Duke freshman Jayson Tatum headlines early list of Top 30 NBA Draft prospects
Tatum is one of five Blue Devils projected to go in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft
The 2017 NBA Draft is still six months away. But, already, I can promise this: it's going to be dominated at the top by college freshmen. In fact, I think the fist nine picks -- and 11 of the 14 lottery picks -- will be college freshmen, and I currently have Duke's Jayson Tatum projected to go first overall.
Because he seems to check every box.
The 6-foot-8 small forward has good size for his position and is an elite scorer thanks to a mid-range game that already looks NBA ready. He's a safe pick but also one with tremendous upside. I really, really like him -- which is not to suggest Tatum is a no-brainer to go first. That's the thing about this draft. It's super-loaded. And I could see any one of three or four different players going No. 1 -- most obviously Washington's Markelle Fultz, Kansas' Josh Jackson or even NC State's Dennis Smith.
But, for now, put me down for Tatum.
And he could be the first of five Blue Devils to go in the first round because Luke Kennard now looks like a first-round pick. The 6-6 guard has been Duke's best player and is averaging 20.0 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range. No, Kennard is not a great athlete, and, yes, that's a concern. But he's just such a good ... basketball player. And now more than ever there seems to be spots in the NBA for guys who are just skilled and good basketball players.
2017 NBA DRAFT BIG BOARD
1. Jayson Tatum (Duke)
Tatum is a gifted scorer with good size for a wing. He missed Duke's first eight games with a foot injury but is averaging 15.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in just 24.3 minutes.
2. Markelle Fultz (Washington)
Fultz is operating mostly off the national radar -- out on the West Coast playing for a bad team that's on a four-game losing streak. But the dynamic point guard been incredible statistically and done nothing to damage his reputation with NBA scouts.
3. Josh Jackson (Kansas)
Jackson isn't KU's best player but is clearly the school's best professional prospect. He's a top-shelf athlete, which is arguably the most important attribute as it pertains to trying to become an elite NBA wing.
4. Dennis Smith (NC State)
Smith suffered a torn ACL in high school but hasn't shown any lingering issues since arriving at NC State. The only obvious concern with the athletic point guard is his inability to consistently make jumpers.
5. Harry Giles (Duke)
Giles is similar to Joel Embiid in the sense that somebody will take him high despite injury concerns because, at some point, the reward will outweigh the risk. Two knee surgeries ago, he would've gone first in this draft.
6. Lonzo Ball (UCLA)
Concerns about the unusual way Ball shoots jumpers do exist in NBA circles. But everybody loves his composure, vision and instincts -- and the way he's completely transformed Steve Alford's UCLA program.
7. Malik Monk (Kentucky)
Monk is probably the bounciest prospect in college basketball. He could be, and should be, an electric combo guard at the NBA level capable of scoring big and competing for dunk contest trophies.
Isaac is another freshman on the one-and-done path. The 6-11 forward is averaging 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range for Leonard Hamilton's nationally ranked Seminoles.
9. De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky)
Fox has good size and great speed in transition. He could end up being fairly high on the list of the best guards to ever play for John Calipari that already includes Derrick Rose, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.
Anunoby was wowing NBA scouts before suffering an ankle injury in Indiana's win over UNC. He's missed the past three games but is expected to return soon.
11. Frank Ntilikina (France)
Ntilikina is the first international prospect I have coming off the board. He's playing mostly off the ball in France but still projects as an elite point guard prospect.
Markkanen has been tremendous while keeping Arizona relevant despite injuries and suspensions. He's a 7-foot forward with range all the way out to the 3-point line who is averaging 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Bridges has already proven to be an incredibly productive college player who is explosive when attacking the rim. An ankle injury that's sidelined him is the only thing keeping the freshman off Player of the Year lists.
Rabb is among the best prospects from last season who returned for another year of school. He's an athletic big who is averaging 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds for a Cal team that's won six of its past seven games.
15. Thomas Bryant (Indiana)
Bryant's stock will rise if he continues to prove he can reliably shoot from the perimeter. He's a 6-10 forward who is averaging 11.9 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point range.
16. T.J. Leaf (UCLA)
Leaf has been overshadowed but still fabulous so far for UCLA. He's averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 50.0 percent from 3-point range and proving to be an ideal modern-day power forward prospect.
17. Bam Adebayo (Kentucky)
Adebayo's high-motor should serve him well at the next level and is the main reason he's averaging 8.0 rebounds. The concern is that he lacks the perimeter game so many power forwards now possess.
18. Terrance Ferguson (Australia)
Ferguson signed with Arizona but instead pursued a professional career in Australia. He's currently averaging 17.1 minutes per game for the Adelaide 36ers.
19. Marques Bolden (Duke)
Bolden seems likely to get caught in a numbers game this season due to the strong play of Amile Jefferson. But that shouldn't hurt his draft stock much or prevent him from being selected in the first round.
20. Omer Yurtzeven (NC State)
Yurtzeven is expected to make his college debut Thursday after missing the Wolfpack's first nine games because of an NCAA-administered suspension. He's skilled around the rim and still only 18 years old.
21. Jarrett Allen (Texas)
Allen is mostly raw offensively. But he's a good athlete who is 6-11 with a 7-6 wingspan, and those things alone will keep him on NBA radars even if his points per game average remains in single digits.
22. Grayson Allen (Duke)
Allen has been bothered by a lingering toe issue. But it's getting better and he just scored a career-high 34 points in a 94-45 win over UNLV that unofficially relaunched his Player of the Year campaign.
23. Edmond Sumner (Xavier)
Sumner is a point guard with great size for his position. But he's only shooting 22.7 percent from 3-point range this season, which is a concern among scouts in a league where perimeter shooting matters.
Lydon's 3-point percentage has dropped considerably this season -- all the way down to 34.3 percent. But he's still considered a nice stretch-four prospect given that he made 40.5 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman.
25. Robert Williams (Texas A&M)
Williams ranks ninth nationally in block percentage and has made a big impact at Texas A&M while only playing 20.0 minutes per game. He's an athletic power forward with an incredible PER of 35.78.
26. Jonathan Jeanne (France)
Jeanne is remarkably fluid for a 7-2 forward. His ability to run well makes him dangerous in transition and an interesting international prospect worthy of a first-round flyer.
27. P.J. Dozier (South Carolina)
Dozier has improved drastically since his so-so freshman season. The former McDonald's All-American is averaging 13.6 points and shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range for the nationally ranked Gamecocks.
28. Isaiah Hartenstein (Lithuania)
Hartenstein is the rare international prospect who was actually born in the United States. His father is a former German professional player and coach who played college basketball at Oregon.
29. Luke Kennard (Duke)
Kennard has been fabulous all season and thus gained traction with NBA personnel. He's averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range for a Duke team projected to win the national championship.
Blossomgame has missed 22 of the 25 3-pointers he's attempted, which isn't ideal. But it's not an accurate representation of his true ability from beyond the arc.
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