NBA Draft 2016 small forward rankings: Brandon Ingram in a class of his own
The position has some strength at the top, but gets relatively thin in a hurry
Over the next week, we are releasing position by position draft rankings to pair with scouting reports on each of the top 10 players at each position. That will be followed by the next 10 on the Big Board.
Each position will also be broken into tiers in order to help consumers understand how the players break down in terms of similar talent levels. For each player in each tier, it's often scheme-based in terms of which team fits each player best.
This time, we are breaking out the small forwards. As you'll see below, there is a high level of upside at the top, with the two highest-rated players ranking in the top five of the CBS Sports NBA Draft Big Board. But beyond them, this position has less depth than any other in the draft. There are only two other players who receive first round grades, a pair of interesting internationals who could go in the first if things broke right, and then no other players that are sure things to be selected. That's why there are only eight featured players here. There are only 14 players in the top six tiers of this board, and it was difficult to even get to 20 prospects before running out of real estate on my top 150.
Still though, when you have a player like Brandon Ingram at the top, the position is worth discussing. Here's a quick breakdown of the top eight.
1. Brandon Ingram | Duke | 6-9, 196 pounds, 7-3 wingspan, 18 years old
Ingram has an argument to be the No. 1 player taken in this draft, pure and simple. Over the last few years, there hasn't been a better fit that has entered the league than Ingram. Need a guy who can space the floor? Ingram hit 41 percent of his shots from distance this season and has a pristine stroke that should have no issues extending out to the NBA line. In the switch-heavy NBA, it's important to have a player who can attack when he gets the right matchup. Ingram does that well due to his proficiency in isolation scoring, where he converted at a one point-per-possession clip when including assists, good for the 83rd percentile nationally this season. Defensively, Ingram possesses that same ability to switch and causes problems for a variety of different players due to his mobility paired with the standing reach of a center. Basically, the idea of Ingram is superb, and in actuality he's already a great player despite being one of the youngest in this class.
There are certainly still some places for improvement. For one, he needs to get better around the rim. He only made 50.7 percent of his shots around the basket, as he's not particularly an above-the-rim type player at this stage of his career due to a relative lack of explosiveness vertically. Also, he could stand to improve as a ball-handler in order to get to the rim more consistently instead of having to rely on step-back jumpers -- which particularly are effective shots for him due to the space he creates with his long legs. Ingram is coming along at the perfect time to take advantage of his skills, but he still needs to improve upon his talents in order to reach the lofty heights that seem to be expected of him at this stage.
2. Jaylen Brown | Cal | 6-7, 223 pounds, 6-11.75 wingspan, 19 years old
I've written extensively on Brown's game already. For more on that, you can read here . Basically, Brown is a theoretical prospect at this point due to his inability to shoot and lack of diversification handling the ball. However, due to his length, athleticism, and motor, he has as much potential as anyone in the draft outside of the top two players. It's all on him and how much he wants to work to get there.
That's where the more interesting stuff comes into play, as Brown has been noted throughout the draft process as a bit of a polarizing interview from teams due to his intelligence level. Brown is a free thinker who is one of the smarter players in the draft. That's always been the case with him, even going back to his high school days. The key for him will be convincing teams that, regardless of that intelligence level, he has a good understanding of where his game is right now, where he needs to improve, and what the most efficient way to go about that is. If he can do that, it's unlikely the interviews will harm him in any way. If he doesn't, his floor is probably a bit lower than you'd expect from a somewhat high-end prospect.
3. DeAndre Bembry | St. Joseph's | 6-6, 211 pounds, 6-9.25 wingspan, 21 years old
Bembry was renowned as a prospect on the rise last summer after standout performances on the camp circuit, but regressed a touch early as he struggled with his efficiency and seemed to not really be shooting the ball well at all. However, as the season progressed, Bembry morphed back into his awesome self and really started to dominate as St. Joe's went on its run to the Round of 32.
Bembry can do it all outside of shoot for a team. He's a smooth athlete who can rise up when he needs to, but mostly plays at a deliberate pace that allows him to exert his influence on the game uniquely. He can attack in the pick-and-roll, take players off the dribble with a good first stride, handle the ball, change pace and direction, move without the ball, finish inside, and even defend occasionally. If he can continue to work on that jumper and become more proficient out there, it would really help his prospective team from a spacing perspective. But even without that, he's not a zero offensively due to the attention that must be paid to him as a playmaker and slasher. He's not an elite athlete and doesn't have superb wingspan, but he plays hard and does the things you're looking for from a winner. He should be a first round pick.
4. Taurean Prince | Baylor | 6-8, 220 pounds, 6-11.5 wingspan, 21 years old
Over the past two years, Prince has been one of the best per-minute scorers at the high-major college level. He averaged over 20 points per 40 minutes in each of his final two seasons at Baylor, although his efficiency did take a bit of a downturn as a senior. He was called on to make more plays with the basketball instead of playing seamlessly within their offense, and the result was a slight drop off in shooting from deep and more midrange shots that he wasn't effective at converting.
