The NBA Draft is this Thursday and there is a lot of hype surrounding this class. This draft class is regarded as one of the best in years, with multiple players that contain superstar talent. Markelle Fultz of Washington is expected to be the first pick, followed by Lonzo Ball of UCLA, but there that has been rumblings that the Los Angeles Lakers are not sold on him with the second pick. The draft is sure to have many surprises; here are some of the most intriguing prospects that this draft class has to offer.
Frank Ntilikina – PG (France)
Ntilikina is one of the top prospects in the draft, let alone foreign prospects, with his stock heavily rising over the past few months. Born in Ixelles, Belgium to Rwandan parents, he moved to Strasbourg, France at the age of 3. When he was 17, he signed his first professional contract with SIG Strasbourg. He is a two-time winner of the French League Best Player award, as well as the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship MVP.
“Ntilikina is the real deal,” ESPN’s Chad Ford said. “He just guided France’s under-18 team to a FIBA European championship. He scored 31 points in the title game against Lithuania and made 17 of his 29 3s in the tournament. He’s big, aggressive and tough and he plays with a high basketball IQ.”
“The team who would choose me, would have a player with a lot of passion and love for the game, very focused and committed to do everything in order to improve, and become the best player possible, to help the team win,” Ntilikina said in an interview with nbadraft.net.
NBA scouts are enamored with Ntilikina’s size, as he stands at 6 feet 5 inches tall, with a wingspan close to 7-feet. The expectation is that this should allow him to be a pest on defense, disrupting passes and playing physical against much smaller guards. His long strides and athletic ability also allow him to finish well at the basket and through contact.
As a prototypical point guard, Ntilikina is far from a finished product. He needs to work on the timing of his passes, as he is prone to late passes and forcing passes into tight windows. His loose handle allows makes him susceptible to bad turnovers. Relying more on his athletic abilities instead of a honed offensive game, he can struggle to create shots against other athletes. However, this is something that can be worked on with a coach once he enters the league.
Ntilikina is expected to be selected somewhere around the top 10.
Lauri Markkanen – PF (Arizona)
Markkanen, the son of two Finnish basketball players, had an excellent freshman year with the Arizona Wildcats. Averaging 15.6 points per game, along with 7.2 rebounds, Markkanen helped lead the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. He has represented his home country of Finland in the Fiba U16, U18 and U20 European Championships, finishing as the leading scorer at the U20 Euros.
At 7-foot, Markkanen has the length to be develop into a consistent rim protector. In a league that now requires big men to play away from the basket, he has a ton of versatility on offense. Markkanen has good feet and can step outside and stretch the floor with his ability to shoot from deep. During his one year at Arizona, Markkanen shot 42 percent from three, establishing himself as not only one of the best shooting big men, but overall shooters, in this draft.
“Markkanen seems like the consummate NBA stretch-4,” Chard Ford said. “He’s a terrific shooter, protects the rim and plays with a very high basketball IQ.”
While Markkanen’s size allows him to block shots, he needs to work on his defensive fundamentals. His lack of awareness and technique can make him a liability on defense, whether that be defending at the perimeter or down low. The knock on him is that he doesn’t play up to his size and can be easily pushed around in the post.
“I know that’s there [stigma], but I’m trying to be the opposite,” Markkanen said at Arizona’s media day. “I want to play tough.” I had to learn [physical play] and the last couple of years people have been saying that to me, ‘you have to be tough.’ I’m getting better at it.”
Markkanen is expected to be selected in the top 10 of the NBA Draft.
Caleb Swanigan – PF/C (Purdue)
The transformation of Caleb Swanigan is arguably the most remarkable of any player in the draft. He grew up in an unstable family situation, bouncing across various homeless shelters. He had to cope with his father, who died when he was 16, battling a crack-cocaine addiction and his mother trying to provide for six children. Due to his family’s circumstances, he wasn’t able to eat as healthy as he should have. The summer before eighth grade, Swanigan found himself at 360 pounds. But right before his eighth grade school year begin, Roosevelt Barnes, a former Purdue football star, adopted Swanigan and moved him from Utah to Indiana. From that moment, Swanigan’s change began. He was able to shed weight and became a standout basketball player in high school, receiving an invite to the McDonald’s All-American Game and being named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 2015. In Swanigan’s second year at Purdue, he averaged 18.5 points per game, as well as 12.5 rebounds.
