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It’s not time to write it with a sharpie, but perhaps firmly with a pencil: The 2016 NBA Draft is a two-prize class.
Barring a late-season charge or mishap from one of the top-two prospects, LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram will vie to be selected first overall. Both are freshman combo-forwards but each has a uniquely versatile game that projects well to the NBA level.
Simmons made his way to LSU from Australia as the highest-regarded incoming freshman in the country, and for the most part, he has not disappointed. Simmons has been compared to LeBron James due to his ball handling and versatile skill set at 6-10, but the parallel to the four-time MVP is too lofty. That said, he can fit any system in the league and has the potential to be a multi-time all-star selection.
Ingram committed to Duke out of Kinston, North Carolina, and was also a consensus top-ten recruit entering the season. The Blue Devil has impressed with his shooting and scoring abilities, while also displaying a knack for blocking shots. Ingram has been compared to Kevin Durant because of his frame and talent at 6-9, but like Simmons above the analogy is likely too tall to live up to.
Take a look across the Big Boards across the web, including ours, and its hard-pressed to find another prospect that warrants a similar type of comparison. That status alone indicates this is a two-man race to be the first name called by Adam Silver in June.
*Draft order current as of Jan. 20, 2016.
- Philadelphia- Ben Simmons | SF/PF | LSU | Freshman
Whether you agree with Sam Hinkie’s tanking strategy, or not, he will be showered with applause if the team wins the draft lottery to select Simmons. The Sixers’ front line is stacked with prospects, and Simmons is the perfect fit to build the team around and also compliment the current core (can you call it a core?). Simmons’ best attributes include his basketball IQ and ball handling, and he finds a way to make a significant impact on both sides of the ball.
- LA Lakers- Brandon Ingram | SF | Duke | Freshman
By virtue of holding the league’s second-worst record, the Lakers get the chance to select Ingram in this scenario. After selecting D’Angelo Russell a year ago, Ingram would mark the second-straight No. 2 pick for the storied franchise. Ingram has the potential to be a 20-point per game scorer at the NBA level, and has quickly become the top offensive option on a good Duke team. If he can improve his ball handling and court vision, he could become the next in a line of all-star scoring small forwards.
- Boston (via Brooklyn)- Jaylen Brown | SF | California | Freshman
The Celtics finally cash in on the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade by selecting Brown with the third overall pick. Brown is an elite and powerful athlete can excel as a small forward and a small-ball power forward. Brown’s biggest weakness is his outside shooting, but his shot is by no means broken. Excelling off the drive, Brown could be a Rudy Gay-esque player at the next level.
- Minnesota- Dragan Bender | PF | Croatia | 1997-born
Minnesota has not-so-quietly collected an impressive core of young players. Holding each of the last two No. 1 overall picks in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, as well as a solid starter at point guard in Ricky Rubio, the Wolves most need a perimeter oriented power forward to pair with Towns inside. Enter Bender. The 7-1 Croatian is a capable passer, shooter and rebounder from PF, and really only needs to improve his strength. With another high pick, the Wolves will be relevant sooner rather than later.
- Phoenix- Ivan Rabb | PF | California | Freshman
The Suns are a mess, and desperately in need of a top pick. After chasing LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency and actively searching to trade Markieff Morris, Phoenix needs to add a power forward of the future. Rabb has tremendous hands and can score as a faceup and back-to-the-basket option. He is a capable shot blocker and defender and should only get better on that end of the court. This pick starts what could be a long rebuild in the Grand Canyon State.
- New Orleans- Kris Dunn | PG | Providence | Junior
Anthony Davis rejoices as Kris Dunn falls to New Orleans at No. 6. The guard play has struggled to accentuate Anthony Davis’ strengths, and the team has faltered as a result. With Jrue Holiday unable to stay healthy, Dunn would fill a need as a primary ball handler and pick and roll maestro. His outside shot can be inconsistent at times, but he is perhaps the best passer in the draft and has the potential to be a lockdown defender.
- Denver- Jamal Murray | SG | Kentucky | Freshman
The Nuggets have an interesting combination of assets, but are most in need of a scoring guard to pair with Emmanuel Mudiay. Murray fits in the same age range as a backcourt to develop together, and the Canadian-project has been Kentucky’s best perimeter scorer this season. His defensive effort can leave a lot to be desired at times, but he has the quickness and basketball IQ to shine at the NBA level.
- Portland- Buddy Hield | SG | Oklahoma | Senior
A scoring power forward is the Blazers’ biggest need, but the opportunity to select Hield will be too good to pass up. Neil Olshey has not shied away from selecting seniors in the lottery (see: Lillard, McCollum), and Hield possesses a skill set that can pair with either of Rip City’s lead guards, or even both. Hield is putting together a 50-50-90 season (yes, you read that correctly), and his draft stock will continue to soar. A solid defender as well, expect to hear a lot about Hield in March.