The good news for Prince though is that his game is pretty tailor made for today's NBA. The 6-8 forward should be able to slide between the 3 and 4 due to his ability to play physically as well as hit jump shots. He hit about 38 percent of his near-300 3-point attempts over his last two seasons, and has a true rim rate (shots around the basket minus transition and put-backs in order to distill a better understanding of effectiveness within half court offense) of 61.1 percent, a good number for a forward and great number for a perimeter player. Prince's size and mobility should also allow him to do some switching around on defense and create a more versatile weapon there. There may be an adjustment period, as Baylor played zone on 54.6 percent of its possessions according to Synergy, but Prince possesses the tools needed -- including the motor -- to be a strong contributor on that end.
I wouldn't say Prince is a sure thing to hear his name called in the first round, but it's a strong possibility at the very least given the skillset he could provide going forward.
5. Paul Zipser | Bayern Munich (Germany) | 6-8, 210 pounds, 22 years old
Another older player with quite a bit of experience. Zipser has been a key contributor for one of the top teams in Germany over each of the last two seasons, providing quite a bit in the way of shooting and athleticism. Right now, the German forward plays a bit of both the 3 and the 4 for Bayern as a versatile weapon who can stretch the floor and then also defend a wide variety of players. In a little over 1000 minutes this season, he's put up a superb shooting line of 49.5/41.7/83.9 for a player his size, and that's his best skill on the offensive end. If he's open and gets time to shoot, the ball is likely going in.
Zipser is also an explosive, above-the-rim athlete who can hit really get up and throw it down if the situation calls for it (especially slashing the baseline when attacking closeouts)
That athleticism extends to the defensive end, where he's a smart player who can cut off penetration and do a lot in help defense. He's not particularly skilled beyond this necessarily, as his ball-handling is quite rudimentary and he's not someone who creates a ton for himself unless it's off of a closeout. But he projects to be the perfect type of 3-and-D player in the right system, and could be a steal if he falls to the second round.
6. Rade Zagorac | Mega Leks (Serbia) | 6-9, 205 pounds, 20 years old
Zagorac has been a bit of a late riser on draft boards this season as he missed about three and a half months with a hand injury at the start of the season. Since returning though, he's been right in the mix with Timothe Luwawu as Mega Leks' best player, scoring 13.6 points per game while throwing up a 49.7/35.1/76.7 shooting line.
He's at his best as a slasher/playmaker type though, as the tall perimeter forward is a tremendous ball-handler that possesses the ability to change pace and direction with ease. He finishes well around the rim, has a solid in-between game and can attack in the mid-post if he has a good matchup. His shooting mechanics are solid, and he's hit 36 percent of his 3s over the last two seasons. Defense will be a question with him, as he's not the most laterally quick athlete, but overall there is a lot to like about the high level of skill Zagorac could bring to an NBA team on the wing as a second round stash player.
7. Jake Layman | Maryland | 6-9, 209 pounds, 6-9.25 wingspan, 22 years old
Layman had a bit of a trying year at Maryland this season. In the college game, his best position was as a 4 who could stretch the floor as his athleticism and size combination was often too much for those players to handle. But this season, Layman often tried to get into the same spots as his counterpart forward Robert Carter, and often times slunk into the background of Maryland's team this season.
Still, there's a good amount to like about Layman's game. He has short arms, but at 6-9 he has good enough height to play the small forward position, where he'll be expected to succeed in the NBA. This season, he hit nearly 40 percent of his 3s and had a stellar shooting line of 50/39.6/83.2. Despite not necessarily showing out like he was supposed to, Layman did portray some of the same skills he'll need to be a good role player in the NBA. He has athleticism, the ability to hit open shots, and the potential to defend a couple of different player types. It's far from a sure thing that he will be able to make it at the NBA level, but he's got a shot.
8. Georges Niang | Iowa State | 6-9, 231 pounds, 6-10 wingspan, 22 years old
Niang was a tough player to classify. Does he fit as a power forward? A small forward? Is he both? Who does he defend?
That stuff is all very clearly up in the air, but Niang has worked tirelessly to get his body into shape to play as a perimeter player in the NBA and that's likely where he will need to have success. There are few players out there as skilled as he is in terms of basketball IQ, passing and shooting. Niang averaged 20.5 points and 3.3 assists last season with an assist percentage near 20 and a true-shooting rate of 62.5. It's easy to see him translating to the NBA on offense as he's great at playing within a team concept.
The question at this stage is whether or not he can defend at a high enough level to make him a plus player overall in the NBA. Niang is a low-end athlete in terms of the NBA, and even in college he struggled to make an impact on defense. Given his IQ level and team-oriented attitude, I'm inclined to believe that he'll make it in the NBA in some capacity. But it's definitely up in the air still.
Next 12: (Tier 5 continued) James Webb III, Boise State; Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida; Troy Williams, Indiana;
(Tier 6) Danuel House, Texas A&M; Elgin Cook, Oregon; Derrick Jones, UNLV
(Tier 7) Axel Bouteille, Chalon (France); Rosco Allen, Stanford; Brannen Greene, Kansas; Marko Guduric, KK Crvena Zvezda (Serbia)
(Tier 8) Shavon Shields, Nebraska, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech
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