things and make the hustle plays to win, especially when placed next to a guy like Kennard.
Skill Level: Similarly, there was not much to work with here. Brown looked like he was limited to straight-line drives with a lack of handle and wiggle with the ball. He also did not threaten as an outside shooter.
Overall: Clearly I know the least about Brown thus far. He has the prototype size and athleticism to be included in the top 5, but admittedly this ranking is mostly based on potential. His skill level and feel are still very much question marks for me. I’ll see him live against Washington later this year, which is exciting. I hope to obviously have a better read on him by then.