The VICE Sports Guide to the 2017 NBA Draft
Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and beyond—everything you need to know about the draft's stars and sleepers.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Is Markelle Fultz the next great NBA point guard? Can Lonzo Ball live up to his father's hype? Who's the more desirable small forward of the future, Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson?
You have NBA draft questions. We have answers. All season long, VICE Sports has been scouting top prospects and potential sleepers; check below for the particular player on your radar. (All stats and vitals are from DraftExpress.com.)
Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington
Height/weight: 6'4'', 195 pounds
Stats: 23.2 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, 5.9 assists per game
Projected: No. 1 overall
There are many reasons the University of Washington freshman point guard is a presumptive lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft, and may even end up as the top overall selection. He's that good. At the same time, there's a question hanging over him, one being asked by fans, media, and even some league scouts.
If Fultz is such an incredible basketball player, then why the heck was his college team so lousy?
Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA
Height/weight: 6'6'', 190 pounds
Stats: 14.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.6 APG
Ball looks like an organization-changer, a wholly unselfish maestro who was put on the Earth to play basketball and win games. He may or may not be the best player in the draft, but there's no arguing that he's the most singular. And his uniqueness extends to the one aspect of his game that is often held up as a next-level question mark.
Specifically, how will Ball's one-of-a-kind jump shot—characterized by a funky gather and release on the left side of his body, even though he's a right-handed shooter—work against NBA defenders?
Josh Jackson, forward, Kansas
Height/weight: 6'8'', 203 pounds
Stats: 16.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.0 APG
The 6-foot-7 wing embodies much of what the league is looking for, and where the game is going. From his mindset to his athleticism to his basketball IQ, there's very little he can't do at a high level, and he's just 20 years old.
On the other hand, there are a few complicating factors—some involving alleged bad behavior off the court—that could end up limiting Jackson's ceiling.
Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke
Height/weight: 6'8'', 204 pounds
Stats: 16.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.1 APG
In NBA circles, he's considered a "plus-plus" prospect in terms of his background and personality. He comes from a basketball family: his father, Justin, played at Saint Louis with former NBA player Larry Hughes, who is also Tatum's godfather. Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal went to the same high school as Tatum and has taken him under his wing, as has former NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway. It also helps that Tatum has a reputation for being a tireless worker who is always adding new wrinkles to his game.
De'Aaron Fox, guard, Kentucky
Height/weight: 6'4'', 171 pounds
Stats: 16.7 PPG, 4.0, RPG, 4.6 APG
On draft night, front offices considering Fox will be confronted with a pair of related questions. One, can a team build a top offense in the modern NBA around a starting point guard who can't shoot? Two, is Fox's jumper totally broken and unfixable?
Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida State
Height/weight: 6'11'', 205 pounds
Stats: 12.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.2 APG
Florida State big man Jonathan Isaac looks like a typical upside player: "Boom or bust" is how one NBA executive described him to me. Standing 6-foot-10 but weighing just 210 pounds, the rail-thin 19-year-old is all gangly athleticism. He has enticing perimeter skills—a fluid jump shot and the ability to drive to the rim—yet struggles with both confidence and consistency, and hasn't shown much in terms of creating offense for himself.
Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona
Height/weight: 7', 225 pounds
Stats: 15.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.9 APG
Markkanen hits three-pointers when spotting up. He hits them in pick-and-pop situations, or in slide/slip screen actions. He hits them as a transition trailer. He'll knock them down coming off of a down screen. He can hit them off of a two-dribble step-back, or winding around a screen as a ball-handler. Basically, there's no situation where Markkanen isn't comfortable gunning from deep, and a lot of that has to do with his picture-perfect mechanics.
Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky
Height/weight: 6'4'', 197 pounds
Stats: 19.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.3 APG
Over the last decade-plus of draft prospects—hundreds and hundreds of players—the Kentucky shooting guard stands out as genuinely unique. He's a volcanic offensive force, seemingly put on this Earth to get buckets, a 6-foot-3 scorer averaging 22.4 points per game on a 63 percent true-shooting percentage, one of five high-major guards to put up such numbers in the last 25 years of college hoops.
And stats don't tell the whole story. I've watched a lot of college basketball, and I've never seen a player so prone to preposterous, NBA Jam-style he's-on-fire shooting stretches.
Dennis Smith Jr., guard, NC State
Height/weight: 6'3'', 195 pounds
Stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.2 APG
For his own safety, Smith Jr. shouldn't be allowed to play basketball without a parachute strapped to his back. During a recent workout with the Los Angeles Lakers, he logged a ridiculous 48-inch vertical leap. Gravity doesn't affect Smith Jr. like most human beings; he's equally explosive off one leg or two, and packs enough energy in his 195-pound frame to convince shot-blocking bigs they should retreat and live another day.
