After months of mock drafts, player rankings and player profiles, NBA draft day has finally arrived. My final contribution to the pre-draft hype is a list of my five favorite prospects in the draft. By no means is this a ranking of the best players in the draft — Ben Simmons tops that list. Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Marquese Chriss and Buddy Hield all have All-Star potential in the NBA. The players listed below are guys I'm intrigued by for a variety of reasons. They're also players I'd like to have on my team if I ran a NBA franchise.
1. Kris Dunn, 6-3, 180, PG, Providence
I watched a ton of Dunn over the past two seasons and I've seen him play in person three separate times. I think he will be a star in the NBA. He strikes me as the type of super-athletic point guard who thrives at the pro level. Other than an inconsistent jump shot, there isn't a lot not to like. Dunn gets to the basket whenever he wants, is a tremendous passer and is the best perimeter defender in this year's draft. He also rebounds very well for a guard. The most impressive thing about Dunn is how hard he plays — he never takes a possession off on either end of the floor.
Dunn is a two-time Big East Player of the Year who carried an undermanned Providence team to 24 wins and the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, where the Friars lost to North Carolina. Dunn shined in his final collegiate game, scoring 29 points on 10 of 16 shooting against the Tar Heels. He averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals as a junior. This on the heels of a sophomore season when he averaged 15.5 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals. Nobody in college basketball stuffed the stat sheet better than Dunn the past two years.
Dunn entered college as a below average outside shooter. But he worked on his jumper to eventually become a 37 percent three-point shooter this past season. By no means is Dunn's jump shot a finished product — he'll need to prove he can convert from the perimeter on a consistent basis. But he's already improved that aspect of his game significantly. There's no reason to think that improvement won't continue.
I see a lot of John Wall in Dunn. Both are freak athletes with top notch end-to-end speed. Like Wall, Dunn generates a good portion of his offense on the defensive end. He plays the passing lanes perfectly to create easy scoring opportunities in transition. Both Wall and Dunn are terrific ballhandlers who get to the basket with ease. Dunn is a much better passer than Wall was when he entered the league.
The Sixers are rumored to have significant interest in acquiring Dunn tonight. If that means giving up Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel to acquire the third pick from the Celtics, I say do it. Dunn is well worth it.
2. Jamal Murray, 6-5, 210, G, Kentucky
It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Simmons, Ingram, Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season. In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds.
Kentucky lost some games early and fell towards the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular-season and tournament titles. As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's one of the top two guard prospects in the 2016 NBA draft.
Murray's biggest strength is shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA.
But Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard, a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player.
Murray also isn't lacking for confidence. He believes he's always the best player on the floor. If you aren't confident in your own abilities, you'll get eaten up in the NBA. That won't be a problem for Murray.
He would fit extremely well with the Sixers. They need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated when they draft Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Noel, Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have an obviously frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.
3. Henry Ellenson, 6-11, 240, F, Marquette
Ellenson was considered a surefire Top 10 pick throughout his first and only season at Marquette, but his stock seemed to slip leading up to the draft. I'm a fan of Ellenson's game, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. He projects as a classic stretch-four at the NBA level. Ellenson is more than capable of scoring with his back to the basket on the low block, but he also has shooting range that extends to 20-plus feet.
Ellenson averaged 17 points and just under 10 rebounds as a freshman at Marquette. On top of his natural scoring instincts, Ellenson is an engaged rebounder. He attacks the glass on a regular basis and is an above-average shot-blocker, as evidenced by his 1.5 blocks per game. By no means is Ellenson an elite athlete, but he's a big man with scoring skills. There is always a home for a guy like that in the NBA. Ellenson's intangibles are also a positive. He's a hard worker who should have no problem setting aside his own numbers for the best interests of the team.
There are legitimate questions about Ellenson's ability to defend at the NBA level. Is he strong enough to defend post players? Is he athletic enough to guard other stretch forwards on the perimeter? These are questions that will be answered in time, but they're the primary reason Ellenson has been sinking on mock drafts in recent weeks.
