On the cusp of the 2017 NBA Draft, I’m running out of time to predict the Top 10 overall picks. Earlier this week, the 76ers traded their #3 pick (along with a future 1st rounder) to secure the Celtics’ #1 spot. According to most NBA insiders, Philly will take Washington PG Markelle Fultz. With the 2nd overall pick, the Lakers presumably will select Lonzo Ball. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. As usual, I’ll provide my assessment of potential Top 10 Busts from this draft prior to the start of the upcoming season. For now, here’s my 2017 NBA Mock Draft.
Years from now, most fans will refer to the 2016 NBA Draft as “the one with Ben Simmons.” Generally speaking, we tend to remember the success or failure of the #1 overall pick. For me, however, I’ll remember the 2016 Draft because of ESPN’s entertaining telecast. My son and I already have running jokes about Jay Bilas’ infatuation with wingspans and Lisa Salters’ desire to ask cringe-worthy questions. As of now, the leading contender for future recognition as a Top 10 Bust is #4 pick Dragan Bender. Additionally, #10 pick Thon Maker seems poised to become an Honorable Mention.
When originally preparing my countdown of Top 10 Busts, I reviewed all NBA players drafted since 1970. Of note, I relied on basketball-reference.com in order to compile and analyze the career statistics of these players. By doing so, I was able to create thresholds above or below which they could be grouped. For example, I identified all-time greats, stars, average players, busts, and Top 10 Busts. In this post, I offer the representative NBA draft picks who help define the categories.
With the 5th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected point guard Kris Dunn. As a junior at Providence last year, Dunn averaged 16 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals per game. Those numbers, which were unmatched by anyone else in the NCAA, earned him 2nd Team All-American honors. Including Dunn, the Timberwolves have amassed a talented group of young players over the last three years. Specifically, they have the last two Rookies of the Year (and #1 overall picks) Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. At the same time, reigning two-time Slam Dunk Champion (and 2014 #13 overall pick) Zach LaVine has shown that he’s not a one-trick pony. It’s too early to tell how good the Timberwolves can be, but Dunn should help make them even more competitive for years to come.
With the 4th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns selected Croatian phenom Dragan Bender. Unlike the first three picks, Bender played exclusively overseas. As such, most of us have no basis to compare him with the other top prospects. Regardless, the “experts” believe he has the talent to become a star. In contrast, I believe he’s more likely to become a bust. I’ll admit that I undervalued 2015 #4 overall pick Kristaps Porzingis. However, I’ll double down and bet that Bender is not another “unicorn.”
During the 2015-16 regular season, Cal freshman Jaylen Brown put up respectable averages of 15 points and six rebounds per game. At the same time, he shot 46% from the floor (including 31% from behind the 3-point arc). During the 2016 Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, however, he wilted and averaged only eight points and three rebounds. In those three tournament games, Brown had almost three times as many turnovers (14) as field goals (5). Additionally, he shot an abysmal 17% from the floor, including a 3-17 outing in an 82-78 overtime loss to Utah. Regardless, Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge seemingly went against the grain and took Brown with the team’s #3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. While it’s unlikely that Brown will be a Top 10 Bust, he certainly is on the radar screen.
With the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Ben Simmons. After years of tanking, the Sixers “earned” the right to select one of the highest profile phenoms since LeBron James. Despite conventional wisdom, Brandon Ingram made a legitimate case to be the first pick instead. During his “one-and-done” season at Duke, Ingram averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. It’s hard to question Phildelphia’s decision. However, the organization has been a complete embarrassment for over a decade. Would you be surprised if 2016 becomes a repeat of 2007 when the Trail Blazers passed on Kevin Durant? Based on Ingram’s upside, you shouldn’t be.
Going into the 2016 NBA Draft, most experts predicted that Ben Simmons would be the #1 overall pick. During his “one-and-done” season at LSU, Simmons averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals per game. Given that production, the young phenom justified the hype which began while he still played in high school. Considered by some to be a “can’t-miss” prospect, Simmons regularly has drawn comparisons to LeBron James. Clearly, Simmons has a long way to go to match the best player on the planet. Sorry Steph, but the King still holds the crown. As of now, Simmons has a blank canvas upon which to paint his career. The odds are greater that Simmons will be a Not Top 10 Bust (i.e. an all-time great) than a Top 10 Bust (i.e. an all-time failure). Yet, I’m still not completely sold on him.
While researching potential Top 10 Busts Keith Edmonson and Russell Cross, I learned an interesting sports trivia fact. Specifically, only three college basketball coaches have taken two different schools to the Final Four within four years. First, Gene Barlow took Memphis in 1973 and UCLA in 1976. Second, Lee Rose took UNC-Charlotte in 1977 and Purdue in 1980. Third, Roy Williams took Kansas in 2003 and North Carolina in 2005. Of note, North Carolina (18), UCLA (17) and Kansas (14) have been to 49 Final Fours between them. In contrast, UNC-Charlotte and Purdue have combined to reach only three (i.e. one without Rose). As such, Rose’s achievement should be viewed as the most impressive. Overlooked on every elite coaching list, Lee Rose may deserve special recognition.
Taken with the 9th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, Patrick O’Bryant finished his career with fewer than 200 points and 150 rebounds. Based on a total 0f 0.5 career win shares, he ranks in the bottom 3% of all 6th-10th overall picks since 1970. As such, the former Bradley Brave failed on an absolute and relative basis. Worthy of being labeled an all-time bust, O’Bryant escapes the Hall of Shame given that Adam Morrison went earlier in the same draft. Without the same cachet, O’Bryant must settle for an Honorable Mention. Somehow, I’m sure he’ll manage.