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5 Starters, Busts, Sleepers, and Has-Beens in the 2016 NBA Draft

USA Today

USA Today

The NBA draft is fun but difficult, a crap shoot really. Sometimes future superstars go at the top of the draft, and sometimes teams find them a bit later on. Sometimes we even miss a bit on our draft analysis…

We’ve already determined the 4-star talents in the 2016 NBA draft, but that leaves 56 picks and a lot on the table. This is one of the weakest drafts in years but every draft is valuable. This one is particularly valuable since finding the right young player will represent an incredibly low contract moving forward with the cap — and rookie scale — rising next year. Getting a key contributor for pennies on the veteran dollar makes a huge difference.

With that in mind, I’ve chosen 5 future starters, 5 likely busts, 5 sleeper picks, and 5 guys we should just remember from their college years…

5 Future Starters

Jamal Murray

Poor Murray is probably in his own tier, right in between my 4 potential stars and everyone else.

Murray is a very good combo guard that will be in the league for a decade. He’s not a true point guard and he’s a bit small to be a 2, so that’s a problem and might leave him as the 3rd guard in a lot of rotations but that’s still very valuable. Think of his ceiling as something akin to Boston’s Isaiah Thomas.

Murray lacks elite athleticism and really he lacks elite skill in any one particular area so that might scare fans off a bit, but he’s a pretty well-rounded player. He gets the “not a true point guard” shout from some but that’s not what he was needed for at UK with Tyler Ulis around. He handled when needed but was able to play off the ball well too, and that’s valuable.

To me, Murray stood out mostly at last summer’s Pan American games where he played the point on a legitimately good Team Canada. Murray showed that he had a killer instinct and a great ability to read the defense and get to the basket, and he was clutch time and again down the stretches of games. The youngest guy on the court, Murray was often the one that stood out the most and that was on a court with established college veterans like Van Vleet, Baker, Brogdon, and Valentine.

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a nice point guard prospect. He’s definitely a “true” point guard if you forgot to watch Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry the last three weeks and still think a “true” point guard is a guy that leads the team and passes a lot and that’s mostly it.

Dunn is a good character guy and he brings good toughness and great defensive skills. He has slowly risen in a weak draft because he doesn’t have many huge holes, but that doesn’t necessarily make someone a high pick. His one best skill is his on the ball defense but he’s a 90s point guard entering a different league now.

I worry that Dunn’s upside may be someone like George Hill or Avery Bradley. Any team would be happy to have one of those guys, but if they’re your starting PG then you are at a deficit to at least two-thirds of the league. That’s not a top five pick for me.

 Todays Fast Break

Todays Fast Break

Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis is easily my favorite true big in this draft. He is a very skilled big man and one that improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore year, growth that portends well toward a good future. Sabonis is a good rebounder and he’s also got a very good shot and, like his father, an excellent hoops IQ and passing ability.

That makes him a very versatile big man that can play both inside and out on both ends of the court. He can set the screen and then pop or roll to the rim, and he can post up as well or just hit the boards. And Sabonis has improved a lot on defense, particularly in cutting down his foul rate greatly from his freshman year when he struggled to stay on the floor. This year he did hit four fouls 16 times but only fouled out four times.

Sabonis has a nice free throw touch so that means no Hack-a and also might hint toward a possible stretch ability in the future too. He’s the exact sort of big man any team needs in 2016.

Denzel Valentine

Valentine started in my sleeper section but I like him too much to keep him down there. Other than some potential lingering knee injury concerns that we obviously don’t know much about, I don’t see what’s not to like here.

Valentine was the best player in college for a month before his injury and he was still excellent all season. This is a swing player that just averaged 19/8/8 in a big time conference and for a top team, something no one had done in 30 years in college.

It feels lazy to make the Valentine-Draymond comparison but it’s not just the Michigan State connection. Denzel has special potential because of his versatility. He can score the ball or create, both for himself and for teammates. He can stretch the D with a three, shooting 44% on 7+ threes a game this year. On defense, he has the ability to switch and guard many positions effectively, though obviously not nearly as well as Draymond — and he’s just enough smaller to not be able to guard big guys.

Yes, Valentine is a bit older and no, maybe you won’t get a 10 or 15-year career if the injury problems stick around. I’ll promise you this, though — Denzel Valentine would’ve been playing minutes for either the Cavs or the Warriors in the Finals and would’ve probably swung the series for either team.