Ellenson has a lot of Kevin Love in his game, from his strengths on the offensive end to his defensive deficiencies. Like Love, Ellenson is a big man who can score in a variety of ways. Both players are very good rebounders. But both entered the league needing to improve significantly on the defensive end.
4. DeAndre' Bembry, 6-6, 210, F, Saint Joseph's
Bembry needs no introduction to local college basketball fans. He was St. Joe's best player each of the past two seasons, capping his collegiate career by winning Big 5 and Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors as a junior. Bembry improved his draft stock at the NBA draft combine in May and is all but guaranteed to be a first-round pick tonight.
Bembry was one of the more versatile players in college basketball this past season, averaging 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He shot 55 percent from the field, leading St. Joe's to 28 wins and its second A-10 Tournament title in three years. Bembry also lifted the Hawks to their first NCAA Tournament win since Jameer Nelson was on campus, putting up 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in a first-round win over Cincinnati.
St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli has been raving about Bembry's leadership qualities and intangibles from the moment Bembry walked on campus three years ago. He's a winning player who impacts games in a variety of ways. Bembry doesn't come across as an explosive athlete at first glance — he has a little bit of that "old man" offensive game. But make no mistake, he's not lacking for elite athleticism. There's no doubt he can play at the NBA level.
Bembry's jumper needs work, but he's at his best when he's driving to the basket and scoring in the paint. Bembry is also a terrific rebounder for a small forward, averaging just under eight rebounds in each of the past two seasons. He moves well without the ball and is almost always engaged on the defensive end.
I spoke with an NBA executive at the A-10 Tournament a few months ago regarding Bembry's pro prospects. He expressed concern about Bembry's motor, saying he was usually the best player on the floor in college but didn't assert himself often enough. That never struck me as an issue watching Bembry the past three years, but clearly it's something that stood out to at least one NBA talent evaluator.
Bembry would be a nice fit for the 76ers, and there's a good chance he's on their radar with either the 24th or 26th pick in the first round. He'd be a nice rotation piece, versatile and unselfish enough to fill a number of roles. Time will tell if he reaches the same heights, but I see a little bit of Andre Iguodala in Bembry's game. Bembry isn't quite the athlete Iguodala was coming out of Arizona, but both are versatile players with a knack for doing whatever their team needs to win.
5. Ryan Arcidiacono, 6-3, 195, PG, Villanova
There was no way I was making this list without including Arcidiacono. I'm well aware that odds are he won't get drafted tonight. If his name does get called, it will likely be late in the second round. But after watching every game of his college career, I'm of the opinion that there could be a place for him in the NBA. Arcidiacono worked out for 12 different teams leading up to the draft. If he's not drafted, he'll almost certainly be on someone's summer league team. All it takes is for one team to like him.
The biggest question mark when it comes to Arcidiacono playing at the pro level is his athleticism, particularly on the defensive end. Can he survive defensively against the caliber of guards who populate NBA rosters? Arcidiacono worked hard at improving his perimeter defense over his four years at Villanova. He'll need to improve even further to get to the point where he won’t a defensive liability.
Defensive question marks aside, there is plenty to like about Arcidiacono's game. First and foremost, he's a winner. He won a school-record 117 games at Villanova. He won three Big East regular-season titles. He won a Big East Tournament. And most notably, he won an NCAA Championship. Arcidiacono was the driving force behind all of those accomplishments. He's also not lacking for individual achievements, with Big East Player of the Year and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards on his mantle. Arcidiacono is the first player in Villanova history with more than 1,500 career points and 500 career assists.
Arcidiacono is a leader. He was the first four-year captain in the history of Villanova basketball. He leads vocally and by example. No one plays harder. Whether it's diving for a loose ball or taking a charge, he has a knack for making winning plays at the right time.
Skeptics will say this is all well and good, but he's just not good enough to play in the NBA. That may end up being the case. But he was a star at the highest level of college basketball. It's not inconceivable that he figures out a way to contribute in the NBA.
Will he be a star? Probably not. He may not even be a starter. But he has a chance to be a valuable backup point guard. Arcidiacono has the size, the smarts and the offensive ability. Worst case, he carves out a career overseas before starting a coaching career.