1. What is the theme?
Guards, guards, and more guards.
Each NBA Draft is different depending on the quality of players that can be selected at the top of the board. The 2017 NBA Draft will be known for the fact that multiple franchise-caliber lead guards are available among the first 10 picks. This writer never fancies himself as an “NBA guy,” but after studying the league during the postseason and talking to several executives, it’s abundantly clear that teams that play deep into the playoffs are armed with special players in the backcourt. Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, N.C. State’s Dennis Smith, and France’s Frank Ntilikina are all lead guards who could be anchors for five different franchises at the most important position on the floor.
2. Will LaVar Ball inhibit Lonzo Ball?
If he does, each executive that passes on him obviously didn’t watch UCLA last season. The 6-6 point guard single-handedly turned around the Bruins’ program and led Steve Alford’s club to 31 wins just one year after tallying only 15. Did he have help? Absolutely, but it’s important to point out that a big part of UCLA’s success was due to the fact that Ball brought the best out of everyone he played with. Bryce Alford averaged career highs in both field goal percentage (44.7) and 3-point field-goal percentage (43) thanks to Ball. He also is a major reason why teammate T.J. Leaf is expected to be taken in the middle of the first round. No one in this draft can make players around him better than Ball and it may not be close.
3. Who is the most underrated player in the lottery?
Zach Collins. The 7-footer was a reserve last season for Gonzaga behind veterans Johnathan Williams and Przemek Karnowski, but still managed to average 10 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in just 17.2 minutes. The Las Vegas native shined in the Final Four against South Carolina, tallying 14 points, 13 rebounds, and six blocks in just 23 minutes of action. If Collins played at either Duke or Kentucky, he’d be viewed much differently heading into Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This kid has all the chops to be a bona fide NBA big man for many years to come.
4. Who is set to rise?
Donovan Mitchell. The 6-2 guard is a freak athlete and has the potential to be an elite defender at the next level. NBA executives love prospects that can play multiple positions and Mitchell certainly fits that bill. Another thing to love about this kid? He has already shown tangible proof that he’s just scratching the surface on offense. After he made only 18 3-point shots as a freshman at Louisville, Mitchell nailed 80 shots from deep during this past season with the Cardinals. This writer is hearing it’s unlikely he will slide past Charlotte at 11.
5. Which college basketball program could be set for another breakthrough after Thursday?
South Carolina. The Gamecocks are fresh off an appearance in the Final Four, but on Thursday two players who were a part of that run — Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier — have a legitimate chance to be drafted. What would that do for this program’s recruiting? Everything.
Frank Martin reaped the fruits of his labor this past March and April by breaking through and reaching college basketball’s ultimate showcase, but having the ability to sell that plus the idea of putting multiple players in the NBA in the same year opens up a completely different universe for South Carolina.
This and That
– Which team may be most likely to wheel and deal on draft night? It could be Portland. The Blazers own three first-round picks (16, 20, 26) and want to package those with a player to move up the board.
– Markelle Fultz’s lack of winning at Washington has taken immense attention off N.C. State’s Dennis Smith, who was a starting point guard on a team that went 15-17 despite winning a road game at Duke early in ACC play. A freak athlete, Smith was believed to the best point guard in this draft class before tearing his ACL a few years ago.
– Malik Monk’s inability to play multiple positions has him labeled as a potential first guard off the bench on a good team, but not a starter right now according to most NBA executives. “He can really score the ball, but he’s a two trapped in a one’s body,” one NBA general manager told FanRag Sports. “Right now, he’s being viewed in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford type mold.”
– All three of Oregon’s draft prospects — Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, and Jordan Bell — are likely to be selected anywhere in the 28-40 range, a source told FanRag Sports.
– I’m hearing Indiana has its eyes on Houston’s Damyean Dotson if he’s still on the board when the Pacers select at 47 in the second round. The 6-5 wing can score (17.4 points), rebound (6.9), defend his position, and made 108 3-point shots last season for the Cougars.
Five Potential Steals
Terrance Ferguson, Australia: He would have been one of the best shooters in college basketball last season if he honored his commitment at Arizona instead of playing professionally overseas. The 6-7 Ferguson is open as soon as he walks into the gym and has also become a willing defender. There’s a lot to like with this kid.
Derrick White, Colorado: NBA guys love players who can play multiple positions and White certainly fits that bill. A former standout at Division II University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the 6-4 guard played only one year of Division I and did a little bit of everything for Tad Boyle and the Buffaloes. Armed with good size and the versatility to run a team or play off the ball, White has the DNA of a guy who could stick at the next level for a long time.
Semi Ojeleye, SMU: Built like an Adonis, the 6-7, 235-pound Ojeleye is tailor-made to be an NBA small-ball four-man thanks to his physique and ability to make outside shots (73 last season). Armed with guard skills and a power lifter’s body, Ojeleye has a man’s game that’s ready to immediately compete in a man’s league.
Sterling Brown, SMU: There’s a good chance Brown won’t even get drafted, but the 6-6 wing is the type of player that could stick as a rookie free agent or with a strong showing in the NBA Summer League. A complete player who became much more comfortable with his outside shot as a senior (61 made 3-point shots), Brown is the type of utility player that some team will land on the cheap in the next few years.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse: The 6-9 big man can take and make 3-point shots with accuracy (39.5 percent) while also performing as a capable rebounder (8.6) and shot blocker (1.4). Lydon would have been one of the best prospects on the board in 2018 if he returned for another year of college, but will still be good value for anyone drafting after 20.
Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.