Deyonta Davis

Everyone knows Michigan State was the best team going into the tournament, even if they had their embarrassing early exit. Valentine was a big reason why they were great but not the only reason.

Deyonta Davis went under the radar but was set to be the next big thing at MSU if he had stuck around. Still only 19 years old, he’s 6'11 with pretty solid muscle already, and he shot 60% this year and showed great ability to finish at the rim and rebound well. He wasn’t a huge scorer for the Spartans but wasn’t really asked to be. All of his averages look a bit weak until you see that the per-minute averages are quite good — is it possible that the great Tom Izzo was underusing Davis all year? Maybe he was waiting to unleash him in March Madness or keep him around for a sophomore season.

Davis looks like a player that would’ve developed into a top 10 pick with even another year in school. He’s a real bargain for a team that can be patient.

 313 teams

313 teams

5 Likely Busts

Marquese Chriss

Chriss is the exact sort of guy scouts love to fall in love with during all of the draft preparations. He’s absolutely oozing with athleticism, hops and quickness for days, and he is a man among boys in a gym full of prospects. Chriss has been the draft’s highest riser, a supposed Shawn Marion type and a potential stretch 4 that looks like he could suddenly go as high as #3.

But dig a bit into Chriss’s college numbers and you find trouble in every direction. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what Chriss was good at. He’s supposedly a good shooter but hit only 21 threes, so that’s not much of a stretch factor. He is a terrible rebounder especially for a guy with all that athleticism — Chriss had an amazing 11 games with 3 or fewer rebounds. Chriss also shows no touch, with 13 games of 3+ turnovers. And the icing on the cake is that the dude couldn’t even stay on the court. He had 3+ fouls in all but two games and fouled out an incredible fifteen times this year.

The NBA is about elite athleticism and Marquise Chriss is an elite athlete no doubt. But you have to do more than jump to make it in the league. The lottery is littered with corpses of great athletes. Chriss may be the next.

Skal Labissiere

I am absolutely flabbergasted that Skal is apparently still being considered in the lottery. This is your best example in awhile of exactly how long people hold onto past expectations. Labissiere was touted as a top-3 high school prospect last year and some scouts even ranked him ahead of Ben Simmons, so the hype coming into Kentucky was real.

But he was terrible and, worse yet, invisible most of the time. Skal averaged under 16 minutes a game for a team that desperately needed big man help and he finished the season with 26 games of single-digit scoring. He shot only 51% despite taking all of his shots at the rim, a poor rate for a supposedly dominant 7 footer. And for a guy that is supposed to have range, he didn’t make a single three all year.

Skal was even worse without the ball in his hands. He had 11 assists the entire season, a total so impressively low even Hassan Whiteside is jealous. And at 7 feet tall, he managed to have more than 5 rebounds only two times the entire season. Absolutely ridiculous and inexcusable for a guy with that size, that hype, and that athleticism.

If Labissiere weren’t a top high school recruit and hadn’t been on Calipari’s UK this year, he wouldn’t even be a top 100 prospect.

Jaylen Brown

Brown is a lot like Marquese Chriss above with a lot of similar issues, just not quite as glaring and with a couple saving graces.

He’s an elite athlete and stands out in the gym, but again his athleticism can’t do everything in the NBA. He was a very poor shooter in his one season and he also struggled with consistent fouls at 4+ in over half his games. Brown didn’t pass too well or show a great feel for the game and honestly just didn’t look great. Some of those things can be developed in time, but they’re not there yet.

There are two things that save Brown’s value though, to give him a useful floor even if the above doesn’t develop. First, he’s a strong defender. His defensive instincts and NBA body will always make him useful in a league that covets wing men. And secondly, Brown showed a great ability to draw fouls, with almost 7 free throw attempts per game, a great NBA skill.

In a few years with the right team and development, Brown may eventually become a useful rounded swing man. For now, he is the sort of guy that has useful tools but too many glaring holes to play important minutes.

Jakob Poeltl

Poeltl is a guy that would’ve been a top 5 pick, and a deserving one, in the 80s or 90s. He is Rik Smits in a league that has no place for that sort of player anymore, a feature center in an era where no one feeds the post.

Poeltl is a solid rebounder and shot blocker and seems to have a good feel for the game. And he did an excellent job of playing defense without fouling, only really in any foul trouble in about 25% of the games.

