The collegiate talent pool is getting an injection of talent, via the incoming 2016 high school class. This incoming flood of 17 and 18-year-old phenoms could be cemented in the annals of college basketball as legendary. While it’s premature to make concrete judgments, it’s appropriate to proclaim the upcoming season enticing.
Duke University’s frontcourt looks monstrous now, with the addition of top-15 recruits Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden. Bill Self has a new, shiny wing to mold in swingman Josh Jackson. However, the point guard collective elevates and differentiates this crop of freshmen from others.
It’s the perfect blend of star talent and depth that has scouts salivating and NBA personnel prepping for this year’s draft already. A credible source for NCAA player rankings, DraftExpress has four freshman point guards in their top 15 draft eligible players entering this season. It’ll remain a theme throughout the year, but how well the point guards acclimate to Division I will shape the 2016-17 NCAA season and NBA draft.
An individual devoted to the intricacies of this year’s exceptional class is esteemed Bleacher Report NBA draft and prospect guru Jonathan Wasserman, who took time to answer questions, via email, about this enticing batch of freshman lead guards. You can follow Jonathan at @NBADraftWass on Twitter.
Ridiculous Upside: When did this class, collectively, first show glimpses of being considered as possibly one of the most talented group of PGs of all time?
Jonathan Wasserman: [Markelle] Fultz’s late rise probably changed things. [Frank] Ntilikina’s and [De’Aaron] Fox’s cases have gotten stronger with each year. [Dennis] Smith was always an elite guy. [Lonzo] Ball was widely recognized out west. But to suddenly have Fultz soar up rankings and do what he did over the past year (from Hoop Summit in April to this summer’s FIBA Americas), he really helped change the identity of this point guard group.
RU: In terms of depth, where does it rank compared to other positions that have stood out in recent years? How does it compare to other point guard classes?
JW: At the time in 2007, though they didn’t all turn out to be point guards. Derrick Rose, [O.J.] Mayo, Eric Gordon, James Harden, Jonny Flynn looked like a special group of guards out of high school. [I] can’t think of a recent class that had five guys at one position, each offering this type of star potential. It doesn’t mean they’ll all pan out, but at this stage, this clearly has the potential to be a special bunch.
RU: Do you think it’s an abundance of elite point guard prospects, the depth of the class, or both, that have NBA personnel enticed?
JW: Just the upside of the PGs. Get the impression there could be five starters, including a few All-Stars.
RU: Markelle Fultz has ascended into becoming the No. 1 slot on your board. Besides his offensive proficiency, why does he get the nod over other two-way, high-upside talents like Josh Jackson and Harry Giles?
JW: Fultz is complete in every way – tools, athleticism, skills, IQ, maturity. Giles’ knees make him riskier and as much as I love Jackson, he’s not an elite shot-creator, which is a little worrisome (relatively speaking) for a perimeter player who isn’t a great shooter.
RU: How do you think he’ll handle the role of combo guard at the collegiate level?
JW: He’ll handle it with ease and put up monster numbers, playmaking/scoring on the ball, scoring/shooting off of it.
RU: Transitioning to a unique player in his own right, what is Dennis Smith Jr.’s ceiling at the point and who would you compare him to?
JW: Reminds me of Derrick Rose. Ceiling is as high as anyone’s. Recently spoke to an executive who had him No. 1. Fultz [is] more complete now, [has] more size and no injury history.
RU: What have you seen so far in terms of his offensive versatility and proficiency, not factoring in his athleticism?
JW: He’s an elite athlete and excellent playmaker with high scoring potential, depending on how much [his] jumper improves. Nightmare off the dribble, gets to any spot on the floor he wants to, and knows what to do once there-kickout, dump down, floater, hard drive, pull-up, etc.
RU: Does this class get a boost in prestige if he doesn’t tear his ACL senior year?
JW: We’ll find out after he actually plays.
RU: What do you think about their decisions to pick a school that isn’t a perennial basketball powerhouse and will that play into how scouts view them?
JW: [I] don’t think it matters much. Simmons went No. 1 and didn’t make the NCAA tournament. After 30-plus games, scouts will have a good feel for the player, no matter what team he’s on.
RU: In De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball’s case, how much will they have to impress in order to garner top-five or even top-three consideration at the end of the year?
JW: They’ll need unconvincing years from Jackson, Giles, Smith and Tatum more than anything else. Those guys have higher ceilings and control the upper part of the draft. To even have a shot at going in the top five, Fox/Ball need to shoot better than expected an stay efficient inside the arc, both with decision-making and finishing.
RU: It’ll be six years in 2017 since a point guard was selected No. 1 overall. Could this be a year where it happens again”
JW: Yes, I think it will.
RU: It’s a diverse group of high-end prospects in this year’s class. How many could we realistically expect to go in the top-10 of the 2017 draft?
JW: Fultz, Smith, Ntilikina are locked in. Fox and Ball both have a chance. Five in the top 10 is best-case scenario.
RU: With how deep the point guard position is in the NBA, how many projected 2017 NBA draft point guards do you expect to have an All-Star type career?
JW: Fultz and Smith.