Charlotte Hornets

Ranking the top NBA prospects by position heading into Thursday’s draft

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball has big-time NBA potential. His father, LaVar Ball, right, has displayed an overbearing, bombastic personality.
UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball has big-time NBA potential. His father, LaVar Ball, right, has displayed an overbearing, bombastic personality. AP

If an NBA team needs a point guard or a forward, Thursday’s NBA draft could be a prime opportunity.

If a team needs an impactful center or shooting guard, the pickings might be a bit slimmer.

The draft tips off at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets (ESPN). This is a prime crop of point guards, which is probably the most valued position in the NBA. Five of the first 10 picks figure to be at the point.

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UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, left, and Washington’s Markelle Fultz could be the first two point guards taken in the NBA draft Thursday night. Elaine Thompson AP

Top forwards are also plentiful. If the top two picks are point guards (Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball?), then the Boston Celtics, now holding the third pick following the trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, could choose between Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Kansas’ Josh Jackson, players of very similar height (6-foot-8), weight (just over 200 pounds) and college statistics.

The Charlotte Hornets pick 11th overall. They need depth at any position – the bench was a distinct flaw last season – and particularly at point guard behind All-Star Kemba Walker.

A look at prospects in this draft by primary position:

Point guards

1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: He sees plays for teammates on a sophisticated level. His father has a reputation for being overbearing and bombastic.

2. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Great speed dribble and penetration skills. While he shot 40 percent from the college 3-point line, he could still use work on his jump shot at the NBA level.

3. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Success in the NBA isn’t exclusively about talent. Attitude is also a factor. Fox is as competitive as any player in this draft pool.

4. Frank Ntilikina, French pro: Has good size for his position at 6-5, and a pass-first playmaker approach. He’s improving his jump shot.

5. Dennis Smith, N.C. State: A scoring point guard (18.1 points per game as a freshman), Smith has physical gifts. He must become more of a facilitator and organizer.

Malik_Monk
Kentucky’s Malik Monk, right, could be the best shooting guard in this NBA draft. Mark Humphrey AP

Shooting guards

1. Malik Monk, Kentucky: His ability to score in bunches (19.3 points per game) should translate to the NBA. At 6-4, he’s a bit undersized for the wing positions in the NBA.

2. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: He’s 6-3, but compensates with a 6-10 wingspan that helps him excel as a defender. Needs work on his offensive skills.

3. Luke Kennard, Duke: Creative offensively and he shot 43 percent from the college 3-point line last season. With Kennard, the question is how his defense will hold up in the NBA.

4. Terrance Ferguson, Australian pro: He views himself as a “3 and D guy,” as in someone with 3-point shooting range and defensive skills. He’s seriously in need of more strength and bulk.

5. Derrick White, Colorado: A strong shooter from all over the court who can play either guard position . He enters the draft at age 23.

Hornets reporter Rick Bonnell breaks down what the Charotte Hornets need, and who they might take in the 2017 NBA draft.

Jayson_Tatum
Duke small forward Jayson Tatum has a big upside, and might go top three in Thursday’s NBA draft. Chuck Burton AP

Small forwards

1. Jayson Tatum, Duke: Tatum might have the most long-term NBA potential of any player in this draft. He has good length, with a 6-11 wingspan.

2. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Could be ready to play a significant role as a rookie, which is no given these days in the NBA even for high picks.

3. Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: At 6-11, he can also play power forward if the team that drafts him chooses to play small.

4. OG Anunoby, Indiana: A particularly strong defender in his two seasons as a Hoosier. Had a season-ending right knee injury over the winter.

5. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Solid offensively and defensively, Jackson shoots well off the move. He must continue working on his shooting range (34 percent in three college seasons).

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Former Wake Forest big man John Collins averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds last season for the Deacons. AP

Power forwards

1. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: He’s a terrific shooter (55 percent from 2-point range and 42 percent from 3-point range last season).

2. Zach Collins, Gonzaga: A big-time athlete at 7-foot who can also play center in the NBA. He played off the bench in his only college season.

3. John Collins, Wake Forest: He averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds last season for the Deacons. Needs to show he can make 3-pointers to fit most NBA offenses.

4. T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Primarily a finesse player who must bulk up to handle the night-in/night-out physicality of the NBA .

5. Tyler Lydon, Syracuse: One of the NBA’s favorite buzz words is “spacing.” Lydon has the shooting range to open up the lane for teammates’ drives and post-ups.

harrygiles
As a freshman, Duke’s Harry Giles averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game. But he showed improvement as the season progressed. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Centers

1. Jarrett Allen, Texas: He is crazy long with a 7-5 wingspan. He had a particularly productive second half of last season, despite the Longhorns’ struggles.

2. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: He has a muscular physique similar to that of eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard. Showed surprising shooting range in workouts.

3. Harry Giles, Duke: The question is how his body will hold up long-term after multiple knee injuries and a freshman season of limited minutes.

4. Justin Patton, Creighton: Big-time athleticism for a 7-footer. Patton didn’t get much attention coming out of high school.

5. Ike Anigbogu, UCLA: One of the youngest players in this draft, turning 19 this summer. Has a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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