Don’t expect his 17 points a game to translate, because he just played for a team that put him at the heart of their offensive plan and he’ll be the 5th option on the court for any 2016 team. Still, everyone needs a skilled talented big man. Poeltl’s upside might be present-day Andrew Bogut and that’s not all that exciting, but your team probably needs someone like him on your team. He may not be a true bust but he won’t live up to any hype either.

Henry Ellenson

Ellenson is supposed to be a prototypical stretch 4, which I think is now what we are calling nonathletic white guys who are too slow to play swing and not big enough to play center.

This supposed stretch 4 just shot a wretched 29% from threes this year for Marquette. He’s a 7-foot 240-pound pile of dough and has a lot of work to do before he finds enough muscle to be able to play in and out. And even then he’s going to be a defensive liability.

Ellenson’s peak upside is supposed to be Kevin Love. Yeah, Kevin Love, remember him — the guy that couldn’t stay on the court in the Finals?


Malachi Richardson

Richardson was on the edge of my starters and ultimately swapped with Valentine, but both will probably get taken somewhere just outside the lottery and both project to be nice players.

Richardson is a streaky shooter — we saw him hit some hot streaks inSyracuse’s shock Final Four run, but we also saw the team build huge holes when his shot wasn’t falling. Richardson shot under 40% from 2s, an absolutely abysmal rate that will have to improve to have any chance of him turning into a real player.

Still, he showed a great first step and ability to draw fouls and has great on-ball defensive skills as well as ability to help in the lanes or at the rim. His game will need some developing but he looks like a great 3 and D prospect.

Thon Maker

Thon Maker reminds you of what Fran Fraschilla once said about Raptors’ first round pick Bruno Caboclo — he might well be 2 years away from being 2 years away.

Here’s a kid from Sudan that we know precious little about. He definitely has an NBA body and NBA athleticism and he is a good rebounder and supposedly has a nice outside touch. At just 216 pounds on his 7'1 frame, he’s going to need to add a ton of muscle and will certainly not be ready to contribute right away.

But think of it another way. We’ve already seen guys like Chriss and Jaylen and Labissiere basically fail in a year of college even with all their athleticism. Maker is unproven but that also means he hasn’t proven that he’d struggle in that setting.

If he had just sucked in college like Labissiere and Chriss, maybe he’d be a top 10 pick instead.

Juan Hernangomez

Hernangomez has a brother already drafted and stashed away by the New York Knicks. Juan may be the more talented player and he looks like the top draft-and-stash guy in this year’s class, though with the cap rising that is admittedly a bit less valuable this year.

Still, he’s got the look of a stretch 4, shooting 38% from downtown and a good ability in the pick and roll plus nice versatility to be able to play inside or out. He might be a next Mirotic type guy. He’ll need to round out his game and find some defense but he’s a future lottery player for a team willing to wait.

Gary Payton II

Guys make it in the NBA if they can do one thing and do it really well. Gary Payton II can play elite on-ball defense better than anyone else in the draft. He also is an elite rebounder, averaging 8 boards a game — as a point guard!

Payton will be 24 by December so he’s probably already the player he’ll become, but he looks like a useful late pickup, a guy that can come in and play a role when it’s needed.

Marcus Paige

You probably remember Paige from that incredible double-pump buzzer beater to send the NCAA title game to overtime, right up until it didn’t.

You might not remember that Paige was the best player from the best team in that tournament. He has been criticized for having numbers that come and go from game to game or season to season, but that might also be a guy that is adapting his game to what the team needs.

Paige has a nice mid-range and a great first step to the rim, a nice ability to draw fouls. His three point shooting is a bit streaky but he did make 20 in the tournament to lead the team and was big in the final. And he takes great care of the ball — he had 3+ turnovers just three times the entire season for a run and gun UNC offense.

Paige is a bit small at 6'2 and he’s no longer the star we once expected, but he looks like a guy most teams could benefit having around.

5 Guys We’re Better Off Just Remembering From Their Good Old College Days

G Fred Van Vleet / Ron Baker, Wichita State

G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

F Georges Niang, Iowa State

F Perry Ellis, Kansas

F Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

You had a good run fellas. We loved watching you and you were terrific in college. You might get some run on an occasional 10-day contract but you’re already fully developed and just not quite an NBA guy.

Honestly, you’re too old to have NBA upside now, some more than others — I’m looking at you, Perry. You had a great college career and we’ll never forget you. Say hi to Adam Morrison at the YMCA.

Special thanks to Mr. Brandon Anderson for his contribution.

Writer and Consultant. Follow @wheatonbrando for sports, humor, pop culture, and life musings.

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