NBA Draft Early Entries: Which Prospects Are Worth The Risk?

Lonzo Ball Markelle Fultz

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Less than a month after the NCAA men’s basketball season ended, and less than two months until the NBA Draft, collegiate athletes from programs across the country are deciding whether or not to make the leap from college ball to the Association.

The trend of freshman “one-and-dones” is strong in this year’s draft, as the projected top-five picks are all freshmen that have played one year of collegiate basketball. Many of them, such as UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Washington’s Markelle Fultz, have been expected to declare for the draft as soon as the NCAA season conclude for each of them. However, several of the early-entered players were not expected to make the jump this year.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the noteworthy early-entry players:

The Expected:

Markelle Fultz (Washington)

Fultz has been the anticipated first overall pick throughout the majority of the collegiate season. The number seven recruit in the class of 2016 from DeMatha Catholic High School in the Washington, D.C. area, Fultz was the lone star on University of Washington’s trainwreck of a team that compiled a whopping total of nine total wins, with just two coming from conference play in the Pac-12.

Fultz’ talent did stand out, as he averaged 23.2 points per game on 47.6% shooting, as well as 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. His 6’4, 195 pound frame is NBA ready and his ability to spread the floor through his passing, scoring from all over the half court, and pace-creating abilities have given him endless potential when he reaches the league.

Fultz’ concerns are minimal, but they are present. He has exhibited slow foot speed on help defense, occasionally letting cutters roll to the hoop. He also tends to be a little lackadaisical on defense, but that could be partially due to playing on such an awful team. With a little polishing on his defense, Fultz could definitely have an immediate breakout as a dynamic point guard in his rookie season.

Lonzo Ball (UCLA)

Even with the recent controversy surrounding his father and his family’s own brand, Lonzo Ball is still one of the premier talents in the 2017 draft class. Ball was in the national spotlight his senior year at Chino Hills High School, where he and his two younger brothers, who are both committed to UCLA, used their run-and-gun offense to go undefeated and win the CIF championship. Ball quarterbacked UCLA’s offense to the second-best record in the Pac-10 while averaging 14.6 points and 7.6 assists, which made Ball the leading APG man in the country. Ball was also named the NCAA Freshman of the Year.

As a 6’6 point guard, Ball’s body alone is a valuable asset to any NBA team. Once you combine his impeccable court vision and basketball IQ, beyond NBA arc range, ridiculous handles, and capability of lockdown defense, the result is a bonafide NBA superstar. The constant pro comparison is Jason Kidd, a lengthy point guard with great basketball IQ and dangerous on all aspects of the court.

Ball’s only real areas in need of polishing are his shot variety and shot mechanics. Ball is lethal from beyond the arc, and is a deadly slasher at the rim. He hasn’t shown any signs of a reliable mid-range game, which is something that is crucial to have as a point guard coming off of screens inside the arc. Ball’s shot mechanics are unconventional and tilted left, something that may concern scouts. However, his form has worked very well for him throughout his career, and a little tinkering shouldn’t have too much effect on his deadly shot.

Josh Jackson (Kansas)

After a multi-year battle with Harry Giles for the top spot in ESPN’s Top 100 recruits of the class of 2016, Josh Jackson got his chance to show out at Kansas. A key player in Kansas’ run to clinch their thirteenth straight Big 12 title. His explosiveness was always on display, catching oops left and right, finishing ridiculous reverse layups, and swatting away shots at the rim. He paired very well as a wing slasher option for Frank Mason III during the entire season.

Jackson’s versatility is nicely bound with efficiency. Jackson averaged over 16 points per game on 51.3% from the field, while grabbing seven rebounds to go along with it. His 6’8, 6’9 wingspan frame and exceptional lateral speed makes for a great perimeter defender that can rotate over and defend at the rim. Jackson is also a good three-point shooter, connecting on 37.8% on shots behind the arc.

Off the court is the area that scouts may be concerned about. Jackson was suspended for the Jayhawks’ opener in the Big 12 tournament, which they lost to TCU, due to after receiving three citations for a hit-and-run after he was already facing allegations of damaging a Kansas women’s basketball player’s car early in the season. Although some charges are just allegations, it still puts his professional character into question. However, a little bit of reality in the pros can certainly round him out and propel him to the all-star level of play he is seemingly capable of.

Others: Jayson Tatum (Duke), Malik Monk (Kentucky), Lauri Markkanen (Arizona)

Risky Decision:

Harry Giles (Duke)

Similar to fellow Blue Devil big man Jahlil Okafor, Giles was the projected first overall pick in his draft class up until this season. Giles was tied with Josh Jackson for the top spot in ESPN’s 2016 recruiting class, despite not playing at all during his senior season in high school. Giles is 6’11 with a 7’3 wingspan, both of which being valuable assets for power forward that can stretch the floor on both sides of the ball.

Giles has a smooth stroke and good mechanics on his midrange jump shot. He’s able to connect from the elbows and high post, a skill that is crucial for big men that can pop off the screen for a jumper. His soft touch around the rim allows him to make post hooks and tear drop shots, but he can also throw down the hammer with ferocious dunks and blocks on the rim.

