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By Rahul Lal
The NBA Draft, the first big event of the offseason, is Thursday, June 22. Top prospects are tantalizingly close to realizing their dreams, or at least taking that next step toward NBA relevance. Lesser prospects may find themselves passed over in those 60 picks spread over two rounds.
As basketball fans put themselves in the minds of NBA executives, who better to talk about the upcoming draft than Jon Rothstein, CBS Sports Network college basketball insider? Jon shared his opinions about what to expect next week in the NBA Draft and going forward into the 2017-18 NBA season.
CBS Sports Network’s NBA Draft coverage continues with re-airings of recent shows this week and three new shows on Tuesday, June 20.
Some of the most impressive and NBA-ready prospects are coming out of the college game. Is college basketball at an all-time high talent-wise? What effect are one-and-done prospects having on the game?
When it’s mandatory that kids have to go to college for at least a year, it galvanizes college basketball. It allows people, when they’re getting ready for the season, to put guys in bold print who can have a major impact. But we’ve seen very few teams win national titles with one-and-done players. Kentucky did it in 2012 with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Duke did it in 2015 with Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. But look at some of the other teams that have won national championships: Louisville was a veteran team in 2013; [in] 2014, Connecticut was a veteran team and [in] ‘16 and ‘17, Villanova and North Carolina were veteran teams. So there’s a good balance right now in college basketball.
Is this draft as elite as everybody predicts?
The one thing that this NBA Draft has is an abundance of guards who can make a major impact at the NBA level. When you look right now at the NBA, it’s being dominated by guys who can have an impact at the lead guard position. You’ve seen it throughout the NBA more and more over the past decade.
Since there’s so many of those guys available who have the potential to be stars at the next level, that’s why the buzz is what it is about in the 2017 draft. You’ve got the star power at the top and then a couple other guys involved who can be really, really interesting.
Point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina should all go top 10 this year. After watching them all year, what’s your opinion on their talent?
One thing you have to look at when discussing the point guards in this draft is that they’re almost like different types of sports cars. How does somebody decide whether they want a Lamborghini instead of a Porsche? A BMW or Jaguar?
When you look at Markelle Fultz, he’s a combo guard who can affect the game in a number of ways. He’s a combo scorer, a very good athlete. But a big concern about him is he didn’t play well enough to make his team a viable threat in the Pac-12. The argument is [that] that team would’ve been an NCAA tournament team if Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss went back to school. That altered what Washington could be. But, he’s more of a combo guard who can play both guard spots, similar to Dwyane Wade when he came out of Marquette.
Lonzo Ball is the ultimate table-setter in this draft. He’s can make everybody around him better at a higher level than anybody else in the draft. The example that I use is Bryce Alford. Alford was a really good player at UCLA during the first three years of his career, but averaged career highs in field-goal percentage and three-point percentage because he played with Ball. He single-handedly transcended that program.
>>MORE: 2017 NBA Draft: Top 5 Prospects
De’Aaron Fox is more of a speed guard, similar in mold to John Wall, except there are some different intricacies on offense. You love his ball security. He only committed two turnovers in the final 64 minutes that he played last season against UCLA and North Carolina. He only made 17 threes last season for Kentucky — that’s a concern. Shooting is the one thing that can be rectified at the NBA level.
When you look at Dennis Smith, you have to look at a guy who can be like a young Steve Francis coming out of Maryland. These four guys all have the ability to go into the NBA and anchor a lead guard position for 10 years.
As far as Frank Ntilikina, I would delay expectations. He’s more of an athlete right now than somebody who is going to blow you away. He can be more steady on offense and effective on defense.
Josh Jackson has received a lot of praise lately, projecting as high as the second pick in the draft. What stands out about his game, and what could he improve on?
Josh Jackson is an alpha dog who, right now, has the ability to have a great impact on the game by not demanding shots. When you look at it from a coaching perspective, the one thing you think about is shot distribution and whose hands the ball is in. Jackson, because of his intangibles last season, had the ability to impact the game without shooting. Thirteen games with 10 rebounds or more but, for somebody who people were concerned about in terms of his shooting ability, he really did a good job of making shots late in the season. They say he can’t shoot, but he shot just under 40 percent from three. In the NCAA Tournament alone, when you study the numbers, five of 13 from three? Not terrible.
Jonathan Isaac, Malik Monk and Jayson Tatum should all be called early. All three of them bring something different to the table, how do they project at the next level?
Jonathan Isaac had a really good impact defensively because of his speed and how he worked on ball screens. Some of the easy baskets he got in college he won’t necessarily get in the NBA. But he could evolve into a more consistent outside shooter. His body reminds you a bit of Rashard Lewis who had a good run in the NBA for a long time.
Malik Monk is a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body. He’s not a point guard, but he doesn’t have the size to be a two-guard in the NBA. One thing he can do is shoot the basketball at a high clip. He made over 100 threes last year, had 14 games with four or more made threes. If you’re projecting him at the next level, he has a chance to be a dynamite first guard off the bench.
Jayson Tatum is the guy that most resembles a Carmelo Anthony-caliber scorer in this draft. When you scouted him last year in the ACC, he was probably pound for pound the best player in that conference. He didn’t play with a true point guard, [so] there was nobody to set the table for him. When you look at Jayson Tatum, if you can put him with somebody who can get him shots, it could open up a whole ‘nother can of worms.
Front-court players are pretty thin this year. Which players stand out to you?
I felt all along that Zach Collins was underrated and the epitome of efficiency. If he played at Duke or Kentucky, he would be part of the vernacular of college basketball. Seven-foot, great hands, he had 10 [points], six [rebounds] and two [blocks] in only 17 minutes a game at 65 percent from the field. We saw what he could be in the final four from a production standpoint. That’s one person who comes to mind, though he’s got a ways to go defensively.
Also, the way Lauri Markkanen can shoot the ball puts him into a different stratosphere, because so much of the NBA right now is based on spacing and shooting. He was was a really good shooter last year; he made 69 threes. You’re looking at a guy who shot 42 percent from three. He can have a Ryan Anderson-type impact in the NBA.
If you could pick one player who would hit the ground running in the NBA, who would it be?
When you look at the ability to transcend teams and franchises, you have to look at Lonzo Ball as somebody who’s going to be an NBA star and a multi-year all-star. People forget that UCLA was a 15-17 team. And Lonzo went there and made UCLA the most entertaining team, the highest-scoring team and also the best-distributing team in college basketball. He’s one of the reasons why T.J. Leaf is in position to be a mid-first round pick. He has the ability to do for players what other point guards can’t.
If you had to name three sleepers for this year’s draft, who would they be?
One is going to be Terrance Ferguson because of the way he shoots the basketball. He’s somebody who has out-of-the-gym range. He could be in a different gym and make a shot, that’s how special he is in terms of shooting. He’s a straight bucket-getter, and he is a much more willing defender now. [He has] good length and has the ability to stretch the defense.
Semi Ojeleye has a major impact because of his physique and his ability to absorb contact. If you’re looking for a small-ball four man in the NBA, that’s Semi Ojeleye. I like that he can play different positions.
I’m really a fan of Derrick White from Colorado. He has great size, can handle the ball and has a great story. There’s still a lot of miles on the tank and a lot of room to grow in terms of his ceiling.
CBS Sports Network is airing six one-hour draft shows leading up to the NBA Draft on June 22, 2017. Draft coverage includes more analysis of the top prospects, along with breakdowns of players by position.
New shows will air Tuesday, June 20, starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.