Zach Collins, forward/center, Gonzaga
Height/weight: 7', 230 pounds
Stats: 10.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 0.4 APG
Collins didn't come out of nowhere. He was a McDonald's All-American last season, the first ever to commit to Gonzaga out of high school. But he also was a late bloomer. Stuck behind a pair of former five-star recruits in Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter, Collins didn't start for his high school team, Las Vegas's Bishop Gorman, until his senior year. Moreover, he's the first to admit that he wasn't really all that good until the end of his prep career, when he morphed from tall and gangly into an athletic two-way force.
In fact, that late transformation is part of how the Zags ended up landing him.
Luke Kennard, forward/guard, Duke
Height/weight: 6'6'', 202 pounds
Stats: 19.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 APG
Projected: First round
Kennard is a smooth-shooting marksman with an extremely high basketball IQ who gets by on guile and dexterity, and scored lots of points for the Blue Devils at a historically efficient rate. If all of that brings to mind comparisons with some other recent prospects who have enjoyed varying levels of success at the professional level—like Jimmer Fredette, Doug McDermott, or Nik Stauskas—well, that's probably your unconscious bias at work.
Take a closer look: Kennard is bigger than Fredette, a shooting guard trapped in a point guard's body. He has better ball-handling and playmaking skills than McDermott, who is less a shooting guard than an undersized forward. Compared to Stauskas, Kennard has superior body control and a stronger release.
Justin Jackson, forward, North Carolina
Height/weight: 6'8'', 193 pounds
Stats: 18.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG
Projected: First round
Heading into the college season, many NBA evaluators believed that Jackson was a fixed quantity: highly skilled, somewhat limited athletically, can't hit outside shots. By taking league feedback and working hard on his jumper and footwork, Jackson rewrote his own scouting report.
John Collins, forward, Wake Forest
Height/weight: 6'10'', 225 pounds
Stats: 19.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 0.5 APG
Projected: First round
After a solid freshman season, albeit one littered with foul trouble, Collins dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference as a sophomore this year. This is not an exaggeration, and I will repeat it for effect: John Collins was dominant in college basketball's deepest conference, and went far too unnoticed for how unbelievable he was. The six-foot-ten big man averaged 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in only 26.6 minutes per game this season. His 35.9 PER led all of college basketball.
OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana
Height/weight: 6'8'', 215 pounds
Stats: 11.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.4 APG
Projected: First round
Basically, Anunoby currently fits the profile of a future NBA role player, and not a budding star. He's a potentially elite defender hampered by offensive limitations that didn't improve after a full collegiate off-season. It would take outlier levels of future improvement to bring him anywhere close to Leonard. And hey, sometimes that happens (see: Kawhi), but nobody should expect it.
Terrance Ferguson, forward, Australia
Height/weight: 6'7'', 186 pounds
Stats: 4.6 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.6 APG
Projected: First or second round
Skipping the established NCAA-to-NBA pipeline is risky. At the [NBA draft] combine, Ferguson acknowledged that he could be selected anywhere in the draft; we won't know for years whether playing in Australia was savvy, self-sabotaging, or somewhere in between.
Jawun Evans, guard, Oklahoma State
Height/weight: 6'1'', 177 pounds
Stats: 19.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 6.5 APG
Projected: Second round
Make even the smallest mistake in defensive execution, and Evans will pounce. Leave the smallest opening in a trap, and he'll split it with a wicked right-to-left crossover. Go under the screen, and he's a capable jump shooter off the dribble from deep. Hedge the screen to allow his defender time to recover, and he'll go around and find the open roller with either a quick pocket pass or an artfully weighted lob. Get caught in the mud after he's rocked the defender to sleep, and he'll accelerate to the hoop. That same speed also allows Evans to reject screens altogether, and still get into the paint.
Sindarius Thornwell, guard, South Carolina
Height/weight: 6'5'', 214 pounds
Stats: 21.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.8 APG
Projected: Second round/undrafted
Prospects who play themselves off the NBA Draft radar rarely make it back on. Thornwell has come a long way, and done so with hard work and tangible improvement. For the majority of NBA players—especially role players—want and persistence are as important as talent, because everyone has talent, and sticking around in the world's best basketball league is very, very hard.
Thornwell didn't have go to South Carolina in the first place. He didn't have to stay there after a so-so start. But he did, and now you can make the case that he's the most important player in program history—surpassing Alex English, John Roche, and legendary diminutive scorer Devan Downey. Whether Thornwell is drafted or not, whether he plays in the NBA or somewhere else, his resilience should help him find a home.