The narrative of the 2016 draft is starting to form. Right now this looks like a so-so draft with one great talent at the top. As is the case every year with my first draft preview the players are in tiers as opposed to a strict 1-60 rating of the prospects. I’ll have an updated top 60 in a month when conference play starts to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Ben Simmons, PF LSU: With Simmons there’s no reason to not believe the hype so far. He’s one of the best rebounders in the nation. He passes more deftly than most PGs. His defensive numbers are solid. If he continues on this pace through the conference season he’ll take his place as one of the top prospects of the one-and-done era.
Brandon Ingram, SG Duke: The other top pick. Ingram has been very good, but not quite at the Simmons level. These 2 stand above the rest of the draft class right now.
Jakob Poeltl, C Utah: I felt he was worthy of a lottery pick last year. He’s improved as a sophomore and could be the first center drafted.
Seniors and juniors getting it done so far: These players are producing at the level of star prospects early on. Based on their history it is way too early to rank any too high. All merit watching though and will be lottery picks if this level of play continues.
Kris Dunn, PG Providence: He has started the year on quite a roll. He’s currently 6th in the nation in assists and 2nd in steals. He’s potentially a dominant NBA defender. Offensively there are signs his past struggles are starting to creep back following a fast start. His turnover rate was high in December.
Gary Payton II, PG Oregon State: Last year was his first at this level after having played his first couple of seasons at Salt Lake CC. Payton was a stellar defender last year, without much offense or passing. This year he has improved in both those areas so far and is posting numbers consistent with star PGs. He is a 5th-year senior and that has always been a negative for prospects. But he has also been very good.
Moses Kingsley, PF Arkansas: Most of the players in this group are players who have been on the map as prospects for at least a year. Kingsley had been a part-timer, averaging around 10+ minutes and getting only 4 starts his first 2 seasons. This year he has been one of the top PFs in the nation so far and has definitely emerged as a prospect to watch.
Denzel Valentine, PG Michigan State: Valentine’s first 3 seasons were spent with either Travis Trice or Keith Appling as the main ball distributor. That’s Valentine’s job this year and so far he’s making like Magic Johnson. He’s the leading scorer on what was the top ranked team in the nation until this week. He’s 8th in the nation in assists and is rebounding like a PF.
Jarrod Uthoff, SF Iowa: Another 5th-year senior whose value has gone up because he’s scoring much more often and efficiently. Like Payton and Dunn, his mission is fairly simple. Continue to play at this level through the conference grind.
Buddy Hield, SG Oklahoma: Established himself as a top POTY candidate with a great game in the 3 OT thriller against Kansas. As a prospect he has always been kind of so-so, but he’s a legit late lottery pick if he continues to score at this frequency and efficiency.
Georges Niang, SF Iowa State: Similair to Uthoff in that he’s been around and has been a prospect on some level, but this year he really stepped it up, particularly defensively.
AJ Hammons, C Purdue: Hammons has been up-and-down his entire career. This year he has been solid so far, though his minutes are down in Purdue’s crowded frontcourt. The best thing about his start is it continues on what had been a strong finish last year.
Next tier Freshmen and Sophomores: Players who have been impressive on some level, but their games need some work. Youth and promise gives them an edge on similar juniors and seniors. This is an unusually big group and if the majority improve their games, this draft class will become much better. It’s pretty rare for a majority of players in this position to improve though and some of these guys could fall out of the top 60 completely once the level of competition increases in the conference games.But all have established themselves as young players to watch.
Dwayne Bacon, SG Florida State
Malik Beasley, SG Florida State: Beasley and Bacon might be the 2 most statistically similar players in the NCAA. They’re both freshman SGs on the same team.
Ivan Rabb, PF California
Diamond Stone, C Maryland
Devonta Davis, PF Michigan State
Henry Ellenson, PF Marquette
Diedric Lawson, F Memphis
Tyler Lydon, SF Syracuse
Stephen Zimmerman, C UNLV
Wade Baldwin, PG Vanderbilt
Caleb Swanigan, PF Purdue: It’s a very crowded frontcourt at Purdue and this could be affecting Swanigan’s numbers.
James Blackmon Jr, SG Indiana
Domatas Sabonis, PF Gonzaga
Grayson Allen, SG Duke
Pascal Siakam, PF New Mexico State
Chinanu Onuaku, C Louisville
Daniel Hamilton, G Connecticut
Isaiah Briscoe, PG Kentucky
Jaylon Brown, SF California
Isaac Haas, C Purdue
Highly touted freshmen who have a ways to go: These players just aren’t living up to the hype.
Jamal Murray, SG Kentucky
Chase Jeter, PF Duke
Cheick Diallo, PF Kansas: In the case of Diallo and Jeter playing time is a bigger issue than production so far.
Skal Labissiere, PF Kentucky
Dragan Bender, PF Maccabi Tel Aviv: He isn’t a NCAA freshman, but is about the same age and is definitely highly-touted. I haven’t seen a lot in his numbers that is very impressive. He’s a poor rebounder and inside scorer. That’s a big problem for a PF prospect, even if he does have a sweet stroke and can guard the perimeter. Another thing to note is his numbers were posted in low minutes and he’s young so improvement is likely. He’ll be watched closely as everyone in the NBA will be looking for another Porzingis in the 2016 draft.
Best of the Rest: These are all good, draftable players.
Mamadou Ndiaye, C UC-Irvine: N’diaye followed a promising freshman year in ’14 with a down season last year when he missed 10 games with a foot injury. He started slow this year, but exploded in December and is looking like the top prospect he showed flashes of becoming a couple of years ago. The fact that he’s 7’4” with foot problems is historically a scary thing. This is something that needs to be monitored. But N’Diaye has some ridiculous upside .
Zhou Qi, C Xinjiang Guanghui
Josh Hart, SG Villanova
Wayne Selden, SF Kansas: I had almost written Selden off as a prospect, but he’s finally producing like the prospect he was touted as when he came in 2 years ago.
Michael Gbijne, SF Syracuse
Jameel Warney, PF Stony Brook
Edijus Mockevicius, C Evansville
Damion Lee, SG Louisville
Shawn Long, PF Loiusuana-Lafayette
Paul Zipser, SF Bayern Muenchen
Chris Boucher, PF Oregon
Kennedy Meeks, C North Carolina
Caris Lavert, G Michigan
Brice Johnson, PF North Carolina: Johnson just keeps grinding along. There has been incremental improvement and he has bulked up to 230. His problem is he’s still just a traditional PF who doesn’t do much other than inside work.
Fred Van Vleet, PG Wichita State: An injury followed by a slow start might hurt his stock. Important to remember that he’s been a solid second rounder for a couple of seasons and should regain that level bt season’s end.
Monte Morris, PG Iowa State
Alex Hamilton, PG Louisiana Tech
Cameron Ridley, C Texas
Marcus Lee, PF Kentucky
Devin Thomas, PF Wake Forest
Kyle Wiltjer, F Gonzaga
Kyle Collinsworth, PG BYU: He’s in the same place as Payton II, Dunn and Valentine in that he’s a veteran PG with some definite negatives. His passing and defensive numbers are so good that it is hard to ignore him. He’s 24 and will turn 25 before the 2016-17 NBA season starts and that’s the biggest negative.
Robert Carter, PF Maryland
Josh Scott, PF Colorado
Yogi Ferrell, PG Indiana: This is the first time Ferrell has looked anything like a decent prospect since coming to Indiana as a top 25 player in 2013.
Jarelle Reischel, SG Eastern Kentucky: Posting some monster numbers, but is a 5th-year senior with so-so history at Rice and Rhode Island before this year.