Who May Be the Next Ben Simmons?
Top draft prospect Ben Simmons of LSU is garnering a lot of attention due to his eye-popping collegiate numbers, and he’s almost guaranteed to make him the top overall selection of the 2016 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old impacts just about every facet of the game and he’s currently averaging 20.3 points, 12.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.2 blocks. The wonder from down under is drawing early comparisons to LeBron James for his versatility and unselfish style of play, and executives from potential lottery teams are already drooling over the possibility of nabbing the burgeoning star.
While it may be a little early, the good people at McDonald’s recently released a long list of 2016 McDonald’s All-American nominees and, as we know, many of the NBA’s current superstars were, in fact, named to those exhibition games earlier in their career.
Knowing that, here’s a look at who is currently considered the nation’s best five-star high school recruits. We’ll examine their game and whether they have the potential to – like Simmons – become one of the top prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Harry Giles, F, 6’10, Oak Hill Academy (Duke) – Like quite a few top high school stars have done over the years, ESPN’s No. 1 overall recruit Harry Giles transferred to Oak Hill for his senior year in an effort to maximize exposure and present himself as a man among men. However, that decision proved a fateful one as he partially tore his right ACL minutes into his first game there and now is in the midst of sitting out his senior season of high school.
This is significant for Giles – a talented big man with outstanding athleticism who already possesses the body of an NBA player – because he also tore both his ACL and MCL in the other knee the summer before his sophomore campaign. There’s no question that he’s incredibly talented, and a year at Duke certainly won’t hurt his shot at being the top overall pick in 2017. But his health now is a serious concern and it’s fair to wonder whether a team with the first or second selection will take him, even following a great year of college ball. He’ll be in contention if he’s in one piece, but there are safer options at the top – namely kids who arguably are just as talented but with stronger knees.
Jayson Tatum, F, 6’8, Chaminade H.S. (Duke) – Also headed to Duke is Tatum, who is one of Giles’ best friends and future roommate. Tatum could just as easily become the No. 1 player in the 2017 Draft thanks to his combination of skill, athleticism and size. Scouts have noted that there really isn’t much anybody can do to guard the guy (he had 46 points in a high school game earlier this season), but he’s also long enough to play tricky defense thanks to a 6’10 wingspan. He already is putting on muscle, and he’ll end up taking Brandon Ingram’s spot in the Blue Devils’ lineup should Ingram head for the NBA next season as expected. There’s no reason Tatum shouldn’t leave college just as highly touted as Ingram has become.
Josh Jackson, G, 6’8, Prolific Prep (Undecided) – As Rivals.com’s No. 1 overall recruit, Jackson is trying to use his senior season to prove that he is arguably the best high school player in the country. While he’s not necessarily the sort of elite scorer that Tatum appears to be, he is a little more versatile and has the potential to be one of the best defensive players from his class. He’s not as aggressive on offense as he probably should be, but that could come with time as he narrows down his collegiate choices (which reportedly are down to Arizona, Michigan State and perhaps Kansas) and gets enough experience on that level to find himself on that end. A recruit who is a jack of all trades with a high ceiling typically gets drafted very early, and right now Jackson fits that mold. he already looks like one of the top three players of his draft class.
De’Aaron Fox, G, 6’3, Cypress Lakes H.S. (Kentucky) – One of three top-10 high school recruits headed to Kentucky this year, Fox finds himself en route to the NBA farm that is John Calipari’s Wildcats roster. But it’s hard to know what will happen this offseason since the futures of Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe – the two uber-talented point guards already on the team – are somewhat up in the air since they’re considered bubble first-rounders.
Even if Fox doesn’t get a ton of playing time next year, which is doubtful considering he’s the No. 1 point guard prospect in the country, NBA scouts look at Kentucky players and judge their potential, athleticism and ability to translate their game to the league, not actual output, and Fox obviously has those things in droves. He’s traditional at his position in a sense, with great court vision and the quickness necessary to attack the bucket at will. With that said, he’s also one of his class’ best perimeter defenders, which makes him a very tough matchup (particularly for smaller point guards). He seems at the very least destined for the lottery, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him emerge as a top pick.
Bam Adebayo, F, 6’10, High Point Christian (Kentucky) – Another one of Coach Cal’s recruits, Adebayo looks like an NBA player already, but thankfully for him that humongous 260-pound frame also comes with quite a bit of talent. Nicknamed “Bam” as a toddler because he crashed into and knocked over a coffee table, Edrice Adebayo is one of the most polished big men in high school hoops right now. He’s surprisingly athletic for his size and scores incredibly efficiently with his fine array of post moves. While he’s more of a center stuck in a power forward’s body, he has a skill set that definitely will translate well to the college level and eventually to the pro level too. He’s arguably the most desirable “true” big man in his class, and as NBA history has shown us, quality true big men tend to get drafted pretty high.
Malik Monk, G, 6’4, Bentonville H.S. (Kentucky) – Monk is the third top-10 recruit headed to Kentucky this season, but the highly-efficient combo guard out of Arkansas has the potential to be the best of the batch. He’s really more of a shooting guard than anything, but the NBA no longer worries about positions as much as it used to. That means the speedy, athletic, heady Monk should have no problem finding a professional home in about a year and a half when it comes time for him to consider entering the NBA Draft. An avid hunter, Monk lends himself to all sorts of fun basketball wordplay (the “hunt” for a championship; a “sharpshooter”), but it’s his skills on the court that have him headed to the most talented roster in college hoops next season. Kentucky breeds stars, and there’s little reason to believe that Monk couldn’t be one.
Dennis Smith, G, 6’3, Trinity Christian (NC State) – One of the more interesting players on this list, Smith also tore his ACL this season and used his lost senior season as an excuse to graduate high school a semester early and join his new NC State teammates a full eight months earlier than expected. While Smith isn’t expected to play for the Wolfpack this year, the star point guard is making use of what we can only assume are high-quality rehab and training facilities, not to mention he’s getting an extra semester of learning the playbook and being around his coaching staff and teammates at practices. As far as experience goes, he’s still essentially a high school senior, and he’ll need a whole extra year at college to be eligible for the draft, but this athletic attacker with the tight handles and solid court vision should prove himself worthy of NBA attention in no time. Getting that extra time with the Pack certainly won’t hurt either.
It may seem ridiculous to give heavy consideration to an NBA Draft that’s 18 months away when so much can happen between now and then. After all, six months ago we were looking at Skal LaBissiere as arguably the best player of the 2016 draft class, but he has been massively disappointing at Kentucky during his freshman season. Several years ago, there were early rumblings out of high school that Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller would be top picks in the 2012 NBA Draft, but today neither player is on an NBA roster. Once upon a time, Shabazz Muhammad was supposed to be a superstar (some even called him the next Carmelo Anthony).
Things change and other players come out of nowhere to climb draft boards, but if we’re looking for next year’s Ben Simmons in the NCAA, these seven players are the best bets for now. Whether Harry Giles can stay healthy long-term is the most interesting question among these young players, but it sure isn’t the only one.
That, of course, is a big part of what makes all this early speculation so much fun.
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