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Ranking top six NBA draft prospects

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Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) pulls a pass over Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) pulls a pass over Kentucky guard Malik Monk (5) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

Any general manager in any sport knows the wisdom of first evaluating draft prospects based on their potential before letting team needs enter the equation. With that in mind, here is how I would rank the six NBA draft prospects, all one-and-done college players, who stand above the rest of this class:

1 - Josh Jackson (Kansas): His intelligence and the reasonable, informed, relentless voice of his mother, former college basketball star Apples Jones, made him realize at a very young age that the path to steady improvement lies in competing hard on every possession in every aspect of the game. That attitude, even more than length, innate quickness and jumping ability, explains why Jackson has the most developed all-around game and unselfish approach of any prospect in the draft. I think he has the highest ceiling in the draft. Reasonable arguments can be made for others, but nobody can argue successfully that Jackson doesn’t have the highest floor. At worst, he’ll be a good NBA player, at best a great one.

2 - Malik Monk (Kentucky): Best pure scorer in the draft. He doesn’t have the long arms that make scouts salivate and is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. So what? He more than makes up for it with a natural knack for scoring. He gets hot from long range and stays hot. He moves extremely well without the ball, knows how to use screens, jets up and down the court and has explosive leaping ability that comes in handy at the rim. Knows how to use dribble moves to create space for a jumper he releases quickly. Will score a ton of points in a variety of ways and has the ability to help any team in the NBA right away. He scored 47 points in a nonconference game against eventual national champion North Carolina but was limited to just 12 in the rematch in the NCAA tournament. Has fallen out of top six in some mock drafts, which makes them worthy of being mocked for that development.

3 - De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky): In a league brimming with the world’s quickest athletes, Fox will be among the very quickest from Day 1. Nobody could stay in front of him during his one year at Kentucky. He used great change-of-pace to complement his quickness and has the potential to become a disruptive defender. Torched UCLA for 39 points. Not a great shooter yet, he should improve as he grows stronger and works at his shot.

4 - Lonzo Ball (UCLA): A great and willing passer, he also is a better shooter than the hitch in his shot might lead some to believe. Has good size for a point guard and plays unselfishly. Has a long way to go as a defender, as was exposed by Fox in the NCAA tournament. Everything about the way he plays and conducts himself in interviews indicates he must have inheritied more of his mother’s genes than his father’s.

5 - Markelle Fultz (Washington): Has good size for a point guard, especially considering his 7-foot wingspan. His pretty jump-shooting form translated to a .413 3-point percentage. He averaged a whopping 26 points and 6.6 assists per games and he’s on top in the vast majority of NBA mock drafts. Yet, he did this all for a team that went 9-24. Even though the Huskies lost all six games they played without him when he was sidelined by injury, a 9-18 record begs the question: Why didn’t he lead the team to more victories?

6 - Jayson Tatum (Duke): Smooth 6-8, 205-pound forward was quick enough to blow by taller college defenders but he’ll be guarded by more quickness in the NBA. His long-range shot is still developing and he doesn’t have the look of a pure shooter. He made 34 percent of his 3-pointers for Duke. I sometimes came away from watching him thinking that he’s a better version of former Kansas forward Kelly Oubre, which is not a loud enough compliment to consider him worthy of the No. 1 selection with so much talent from which to choose. Attempted two free throws and picked up three rebounds in loss to physical South Carolina squad that bounced Duke from NCAA tournament. Where was the urgency to keep the season alive?

Comments

Brian Leslie 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Tom, if Kentucky had the most talented point guard and shooting guard in the country, would it be fair to say they underachieved? I think that UK is an Aaron Harrison 25-foot prayer rimming out from having their fanbase very upset at Coach Cal. So far, his one-and-done strategy seems to work only with a once-every-five-years big man (Davis, Towns). Even with a generational big man in place, he didn't make the Final 4 with Wall and Cousins and Bledsoe, plus upperclassman Patrick Patterson.

Gordon Penny 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I am not sure you are using "begs the question" properly.

John Fitzgerald 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm sure we're all biased as KU fans, but I agree Jackson is the best overall prospect. I don't know much about Fultz other than his team didn't make the tournament and were just plain horrible. And Lonzo Ball is a mess in the making. Not necessarily because he's a bad guy, but because his dad is a looney tune and may not be worth dealing with. Also, I'm having a hard time believing Juwan Evans is better than Frank Mason. I've seen a few mock drafts have him in the 1st round, and those same drafts have Mason mid 2nd.

Mike Bennett 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I watched Fultz a couple of times out of curiosity and saw a lot of potential. It was hard to evaluate him because the ball stuck in his hand a lot. He dominated the ball for Washington. I don't think that will happen in the NBA.

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