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Who Goes Third in 2016 NBA Draft?

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be the top two picks in the draft, but who goes #3?



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Who’s the Third Pick in the 2016 NBA Draft?

For months, all we’ve heard about in terms of the forthcoming NBA is draft is that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are going to be the top two players selected in some order, which makes a ton of sense considering both players’ talent and upside, but there are a heck of a lot more than two draft picks in an NBA Draft. Knowing that whichever two teams draft No. 1 and No. 2 are going to end up with those guys, it leaves a very interesting conundrum for the team tasked with selecting third overall. Which of the remaining field is most worthy of that No. 3 overall selection?

It’s a legitimate debate and not an enviable position from which to be selecting prospects this summer. There are a handful of possibilities that exist for that spot, each of which offers its own unique combination of risk of reward.

Here’s a look at the players who, as of now, find themselves in the mix for that third overall selection:

Dragan Bender, Croatia – Bender is, at the very least, confusing. At worst, he’s a full-on enigma who’s impossible to judge as NBA prospect because he just hasn’t had the professional experience and playing time to prove himself worthy of a top-three pick.

That said, he’s listed as the third guy in the overwhelming majority of respected mock drafts right now, probably due at least in some part to the success that Kristaps Porzingis had his first year with the New York Knicks this past season. It’s easy to forget, but Porzingis kind of crept up out of nowhere as an elite draft prospect in the weeks leading up to the draft, as teams saw him work out and display a pretty unique skill set for a guy his size.

Well, Bender has a pretty similar skill set and is equally mysterious because of his lack of playing time for Maccabi Tel Aviv this past season. In Chad Ford’s most recent mock draft for ESPN, he mentioned that he’s hearing some scouts express some doubt about Bender after having seen him in person, with the concern being that he’s still too far away to make any sort of immediate impact in the NBA. If he’s Porzingis (or even Porzingis lite), he’s a no-brainer as the third overall pick in the draft. But what if he’s Nikoloz Tskitishvili?

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – Anybody who watched any amount of college basketball this past season knows that Hield was easily the best player in the country, but it’s not often any more than NBA teams use their high lottery picks on college seniors when there are so many gifted 19-year-olds who, for all they know, could be the next Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony. NBA teams have proven time and time again that they value a high ceiling over a high floor, so while it looks like an absolute certainty that Hield will play a significant role on an NBA team for quite some time whether he’s an All-Star or not, the fact that he’s not as long or tall or freakishly athletic as some of the other younger guys around him makes him look like a liability with a pick as high as the No. 3.

All that said, he’s an outstanding basketball player, plain and simple. His path to this point in his career was not an easy one, so not only does he have the drive to be excellent, he also has shown how much he’s been able to improve in just the past four years. At 22 years old, he’s a virtual senior citizen by draft standards. But by the same token, he’s only in consideration for the top three because he killed it in the NCAA tournament. He feels like a sure-thing top-seven draft pick who could go as high as three, depending on the team selecting. Most, though, will go with the upside of Bender or Jamal Murray in hopes that they prove to live up to their hype.

Jamal Murray, Kentucky – Murray is pure upside. He has the ability to play both guard positions in the NBA and actually is one of the more polished shooters in the draft class. He may serve as a happy medium between the youth and potential provided by Bender and the proven pedigree and years of experience a team would get from Hield. Murray certainly experienced his fair share of struggles as a freshmen at Kentucky this past year, but he made steady improvements throughout the year and has showed enough that he’s an elite talent in this draft class who still just so happens to be only 19 years old.

While there aren’t many mock drafts right now that feature him as the third overall draft selection, it is an idea that could pick up steam for teams that are afraid of Bender being a bust or Hield being too unremarkable at the NBA level. He’s got proven talent and upside, which helps explain his rise up the lottery over the course of the last couple of months.

Kris Dunn, Providence – Dunn seems to have fallen out of favor a bit in mock drafts lately considering Providence’s late-season issues and inability to advance to the later rounds of the NCAA tournament, but he always was going to be a questionable NBA point guard prospect because he really is an unimpressive three-point shooter.

Everything else about the kid is pure magic, though, and he’s maybe the most entertaining player in the lottery. But NBA teams want point guards who can knock down outside shots. That’s more valuable to modern offenses, and Dunn looks as if he’s fallen behind Murray in that respect. He does have two more years of college experience in his favor (or working against him, depending on how you look at it), but there’s no telling how that may play into his draft position. Frankly, No. 3 feels high for him now, even though it seemed like a real possibility just a few months ago. Things change quickly when it comes to the draft, but the good news for Dunn is that they still have plenty of time to change quickly again.


There obviously are other talented players in the NBA Draft this year, but none who look like they’ll have much of an opportunity to unseat one of the aforementioned four players for the third draft selection overall. It looks for now as though it will be one of Bender, Murray, Hield or Dunn, any of whom could be a star or a disappointment, and all of whom are mere consolation prizes in what many consider to be a two-man draft.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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