Swanigan’s greatest strength is his work ethic. He is usually the hardest working player and leaves everything on the court. Swanigan’s size allows him to be a force on the boards and out-muscle his opponents consistently. He is also a mismatch on offense, shooting 44.7 percent from three-point range. Even with his size, Swanigan is able to run the length of the court with ease and demand the attention of a defense in transition.
“I like playing with more space and a lot more speed,” Swanigan said in an interview with Cowbell Kingdom. “The game doesn’t get slowed down. It really makes you guard and play.”
Swanigan will have to work on his fundamentals once he enters the league. He is limited athletically and will rely on his power to get shots, which likely will not work as often against NBA veterans. His lack of athleticism will also inhibit his ability to guard more skilled big men in the league.
“Caleb Swanigan certainly has some limitations from a physical and athletic perspective, but given the strides he has made, and the commitment he has shown to improving his body and skill level, it would not be surprising to see him continue to develop at the professional level,” Julian Applebome from DraftExpress.com wrote.
Swanigan is a projected borderline first round, early second round selection.
Josh Jackson – SF (Kansas)
Jackson has arguably the highest upside of any player in the draft. As a top recruit out of high school, Jackson received a grade of 102 out of 100 on 247Sports, the highest grade a prospect has ever received on the website. Coming into his freshman year at Kansas, he was lauded for his athleticism and ability to jump out of the gym. In his lone season at Kansas, he averaged 16.3 points per game, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals, en route to being named an All-American, Big-12 Freshman of Year, and receiving many more honors.
As stated before, Jackson is probably the most athletic player in this draft. He’s able to match-up on defense with multiple positions and is believed to be one of the best two-way players available. He’s explosive off the dribble, able to get to rim quickly and show off highlight-reel dunks. Jackson is also a very good ball handler, with the skills to play point guard at his size and find open teammates. One knock on him was his ability to shoot but he improved that area of his game, shooting 37.8 percent on his threes.
“I’m a slasher,” Jackson said in an interview at the NBA Draft Lottery. “I strive in transition, play really fast. My one season at Kansas, you know, what people really don’t know is that I played out of position the entire year. Not any other player in this draft played out of position, so for me to have been playing out of position the entire year, I think I did pretty good for myself.”
Jackson shot well from three but those numbers may be deceiving. He has an awkward release on his jump shot and many have noted that he may struggle shooting NBA range threes, which are farther than the college three-point line. Jackson also struggles from the free-throw line, making only 56.6 percent of his free throws at Kansas. His inability to make shots from the charity stripe may force his coach to bench him in close, late game situations. Jackson will have to work on his offensive game too, as his athleticism won’t be enough to get it done against top wing defenders in the league.
“Jackson made just 57% of his free throw attempts this season, and is a career 56% from the line on over 230 attempts in our database, which when combined with his mechanics, leaves a lot of question marks about just how good of a shooter he can become long term,” Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz wrote on DraftExpress.com
Jackson is expected to be a top-5 pick.
Ivan Rabb – PF (California)
Rabb, an Oakland native, grew up in the same area as players like Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and Hall of Famer Gary Payton. He could have easily been a lottery pick in last year’s draft, but he decided to return to Cal for his sophomore season. In his second year with the Bears, Rabb averaged 14 points per game and 10.5 rebounds.
Rabb is one of the best rebounders in the draft, showcasing great basketball IQ in his ability to box out opposing players and time his jumps. He is very mobile for a big man, able to run the floor and handle passes from guards. While he doesn’t have the greatest offensive game, he has good feet down low and has shown the potential to develop into a quality offensive player.
“His potential starts with his physical profile as he is a mobile big man measured at 6’10 with a 7’2 wingspan who moves around the offensive side of the floor easily,” Josh Riddell and Julian Applebome wrote on DraftExpress.com.
Once Rabb enters the league, he will have to put on some muscle. In college, he had a tendency to be pushed around in the post. Rabb also has trouble defending more athletic bigs on the perimeter. While he has a wingspan of around 7-foot, he is not the most athletic player and has not established himself as a rim protector. On offense, he will have to hone his skills since he won’t be able to use his strength to create shots.
“He will need to add some strength to his 220 pound frame to be able to compete on the interior, as he has struggled to hold his own inside the paint against other NBA caliber big men from time to time,” Josh Riddell and Julian Applebome wrote on DraftExpress.com.
Rabb is a projected borderline first-round pick.