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.
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