- Utah- Demetrius Jackson | PG | Notre Dame | Junior
Utah has missed Dante Exum all season, and Trey Burke simply isn’t efficient enough to be relied upon as a starting point guard. Jackson has taken the next step at Notre Dame, following in Jerian Grant’s footsteps as the lead scorer and distributor. Jackson has a quick release and shoots the ball accurately, and he can be a pesky defender when zoned in. He is shorter than average for the position, but long enough that he will get looks in the lottery.
- Milwaukee- Skal Labissiere | PF | Kentucky | Freshman
Labissiere is the 2016 Draft’s biggest enigma. He is desperately in need of a second year at Kentucky, but by entering in June Labissiere will still be selected in the late lottery or mid-first round. Isolating his skills, Labissiere has everything a team would want in a young power forward. He is one of the draft’s top shot blockers, can step out and hit jump shots, and he passes the eye test athletically. On the downside, he is painfully thin and his game just has not clicked under John Calipari. As his minutes continue to dwindle, his draft stock will continue to fall.
- Charlotte- Furkan Korkmaz | SG | Turkey | 1997-born
The Hornets’ season started with promise as the Eastern Conference blew away preseason expectations. The Hornets are one of a few teams to regress over the past four weeks, largely due to an inability to hit outside shots. Korkmaz is one of the draft’s top shooters, and possesses a quick and accurate release as a set shooter and off the dribble. He needs to get stronger and he is not an elite athlete, but he has impressed early with Anadolu Efes. Bender is a terrific prospect, but Korkmaz might wind up being the best international candidate in the draft.
- Orlando- Jakob Poeltl | C | Utah | Sophomore
Orlando’s depth behind Nikola Vucevic is a major question mark, and is partially why Orlando will fall short of making the playoffs in 2016. Poeltl’s ceiling is not as high as some of the other top prospects in the draft, but he will undoubtedly be a solid NBA starter due to his rim protection and rebounding abilities. He is also a good back-to-the-basket scorer, but many NBA teams do not covet that trait as much as in the past. Doubts aside, Poeltl is a lock to go in the lottery.
- Washington- Henry Ellenson | PF | Marquette | Freshman
How much longer can Washington trot out a frontcourt of Nene and Marcin Gortat? Ellenson is an excellent rebounding power forward that can stretch the floor out to the NBA 3-point line. He is not a shot blocker at the next level, rather is a power forward in the mold of Jared Sullinger and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Love. As more teams emphasize the need for outside shooting from four positions, Ellenson’s value will trend upwards.
- Toronto (via New York)- Cheick Diallo | C | Kansas | Freshman
Toronto has built a solid core capable of advancing in the NBA playoffs, but Jonas Valanciunas is the only big man on the roster worth building around. Masai Uriji is not afraid to take a chance on projects, and in drafting Diallo he would be doing just that. The Kansas center plays with intensity, and has the potential to be an excellent shot blocker and rebounder in the NBA. He is learning how to defend without fouling, but the biggest concerns come on the offensive end, where he is still learning the game. Buried on the bench in Lawrence, Diallo’s season will be one to watch.
- Chicago (via Sacramento)- Melo Trimble | PG | Maryland | Sophomore
How much longer will Chicago continue the Derrick Rose era? Regardless of Rose’s status, the Bulls need to add a point guard. Trimble’s ability to shoot and create will be attractive to Fred Hoiberg, and he has shown the ability to get into the lane off the dribble. His wingspan will not test well at the combine (so do not overreact), which could turn a few teams off, but his game tape will keep him in the mid-first round.
- Denver (via Houston)- Caris LeVert | SG | Michigan | Senior
With its second first rounder, the Nuggets double down at the wing with do-it-all guard Caris LeVert. At one point the Michigan leader in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game, LeVert stuffs the box score due to knack for making the right decisions. He could stand to get stronger, which will aid in his shooting percentage at the rim, but he is a low-floor player that will carve out a niche in the NBA. He could go as high as the late lottery.
- Boston- Dejounte Murray | PG | Washington | Freshman
The Celtics have a surplus of point guards in Thomas, Smart and Bradley playing extended minutes, but Danny Ainge will likely make a move at some point to turn some of the team’s depth into a star player. If so, Murray provides a different option at the one as that of a bigger guard that can defend both backcourt positions. Murray is a solid rebounder and distributor at 6-5, and is a decent outside shooter. With a good postseason run for the Huskies in March, Murray could vault up draft boards.
- Philadelphia (via Miami)- Gary Payton II | PG | Oregon State | Senior
Ish Smith has finally started to give the 76ers some competent play from the point, but the team could still look to upgrade, especially at the defensive end. Payton might be the best on-ball defender and rebounder among point guards in the draft, and he is an elite athlete for the position. Payton is a non-scorer from the 3-point line, but his shot form indicates he could improve with the right adjustments.
