In today’s NBA, point guards rule.
Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, so on and so forth. Some of the league’s best talents are the players who are asked to bring the ball across half court.
Along with the stars that already litter the backcourts across the league, the 2017 draft class possesses a crop of point guards who have the potential to become the next wave of elite lead guards in the NBA.
When the draft night is all said and done, five different point guard’s could very well have been taken within the first ten picks of the draft. But with such a diverse crop of high-level talent and the need for quality point guards, how do these players stack up against each other?
Here’s a look at how these future NBA point guards are ranked in terms of talent as draft night quickly approaches.
1. Markelle Fultz — Washington
Markelle Fultz is the projected No. 1 overall pick by all accounts, and more than likely will wind up a Boston Celtic.
Of all the point guards — and players in general — Fultz has the best combination of NBA-ready skills and potential for growth.
His numbers at Washington during his freshman season project a guard that is perfect for the style of player currently permeating throughout the NBA. 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 41 percent three-point shooting per game painted Fultz as a guard who not only could light up a gym with his jump shot, but also get rebounds to push a fast break and become a playmaker.
Along with his stat-sheet-stuffing ability, Fultz stands a solid 6-foot-4. In today’s NBA, point guards are a bit bigger than traditional points used to be. Westbrook, Wall, Curry, Lillard, and Irving are all at least 6-foot-3. From a physicality standpoint, Fultz checks all the boxes.
Roll up all of Fultz’s intangibles and physical attributes into one product and you wind up with not only the best point guard in this draft but the best player available as well.
2. De’Aaron Fox — Kentucky
While Lonzo Ball currently holds the consensus opinion of likely being selected with No. 2 pick in the draft, he still concedes the spot as the second-best point guard to De’Aaron Fox.
Fox is a speed demon who has drawn countless comparisons to fellow former Kentucky Wildcat John Wall for his quick feet and defensive ability. And while some eyes are focused on Ball as the next in line after Fultz is off the board, Fox has the potential to be more of an impact player at the next level.
At 6-foot-4, Fox possesses the height – and length with 6-foot-6 wingspan — to disrupt opposing point guards across the league for years to come. In their Sweet 16 matchup in this past NCAA tournament, Fox hung 39 points on Ball while containing the former UCLA point guard to just 10 points in the Kentucky victory.
The knock on Fox, however, is his inconsistent jump shot. Fox shot just 24 percent from downtown in his freshman year at Kentucky, which evidences his most glaring limitation that keeps him just outside of the “best player in the draft” conversation. Despite his most common comparison player in Wall not being a knockdown shooter by any means, the Washington Wizards point guard still managed to shoot 32 percent from deep during his lone year in Lexington.
If Fox can develop a reasonable jump shot, which isn’t out of the question considering there aren’t any glaring flaw with his shooting form, he could wind up as the best two-way player in this draft class. That potential alone puts Fox just below Fultz and just above Ball.
3. Lonzo Ball — UCLA
Perhaps the most polarizing player in the entire draft, in part because of his father, Lonzo Ball enters the NBA draft as one of the most gifted passers in recent memory.
In his lone year at UCLA, Ball navigated the Bruins’ offense to the top of the collegiate ranks while averaging 7.6 assists per game in the process. As a pure floor general, there isn’t a better point guard prospect in this draft than Ball.
Along with Ball’s boisterous father, LaVar, Ball’s jump shot is cause for concern. The point guard possesses an unorthodox shooting motion where he releases the shot from the left side of his head, as opposed to a more traditional straight away form. While Ball seemed to hit shots anyway — 41 percent from deep during his freshman year — the thought that his shot may be defended easier in the pros has given scouts around the league some pause on what his true potential may be.
Despite his funky shooting motion, Ball possesses every other skill that a team may be looking for in their point guard of the future. Standing at 6-foot-6, Ball has shown the ability to use his height and grab his fair share of rebounds. Listed at just 190 pounds he will need to hit the weight room, but at just 19-years-old, putting on size is the least of his worries.
As Ball continues to grow into his frame and see how his shooting motion adapts to professional basketball, he holds down the third spot in terms of point guards available.
4. Dennis Smith Jr. — North Carolina State
Before tearing his ACL prior to his senior year of high school, Dennis Smith Jr. was regarded as arguably the best point guard in his recruiting class. With wicked athleticism that allowed him to jump out of any gym, Smith Jr. seemed poised to make an NBA team happy in the near future.
While he isn’t the best point guard in his class anymore, Smith Jr. will be worth every bit of a top-10 pick during this June’s draft.
As the focal point of North Carolina State’s offense, Smith Jr. put up 18.1 points per game while making plays for his teammates in the process, collecting 6.2 assists per contest as well.
But what separates Smith Jr. from the first three guys in the top-tier of guard talent is his lack of size. While he stands at a solid 6-foot-3, his wingspan mirrors that number exactly, posing potential problems on the defensive end of the ball. During his freshman season, Smith Jr. struggled at times on defense and registered a 109.1 defensive rating.
