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.
NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity
The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?
The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.
“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.
Tyler Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game against the Bucks, still with no plans for an MRI on his sprained left ankle sustained Monday in Chicago. He remains with the team, which did not practice Tuesday.
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) January 16, 2018
Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.
“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”
Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.
“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”
Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.
“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”
Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.
“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”
The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.
NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?
Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?
Is It Time To Sell?
Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.
Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!
The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.
Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.
That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.
While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.
The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.
The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.
The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.
The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.
For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.
The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).
That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.
If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.
The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.
It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.
League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.
The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?
It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?
Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.
It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.
At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.
If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.
More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .
Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal
Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.
Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.
So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.
You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.
With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.
He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.
But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.
Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.
Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.
These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.
Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.
The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.
Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.
The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.