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Five Intriguing NBA Draft Prospects

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are excellent prospects. So too are Kris Dunn, Dragan Bender and Buddy Hield. Outside of a handful of other prospects, though, there is a great deal of uncertainty in this 2016 NBA draft. It might just be the weirdest draft of all time, and it’s certainly the most unpredictable.

Below are five first- or second-round prospects whose NBA future, though, are particularly difficult to nail down.

Jaylen Brown

The University of California’s Brown is one of the battleground prospects. Scouts love him, and Chad Ford’s latest mock draft has him going No. 8 overall, to the Sacramento Kings. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projects he’ll produce negative 0.5 Wins Above Replacement Player, or WARP, which ranks 101st among all prospects.

What’s so special about Brown? He’s a bulldozer in the body of a wing, standing 6 feet 7 inches tall and having just 5.1 percent body fat. He thrives in the open court, or whenever he has a glimmer of space in the half-court. More than a third of Cal’s transition attempts were taken by the freshman, and Brown converted 70.4 percent of those shots. And if he didn’t make the bucket, he was nearly sure to draw a foul — per Ken Pomeroy, Ben Simmons (7.3) at LSU is the only frosh in this year’s draft to draw more fouls than Brown (7.0) per 40 minutes.

But because Brown does not yet possess a legitimate basketball skill, he might be the most divisive lottery pick in recent draft history. His shooting mechanics, while sound, are inconsistent, and that greatly affected his ability to score once opponents backed off to better defend Brown’s drives. More than two-thirds of Brown’s half-court attempts, per Hoop-Math.com, were jump shots, and he made just 28 percent of those looks. Coupled with his so-so handle — he hasn’t shown the skill set or dribbling chops to get by a defender with similar strength — and Brown’s skill set is limited.

On the other hand, Brown is tremendously athletic and could develop into a lockdown defender. He wasn’t great on that end while at Berkeley, but he was a freshman in a very crowded backcourt, and wing defense can be tough to project. Brown perfectly fits a niche in the modern NBA: a wing that can legitimately defend four (and maybe even five) positions.

Fred VanVleet

At the moment, the 6-foot-tall guard isn’t on many mock NBA draft boards, but he should be. VanVleet is ranked 60th on Chad Ford’s Big Board, but has one of the best projections in the draft. He handed out an assist on nearly 40 percent of his possessions during his senior year at Wichita State, and his projected assist-to-turnover ratio tops Pelton’s college database (4.09). He is the surest-handed point guard in this draft class, a player who nearly always makes the most pragmatic pass rather than a risky one, but he’s still deadly effective. According to Synergy Sports Technology, VanVleet and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis are the only two point guards in the draft whose teammates score more than 1.03 points per assist.

Overall, one would assume that VanVleet would be a more-than-capable backup, but the guard bizarrely continues to face the same doubts that he did as a high school recruit. VanVleet never converted less than 35 percent of his threes at Wichita State, and he scored 1.13 points per spot-up jumper this past season. Perhaps his slight stature continues to deter NBA general managers and scouts, but as Isaiah Thomas has demonstrated, size isn’t the excluding factor it used to be.

Cheick Diallo

Diallo, the much-ballyhooed 6-foot-9 center went to Lawrence with significant expectations … and spent the year nailed to the bench. No other frosh ranked in ESPN’s top 30 recruits used a lower percentage of his team’s minutes played than Diallo (ranked seventh), who saw just 13.5 percent of Kansas’s playing time. And yet here he is, projected to be drafted in the mid- to late first round.

Diallo has two things going for him: He’s got a 7-foot-4½inch wingspan, and he can run, both things that could make him a good shot blocker and rebounder. Diallo was often the fastest player in transition, and that rim-running will provide most of his shots early in his pro career — if he can ever get off the bench.

Brice Johnson

The Ken Pomeroy Player of the Year was overshadowed by fellow seniors Denzel Valentine at Michigan State and Buddy Hield at Oklahoma, but Johnson shines in his own way: deft, unblinking scoring efficiency. Per Synergy data, Johnson’s 1.14 points per possession put him eighth among DI players who used at least 500 possessions in 2016, one spot ahead of the unstoppable Hield. More than a third of his touches in the half-court came around the bucket, and Johnson converted 85 percent of those looks because of a variety of factors, including a quick primary and secondary jump, a lasting elevation and a soft touch.

He won’t be the primary option in the NBA as he was at North Carolina, but it will still prove difficult to check the big guy, in spite of his lanky frame. Even if you manage to ground Johnson and force him to make a move in the post, he can simply outjump defenders, giving him a free look at the hoop. While his jump shot is really more concept than reality, the combination of quick timing and athleticism on the offensive end are among his greatest skills.

Thon Maker

The 7-foot-1-inch Maker, who played prep ball in Canada this past season, describes himself as “a KG on the blocks.” For now, Maker is merely hype. He has played in Hoops Summits, and graced YouTube with some extraordinary mixtapes, but there’s little enough information about Maker that Pelton couldn’t produce a projection for him. His measurables are intriguing on their own: He has a 9-foot-3-inch reach, meaning he should block a few shots even in just a normal defensive rotation, and when you see him take the ball to the perimeter, drop a defender with a crossover and hit a three-pointer, the appeal in a post-Warriors NBA is obvious. But Maker is mostly a journey into the unknown, which is something that the NBA draft hasn’t had much of in the one-and-done era, making him a little more like Kevin Garnett than he seems.

Matt Giles has contributed to College Basketball Prospectus, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, BuzzFeed, and Salon.

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