- Detroit- Nigel Hayes | PF | Wisconsin | Junior
Stan Van Gundy desperately needs an upgrade at power forward, and Hayes could be a versatile option to fill the role. Hayes will never be a star at the NBA level, but he is a solid shooter, rebounder and distributor that can play both forward positions. He is not a rim protector, but he would not need to be next to Andre Drummond.
- Indiana- Wade Baldwin | PG | Vanderbilt | Sophomore
The Pacers would do well to bring in a true point guard to compliment its scoring options in George Hill and Monta Ellis. Baldwin has a tendency to overdribble, but he has good size and a great wingspan that project well to the NBA. Baldwin is a good shooter from the college 3-point line, and shows the ability to finish inside among the trees.
- Denver (via Memphis)- Timothe Luwawu | SG | France | 1995-born
Luwawu is a 1995-born player that will be attractive to a Denver team that has already selected twice in the first round. A draft-and-stash candidate, Luwawu is an elite athlete at 6-7 that loves to finish above the rim. He is an inconsistent outside shooter, but has performed well this season for Mega Leks in Serbia. He has potential to be taken as high as the late lottery.
- Boston (via Dallas)- Denzel Valentine | SG | Michigan State | Senior
Is there a more Brad Stevens-player in this draft than Denzel Valentine? Stevens has made magic with Evan Turner, and Valentine would provide a similar look though with the ability to hit the outside shot. A great rebounder and passer at the college level, Valentine could be an early contributor if selected by the right team. He is not as good as an off-ball option, but would be a great fit on many teams.
- Chicago- Domantas Sabonis | PF/C | Gonzaga | Sophomore
Having already selected a point guard in the first round, Chicago turns its attention to the frontcourt to find a potential replacement for Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. Sabonis is a very efficient below-the-rim post option that excels as a rebounder. The son of the former Trail Blazers’ center is not a rim protector or outside shooter, but he is a solid all-around option that would demand early minutes in Chicago.
- Atlanta- Allonzo Trier | SG | Arizona | Freshman
Atlanta can use additional scorers on the wing, and the Arizona freshman would fit the team’s need. Before his injury a week ago, Trier was the most productive Arizona guard, showing the ability to get to the free throw line and score from beyond the arc. He has the tools to be a good defender, and he could replace Thabo Sefolosha in the Hawks’ ranks next year.
- Toronto- Deyonta Davis | PF | Michigan State | Freshman
This might wind up being far too low for Davis, the raw power forward for Michigan State. Davis blocks a high number of shots, and is still coming into his own on the offensive end. Uriji doubles down on the shot-blocking projects after taking Diallo at 14, but Davis’ ability to compliment Valanciunas would be a good fit. His draft stock is on the rise.
- LA Clippers- Dwayne Bacon | SG | Florida State | Freshman
Among contenders, there is not a team in the league with a worse bench than the Clippers. Bacon is old for his class, but is having a great freshman season at Florida State. He could back up both wing positions at 6-7, and is a lethal scorer. His shot selection and court vision could be problems at the next level, but Doc Rivers should be able to correct the fixable tendencies.
- Phoenix (via Cleveland)- Taurean Prince | SF | Baylor | Senior
Phoenix gets the Cavs pick after taking Rabb at No. 5, and they add a future 3&D small forward in the Baylor senior. Prince is a strong player that can defend three positions, though he is limited offensively to set shots and straight-line drives. For a Phoenix team that relies on creation from its guards, his need to do more himself is not as important.
- Philadelphia (via OKC)- Paul Zipser | SF | Germany | 1994-born
With its third pick in the first round, the 76ers select the highflying 3-point shooter from Bayern Munich. Zipser, like Prince above, is more of a set shooter and straight-line driver than a player that can create for himself and others, but his style of play fits a need in the current NBA landscape. Given Philadelphia’s roster, he could come over right away or be used as a draft-and-stash option.
- San Antonio- Brice Johnson | PF | North Carolina | Senior
Like it or not, Tim Duncan’s reign in San Antonio is coming to an end. The Spurs already filled the star vacancy with LaMarcus Aldridge, but it cost them valuable post depth in Aron Baynes and Tiago Splitter. Johnson will be a 15-year role player in the NBA due to his length, mid-range jump shot and ability to rebound. As far as fits go, the Spurs and Johnson are an ideal match.
- Golden State- Tyrone Wallace | PG | California | Senior
Golden State boasts the best backcourt in the NBA, and are legitimate threats to win another championship in 2016. Wallace would be a developmental option behind Curry and Livingston, but his potential as a two-way player fits a need, especially if Barbosa does not return. His outside shot needs improvement, but just as the team selected Kevon Looney in 2015, the value here is too good to pass up.
Next Five: Damian Jones C/Vanderbilt, Troy Williams SF/Indiana, Malik Beasley SG/Florida State, Wayne Selden SG/Kansas, Diamond Stone C/Maryland