Giles’ weak spots are obvious. This past season at Duke, he only played in 26 of their games, as he started off the year on the bench recovering from knee surgery. In those 26 games, Giles only played for roughly 11 minutes a game, averaging only 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds. His inexperience is due to his knee problems. During a practice with USA Basketball, Giles tore the ACL, MCL, and meniscus in left knee in 2013. In November of 2015, he tore the ACL in his right knee, sidelining him for the rest of his senior season, and in October of 2016, he required a third knee surgery, this time to help the recovery of his right knee. If Giles can work past his knee problems, he could very well be comparable to LaMarcus Aldridge in the near future.

Melo Trimble (Maryland)

Melo Trimble has undoubtedly been the heart of the Maryland basketball program since his arrival as a freshman in the fall of 2014. Trimble found himself in a backcourt pair with two experienced seniors, Dez Wells in 2014-2015 and Rasheed Sulaimon in 2015-2016, which prepared him to take the reigns of the offense in his junior season. Trimble originally declared for the draft prematurely with teammate Diamond Stone, but chose to return to Maryland after the draft combine. His junior season was nothing short of remarkable, as he finished the season as an All-Big 10 first team selection and a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award.

Trimble is deadly on the offensive side of the ball. He speed lets him control the pace, which he is able to control with his overall composure. He knows when to take shots and when to find the open man, a key component that any point guard looking to make the jump to the league needs. He is capable of hitting the three ball, as he shot 34% in his career at Maryland. Trimble also has a knack for getting to the and hitting shots from the charity strike, finishing as Maryland’s second all-time leader in free throw percentage made.

Trimble, however, has had some issues with shot selection this past season. Coach Mark Turgeon did give Trimble the green light to shoot when he has the shot, but sometimes Trimble would overlook the open man and take a questionable shot. This was especially present in Maryland’s loss to Xavier. Trimble’s defense is a bit suspect as well as he has never exhibited a true outstanding defensive skill such as perimeter defense. Lastly, Trimble just needs to improve his passing. He is a natural scorer, so if he improves his court vision and passing, he’ll be able to make the transition into an all-around threat at the point guard position.

Others: Jarrett Allen (Texas), Isaiah Briscoe (Kentucky), OG Anunoby (Indiana)

The Unexpected:

Ike Anigbogu (UCLA)

It’s unfair to say that Anigbogu and any of the other “unexpected” players were completely unexpected since they are all extremely talented and have been NBA prospects for a long time. Anigbogu was a member of one of the most hyped freshmen classes in recent years, forming what was hoped to be a deadly trio with Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. Unlike Leaf and Ball, Anigbogu was still too raw and found himself on the bench rotation. That being said, he still has vast potential to be an effective big man in the NBA.

Anigbogu is 6’10 with a 7’2 wingspan. This freakishly long frame gives him the unique combination of a barley underheight center, with a wingspan that compensates for his height. Anigbogu will be much more effective as a center because his offensive range does not extended much past the midrange, and his perimeter defense is not good enough to stick with some of the quicker stretch forwards that can play inside and out. He is a good defender around the rim, totalling 35 blocks against conference big men opponents like Oregon’s Jordan Bell and California’s Ivan Rabb. Anigbogu also produce some thunderous dunks throughout the season, which will certainly appeal to NBA crowds.

Anigbogu’s main area of concern is lack of experience. Similar to Harry Giles, he only averaged 13 minutes per game and 4.7 points per game. Yes, he did play behind Thomas Welsh who had a great season as one of the most efficient big men in the country, and T.J. Leaf who dominated the Pac-12 as a freshman. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that he has limited big-game experience against NBA-level players. Since he hasn’t gotten these big minutes, he will essentially be drafted off of pure raw potential, which has proven well for players like Thon Maker, and bad for players like Daniel Orton.

Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky)

Hamidou Diallo is definitely the most unique draft early entries of 2017. Diallo has no college game experience at all. He graduated a semester early from Putnam Science Academy and enrolled at the University of Kentucky towards the end of the season. This granted him eligibility to essentially declare for the draft straight out of high school, basically a loophole around the NBA’s banning of players coming directly out of high school.

Although he has no experience beyond high school, Diallo has an NBA-ready body. He stands at 6’5, an ideal height for a combo guard, with a ridiculous 6’10 wingspan. He’s a dynamic slasher, as he feasts off of straight drives to the rim. His finishing touch around the basket is near unstoppable. His length also gives him the availability to switch to small forward on defense and still be able to defend the passing lanes.

Like most high school recruits, Diallo is still very raw. His jumpshot is still underdeveloped and is considered a liability to many scouts. He shot 20% from behind the arc in the EYBL circuit, which, for a NBA draft declared guard, is dismal. He recognizes this liability, as he told Draft Express that he knows that if he further develops his jumpshot, he’ll be unstoppable. If whatever team drafts Diallo sends him to a D-League affiliate to polish his game and develop into a pure scorer, he could very well develop into a Monta Ellis-like asset.

Others: Angel Delgado (Seton Hall), Justin Jackson (Maryland), Edmond Sumner (Xavier)

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