Who is the best guard in the draft: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or De’Aaron Fox? With the big day approaching, The Crossover breaks down the 15 best backcourt players available.
With the 2017 NBA draft rapidly approaching, The Crossover has ranked the 15 best guards in this year’s class. The backcourt group is loaded with big names and bigger games, headlined by the three above. But there are even more prospects for NBA GMs to drool over including experienced scorers (Malik Monk), lottery sleepers (Frank Ntilikina) and instant impact players (Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell).
Without further ado, here are in-depth scouting reports on the 15 best guards in the draft, along with brief breakdowns on their backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses.
1. Markelle Fultz, Washington (Freshman)
Bio: Regarded around the league as the consensus No. 1 pick, Fultz was a dominant individual player in his lone season at Washington, although the Huskies, with a relatively thin roster, underperformed as a team. He made first team All-Pac 12 and was a third team All-American. Fultz’s athletic tools and versatile skill set give him the draft’s best blend of star ceiling and consistent floor.
Strengths: Fultz jumps off the page athletically and possesses creative scoring instincts and playmaking skills. He’s an outstanding transition player, solid using ball screens and has the size to play both guard spots thanks to a nearly 6’10” wingspan. Despite how bad the Huskies were, Fultz was proficient in the pick and roll and as a passer. He’s a solid rebounder and developing jump shooter, and all the pieces are there for Fultz to become one of the league’s top guards. He’s an extremely well-rounded offensive player already.
Weaknesses: Although he has the tools to be a good defender, Fultz’s effort level occasionally wanes, and you’d like to see him renew his commitment on that end in the pros in order to maximize his talent. He can shoot, but could use added consistency in that area and might never be a high-end perimeter scorer, although he does enough things well that he may not need to be. He can occasionally come across as overly laid-back on the court, which combined with Washington’s frustrating season has sparked some minor questions about his competitiveness.
2. De‘Aaron Fox, Kentucky (Freshman)
Bio: Fox’s strong final stretch at Kentucky created serious momentum that’s lifted him into the upper tier of prospects. He partnered with Malik Monk to carry the Wildcats, making first-team All-SEC and winning conference tourney MVP. As an aggressive, hyper-athletic, defensive-minded playmaker, he stands as an intriguing point of comparison to Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball at the top of the draft. He’s likely to be drafted somewhere among the top five picks.
Strengths: The first thing you notice about Fox is his speed and agility with the ball in his hands, which was a game-changer at the college level. He’s light on his feet, loves to push in transition and has no problem finding his way to the rim, where he’s a creative finisher. He has the ability to be a standout defender with his lateral quickness and instincts in the passing lanes, and has solid size for his position. Fox is an intelligent kid with a vibrant personality that lends itself to on-court leadership, and his energy on both ends of the floor is often contagious.
Weaknesses: Fox must pull his jump shot together in order to become a star in the NBA. He’s left-handed, and his mechanics aren’t bad, but he struggled with confidence and consistency at Kentucky and will have to do enough to keep defenders honest and open the game up for himself at the next level. He probably won’t be a great shooter, but he can become a passable one. Fox also has extremely thin legs and a spindly lower body that will need to fill out.
3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA (Freshman)
Bio: Ball (and his father) have been the talk of the pre-draft process, and there’s a major stir about Lonzo staying home and going to the Lakers at No. 2. Thanks to his unique playmaking ability and a consensus All-American season at UCLA, he won’t fall past the first few picks. Ball has as much upside as anyone in the class, given how much better he makes his teammates and his consistency as a three-point shooter, but he’s not without his flaws as a prospect. Whether he’s a superstar or just a very solid rotation player, he’s as good a bet as anyone to have a long, substantial NBA career.
Strengths: It’s impossible to deny the effect Ball’s simple presence had on the Bruins’ offense last season: he’s extremely unselfish with outstanding vision, and it rubbed off on his teammates. He has the potential to essentially be an enabler for a fast-paced, modern NBA offense, and that’s extremely enticing. Even if he doesn’t evolve into a go-to scorer, Ball’s good enough in transition and as a set shooter that he’ll remain a threat. He likes to gamble for steals in the passing lanes, and has the size to defend both guard positions.
Weaknesses: Can you be a great point guard in the NBA if you can’t consistently create your own shot? That’s the biggest question surrounding Ball, who’s crafty but not especially quick or explosive. He also has unorthodox shot mechanics that make it difficult for him to pull up while attacking off the dribble. Ball’s shot is repeatable and should be fine when he’s unguarded, but creating space for it against athletic defenders in the halfcourt will pose a challenge. He may be well-suited as a team’s second-best player, paired with a go-to scorer who can shoulder the offensive burden.
4. Dennis Smith, NC State (Freshman)
Stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.2 APG, 35.9 3P%, 45.5 FG%
Bio: After being rated as a five-star recruit out of Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, N.C., Smith enrolled at NC State in January 2016 but didn’t play that season while recovering from a torn ACL. He suited up for the Wolfpack in 2016-17 and quickly established himself as one of the ACC’s best guards. Smith led NC State to a stunning road win over Duke in January and was named the conference’s freshman of the year.
Strengths: Smith’s most intriguing trait is his athleticism, and there’s little doubt he’s regained most, if not all, of the run-and-jump explosiveness that made him such a coveted high school prospect. (He reportedly recorded a 48-inch vertical leap at a workout with the Lakers earlier this month.) Smith is an adept scorer who does well creating offense off the dribble and shows major potential as a playmaker.
Weaknesses: The weakest point of Smith’s game is his defensive intensity, although it’s possible NC State’s sluggish play overall contributed to his effort on that end of the floor. He also lacks favorable length for a lead guard. Smith’s jumper isn’t broken (he sank 36% of his 153 three-point attempts last season), but he’s streaky, and it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his shooting range beyond the deeper NBA line.
5. Malik Monk, Kentucky (Freshman)
Stats: 19.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 39.7 3P%, 45.0 FG%
Bio: Monk arrived at Kentucky as a top-10 prospect in the class of 2016 and promptly got to work justifying his towering recruiting hype, highlighted by a 47-point explosion against UNC in December. As half of arguably the nation’s top backcourt (the other being De’Aaron Fox), Monk led the Wildcats in scoring and earned both AP SEC Player of the Year honors and the Jerry West Award, which is given to the best shooting guard in college basketball.
Strengths: Monk is a prolific scorer who haunts opposing defenses with his shooting ability. Launching effectively off the dribble or off the catch, he knocked down 42.5% of his three-point attempts in SEC play last season. With an excellent first-step and the capacity to finish above the rim, often in spectacular fashion, Monk is far more than just a perimeter sniper.
Weaknesses: Monk’s physical profile limits his utility as a defender, and he hasn’t shown that he can offset those weaknesses with his effort or awareness on that side of the court. It’s also unclear whether he has the distribution skills to log major minutes at point guard, which would help mitigate his vulnerability on D.
Source: Sports Illustrated
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