Along with his potential defensive woes, Smith Jr. isn’t a knockdown shooter by any means. While that is a problem for prospects like Fox and Ball as well, their other strengths mask that a bit. After shooting just 45 percent from the floor, and 35 percent from three-point range during his freshman season, Smith Jr. will need to put work into his jump shot at the next level. While he isn’t the best shooter in the draft, Smith Jr. does display a great ability to get the basket off the dribble.
With a serious injury already under his belt and some questions about his defense and shooting, Smith Jr. heads the second-tier of point guard prospects in this draft. But with the quality and volume of point guards in this class, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
5. Frank Ntilikina — France
The mystery man of the 2017 point guard class, Frank Ntilikina has found his way onto the radar of teams selecting in the top-10 without having nearly as much information or film to study as the college prospects.
Logging his minutes for SIG Strasbourg over in France’s Pro A league, Ntilikina has been the recipient of the league’s best young player award two years running.
Standing at 6-foot-5, he is one of the tallest point guards available in this year’s draft. DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony describes Ntilikina as a “lockdown, multi-positional defender” in part because of his size and footwork. Where Ntilikina may struggle at the pro level in terms of physicality is with his sheer athleticism. Givony describes the Frenchman as lacking a “degree of quickness from a stand-still.”
While his physical limitations may keep him from being a dominant isolation player, Ntilikina displayed a degree of sniping capability with his shot, which is proving more valuable by the day in the evolving NBA. Over the course of 27 games during his last season, Ntilikina connected on 33-of-64 three-point shots. At the Under-18 championships, Ntilikina sank 17-of-29 shots from deep on his way to an MVP performance.
As this draft’s de facto foreign prospect set to go in the top-10, Ntilikina could prove to be a value pick should his game translate effectively.
6. Jawun Evans — Oklahoma State
After the top five point guards are off the board on draft night, there is a considerable drop off in talent.
In steps Jawun Evans.
The former Oklahoma State point guard opted to declare for the draft after his sophomore season where he scored 19.2 points per game while also contributing 6.4 assists.
What separates Evans from his point guard contemporaries is size. At the NBA Draft Combine, Evans was measured at just under 5-foot-11. In an NBA where size and versatility have become essential, Evans’ height certainly isn’t benefitting his draft stock.
However, there are a lot of positives to the former Cowboys game. Last season, Evans shot nearly 38 percent from beyond the arc, and his shot displays room for improvement in that department. Evans’ playmaking ability is among the best in his class as well as he registered a 42.9 assist percentage through 54 career college games.
While most of the point guard talk for this draft will focus on the five guys who may potentially be drafted in the first 10 picks, Evans knows he’s underrated, as he told Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto.
Although Evans may not be as physically imposing as some other lead guard prospects in this June’s draft, his play speaks for itself and he could wind up as one of the steals of the draft in the back end of the first round or beginning of the second round.
Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry
Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.
With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and front offices and scouts across the league.
Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Las Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.
It’s Mitchell Robinson.
Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.
He’s just the latest example of things that Scott Perry has done right.
As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts barely worth enough to buy LeBron James lunch on a consistent basis, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.
For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.
Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite. Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.
It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in summer league, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.
So if you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and subsequently strategically managing his salary cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.
With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future, so the task doesn’t appear that difficult.
What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season.
And what it also means for the Knicks is that the performance of Knox and Robinson at the Las Vegas Summer League isn’t the only thing the club should be celebrating.
It’s fair at this point to say that Perry has both improved the team’s future prospects and made a few moves that at least appear to have been the right decision.
Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign.
Perry has given Knicks fans quite a few. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.
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It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.
Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.
In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.
As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.
We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.
That concept has been where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up being effective will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.
Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job.
That much is a fact.
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Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused. Irony is often confused with coincidence.
In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.
In other words, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.
That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.
On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York.
To do you one better, a more recent example of irony can be found in the fact that Isaiah Thomas was traded by the Boston Celtics after recording the highest single-season scoring average of all time among player shorter than six-foot tall.
Irony is fans of the Los Angeles Lakers having no choice but to embrace LeBron James after spending the entirety of his existence downplaying his career accomplishments in order to properly exalt Kobe Bryant.
Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.
Yea. That’s irony. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury.
In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?
Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.
But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns
Looking For A Few Great Voices!
From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.
Looking For A Few Great Voices!
From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.
We are considering adding up to four new voices in 2018, and what we are looking for is very specific.
Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team other than in New York & LA; we are full in those markets.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.
Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.
If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:
The NBA Market You Live Near:
And Why We Should Consider You:
We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful. E-mail that to firstname.lastname@example.org
NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward
Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.
Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.
Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.
“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”
Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.
In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.
“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”
And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.
But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.
During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.
Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.
“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”
Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.
Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.
On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.
“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”
The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.
Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.
“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”
Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.