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By Rahul Lal
The upcoming 2017 NBA Draft is one of the most intriguing in years. After a college basketball season filled with exciting moments, incredible stat lines and an amazing conclusion, many of the players who made it great look to take the next step in their careers. This year’s draft class, hyped as one of the best ever, is full of potential stars. Some prospects will explode on the scene, some will flame out and some will go on to enjoy respectable NBA careers.
In the year of the guard, one is already making headlines, only to be outdone by his dad’s bigger headlines. But there’s plenty of backcourt talent beyond Lonzo — and LaVar. And, frankly, the top pick might not even be a guard. (It could happen.) Teams have options.
Here are the major storylines for this year’s NBA Draft, scheduled to tip off Thursday, June 22..
The Year of the Guard
Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr., De’Aaron Fox, Frank Ntilikina, Malik Monk, Donovan Mitchell and Luke Kennard. All of these guards will wind up in the lottery, potentially even in the top 12. Fultz, the top prospect all along, has a game that features elite athleticism, a soft shooting touch and the ability to play both guard spots. Ball has an uncanny knack for distributing the ball and getting teammates involved. De’Aaron Fox, one of the highest risers in the lead-up to the draft, plays a speed game often compared to John Wall. Each (or all) of these three prospects could be a top-five pick.
Dennis Smith Jr. is the most athletic prospect at the point guard position. A terrific rebounder with a great shooting touch, he can create offense instantly. His draft stock looks to be somewhere between six and 10. Malik Monk put up monster performances this season, though he struggled with consistency. His tweener size makes him a bit ill-suited for the next level. Donovan Mitchell, who has often been likened to a playmaking Eric Gordon, launched himself into the lottery after off-the-charts testing in the combine. However, since workouts began, no player has helped himself more than Duke’s Luke Kennard. Seen by some scouts as the best shooter in the draft, he’s a very underrated athlete, who plays well beyond his years. Most mock drafts have him in the 10-14 range, though some higher-picking teams are showing interest as well.
Best of the Rest
While guards dominate the top of the draft board, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Jonathan Isaac should not be overlooked. Each one of these prospects will be gone by the eighth pick. Jackson, a versatile, two-way wing who can also line up as a small-ball four, could even be the top overall pick. He’s as tall as Draymond Green and as athletic as Andrew Wiggins.
Tatum is probably this draft’s best pure scorer, with an offensive repertoire more developed than some NBA vets. He’s worked out for many teams in the top five and could get picked anywhere from two to six. Jonathan Isaac is this year’s potential home-run pick. Built in the mold of long but versatile forwards like Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Ingram, he still needs to develop his offensive game. But his potential is high as a stretch-four and defender. Isaac will likely wind up with Orlando or Minnesota next week.
>>MORE: 2017 NBA Draft: Top 5 Prospects
Slim Pickings in the Front Court
When you get past these prospects, the selection gets a little less attractive — especially in the front court. Lauri Markkanen will likely be the next big man taken off the board. The Finnish forward is a superb shooter but struggles defensively and is a poor rebounder given his height. Regardless, he could be selected anywhere from seven to 12. Zach Collins has been an advanced-stats darling and showed some impressive potential in the Final Four. A strong rebounder and offensive player with good size and who can block shots, he shouldn’t escape the 10-14 range.
UCLA products T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu will go in the middle of the first round, competing with the high-potential Justin Patton, shot-blocking Jarrett Allen, raw Bam Adebayo and surprise first-rounder John Collins.
By all accounts, each team in the top five has been open to swapping picks depending on the packages and prospects available. The Kings have been vocal about potentially trading both their top-10 picks to move into the top four. The Lakers are still considering trading the second pick for a star player. The Knicks have expressed interest in gaining extra picks. And the Blazers are looking to trade one of their three first-round selections.
At one point, Harry Giles was competing for the top overall pick, but now he is battling for the late lottery. All reports say that his workouts have made him look better than ever. A team that takes a risk on him, despite his injury history, could get a major steal. O.G. Anunoby is similarly regarded as a big-bodied forward who is versatile on offense and can guard up to five positions on the floor. Recent rumors suggest that he may miss a big chunk of this season, which is driving his value down, though his long-term value remains high. Giles and Anunoby will both get picked somewhere between 13 and 20.
Terrance Ferguson has been considered a sleeper throughout this entire process. He’s the player most likely to one day participate in both the dunk contest and three-point contest. With great size, he has a strong upside for a team taking a risk in the mid-to-late first round. Semi Ojeleye is incredible on defense and better than most think on offense. He will make a big difference for a team in the 20s. The athletic big man Jordan Bell, high-flyer D.J. Wilson and scorer Tyler Dorsey will also find their way off the board.
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.