A few pieces still need to fall into place before we can completely preview the 2017 NBA Draft. We won’t know which teams are picking in which spots until the lottery is held on May 16th, and the race for top picks is a bit of a mess. We also won’t know for sure which players will have made themselves available until college stars and international prospects officially declare for the draft. Still, we have a pretty good idea of which players will be in the mix for lottery picks, in what many are calling the best class in a decade.
Here’s an early look at 10 names you’ll almost certainly be hearing fairly early on draft night.
Markelle Fultz (Freshman, Washington)
Fultz is a 6’4’’ point guard who seems to have separated himself from the pack despite missing a lot of games due to injury (and playing for a team that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament). Fultz is listed first at Draft Express, and is being viewed as a sure thing by people around the NBA. With good athleticism and natural scoring ability, he could have an early impact similar to that of a Kyrie Irving or Russell Westbrook.
Lonzo Ball (Freshman, UCLA)
Ball has almost been overshadowed by his attention-seeking father, but he’s another large point guard with exceptional skills. At 6’6’’ and with a bizarre shot, he’s a little unorthodox. Even so, he’s incredibly smooth with the ball and has an ability to make his teammates better that can’t be taught.
Josh Jackson (Freshman, Kansas)
Jackson is an long, athletic forward who projects as an NBA 3 or small-ball 4. Scouts may wonder if he’ll ultimately be a rich man’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist given his tremendous defensive potential but questionable shot. However, the upside is closer to a second coming of Paul George (and perhaps with a better motor).
Jayson Tatum (Freshman, Duke)
Tatum had a long journey at Duke, ultimately ending in disappointment. While the Blue Devils were recognized as a strong contender in the NCAA Tournament, they were upset in the second round, which could leave a sour taste in some scouts’ mouths. Tatum improved dramatically over the course of the year and showcased monster potential in a triumphant ACC Tournament. He may be something like a more athletic Carmelo Anthony—though he’s a better rebounder now than Anthony has ever been.
De’Aaron Fox (Freshman, Kentucky)
As a fast, athletic point guard with a so-so outside shot, Fox has gotten John Wall comparisons all season. He may have boosted his stock even more by thoroughly outplaying Lonzo Ball in a dramatic Sweet 16 matchup.
Malik Monk (Freshman, Kentucky)
Monk was viewed by most as Kentucky’s best freshman this season until fairly recently, when Fox seemed to take over. He’s a little undersized as an NBA 2 guard, but his ability to catch fire from deep will remind some of a J.R. Smith at worst, and a Klay Thompson at best. He doesn’t have the size or defensive ability of Thompson, but he’ll be a tantalizing prospect nonetheless.
Dennis Smith Jr. (Freshman, NC State)
Reports are surfacing that Smith will indeed declare for the NBA Draft despite his team performing worse than any other top freshman’s aside from Fultz. Smith is quick, athletic, and a gifted scorer, leading some to view him like a poor man’s Fultz in this class—which isn’t half bad.
Jonathan Isaac (Freshman, Florida State)
At 6’11’’ with a wingspan over 7’1’’, Isaac could be a deadly power forward in the modern NBA. He needs to add some fluidity to his game, but he’s able to shoot midrange jumpers, and plays stronger than his thin frame would suggest. Ideally, Isaac will add some weight (he’s listed at 205 lbs now) , but for a 19-year-old he’s in pretty good shape.
Frank Ntilikina (International)
Another big point guard, Ntilikina naturally won’t have received the same scrutiny by the public as those prospects who showcased themselves in the NCAA this season. But there are some NBA analysts out there who think he’d be right there with Fox and Smith if he had.
Lauri Markkanen (Freshman, Arizona)
Finally there’s Lauri Markkanen, a 7’0’’ Finnish star who can shoot from outside and bang inside. He’s gotten inevitable comparisons to the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Porzingis over the course of a stellar freshman season at Arizona, though his poor performance in the Sweet 16, where Arizona was upset by Xavier, wasn’t a good look to finish on.
These are the 10 players that seem almost certain to land in the lottery, regardless of the aforementioned pre-draft variables that still need sorting out. Also keep your eye on UCLA’s T.J. Leaf, Wake Forest’s John Collins, Gonzaga’s Zach Collins, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, and Duke’s Harry Giles.