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Building A Starting Five From The NBA Draft Class

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

An attempt to play GM and build the best possible lineup out of the 2017 NBA draft class.

The college and international stars who make up the incoming NBA Draft class are some of the most heralded in recent history… is a quote you will hear every single year during this nice little lull between the close of March Madness and the NBA Draft. As the NBA community continues to beat the same drum of potential, projection, and “Porzingis got booed, remember?”, rookies on the whole typically fail to contribute meaningfully until they can separate themselves from their pre-draft evaluation and eventual pick-spot. This year may be especially underwhelming, with the top two talents (Ball + Fultz) already declared as world-beaters, despite playing one of the most difficult positions in professional sports. Their learning curve will be tremendous, as will the unrealistic expectations of a fan-base expecting immediate returns on their investment of love, $15 stadium beers, and hilarious Ball jokes on the backs of custom jerseys. Filled with potential go-to stars like Markelle Fultz, franchise point guards such as DeAaron Fox, and whatever the heck Jonathan Isaac can become, this draft class features an enticing mix of production and potential. Franchises choosing at the top of this year’s draft will be lucky enough to add one of these guys to the mix… but what if they could add five of them? Could an all-rookie starting five compete in the NBA? As they say, if you build it…

So there’s no confusion, I’m here to produce the best possible Starting Five, and not the five best players. This means that Fultz, Ball, Fox, and Dennis Smith can’t all be on my team. So to whoever didn’t make the cut, better luck next year… oh wait, you one-and-done’d so you could spend 3-4 years away from your boys to ride Sacramento’s bench. Have fun out there, Malachi!

THE RULES: Because we want this team to be both competitive and NBA-realistic, I’m going to allow it to assume the “Big 3” model. Using Chad Ford’s ESPN Player boards, up to three players can be selected from anywhere on the draft board. One player must come from at least outside the top 20. The fifth guy, a real role player, must come from outside the top 30.

Without further ado, your 2017 Pre-Rookie Best Starting Five:

PG: Lonzo Ball, UCLA (2nd) – My Projection: 3rd Overall to the Los Angeles Lakers

While his leadership and character off the floor are highly questionable to say the least, Lonzo is the ultimate opinion leader on the floor – by opinion leader, I mean to say the way in which he plays the game is contagious to his four teammates on the floor. Making the extra pass, getting out in transition, moving the ball seamlessly… Lonzo’s team will always do these things because of the joy and free-flow of his offensive style. This season alone at UCLA, he led the NCAA in assists (by a good margin, I might add) and engineered UCLA’s offense to a ridiculous offensive rating of 129.4.

He fits in perfectly here because of how efficient he is, posting huge assist numbers without using a ton of possessions and shooting a tremendous percentage from the field. Looking at players who posted a similar Usage Rate and AST% to Lonzo this season, Ball’s comparison as a pass-first point guard falls in line with some of the most unselfish guys in the league, with the statistics favoring T.J. McConnell, Ricky Rubio, and Rajon Rondo as his destiny. However, these guys are Lonzo’s floor-comparisons, the bare minimum of what he can become in the NBA. What sets him apart from these search-dribbling guards is his ability to put the ball in the cup, and to do it from most any spot on the floor. To that effect, his effective FG% was a whopping 66.8%, which would rank third in the league of guys playing starter (>25mins) minutes.

SG: Markelle Fultz, Washington (1st) – My Projection: 1st Overall to the Boston Celtics  

I love his fit here as a Steph Curry to Lonzo’s Draymond. To me, it seems that Fultz wants to be unselfish, something that likely would have become clearer had he played on a more competent roster instead of the group he had at Washington. He actually assisted on a higher percentage of his teammates’ field goals than Lonzo did with a 35.5 AST%. Of course, this is partially due to the Westbrookian “selfishly-unselfish” assists that one is bound to cop in such a ball-dominant role, but I’m excited to see Fultz see more time off-the-ball at the next level. Steph’s decision to not give a crap who brings the ball up the floor has been a huge key to his growth in the league, allowing him to catch the first pass off of scripted screen/cut action, instead of initiating offense himself. Fultz fits at the 2 because Lonzo is, like Draymond at the next level, one of the best offense-initiators we have in the game today.

But for Fultz, it really comes down to his ability to fill it up, get to the cup, and shoot the lights out. His jump shot numbers were fantastic in his lone season at Washington, with a large enough sample size to really have faith that the jumper will translate. On the other end of the floor, however, the defensive potential for him (and Lonzo) is through the roof. His elite athletic capabilities, combined with a shocking 6’9 wingspan will be problematic for smaller guards. Since it’s clear I’m building my roster around the Warriors model, the ability to switch everything is going to be of the utmost importance.

SF: Josh Hart, Villanova (42nd) – My Projection: 30th Overall to the Utah Jazz

With a backcourt of Lonzo and Fultz, someone’s gotta give up the ball, and Josh Hart can be that guy. At the same time, he provides leadership, toughness, and a winning cultural disposition to a roster that really needs it. We’ve already seen the impact that a guy like Malcolm Brogdon has had in his first season in the league: not necessarily putting up huge numbers, but his unquestionable impact is a result of him “doing the right thing” over and over again, on and off the floor. A high-five here, taking a charge there, inviting the guys over to your house on an off-day… these things matter. Josh Hart needs to be that guy for this group, if at least to offset the Lavarr Ball effect.

Not only has Hart proven he can carry a team deep into the postseason, he’s shown a tenacity and hunger to improve that not many guys can match. Hart improved his numbers across virtually every category throughout each of his 4 seasons at ‘Nova, while still maintaining elite efficiency numbers. His PER of 28 as a senior speaks to this, as does his holistic approach to the game. I love his versatility to be a winning player in a variety of ways, as proven by the 94.6 Defensive Rating he posted his Senior Year. Even without the rock in his hands, Hart will make this team better.

PF: Lauri Markannen, Arizona (9th) – My Projection: 9th Overall to the Dallas Mavericks

To be honest, my first thought when evaluating Markannen’s Xavier film was, “This kid is soft and couldn’t box out a toddler on crutches.” Taking that aside, though (if you can even take such a thing aside), the offensive fit in this context is way too tantalizing. Having 1 defensive liability in your starting 5 hasn’t seemed to serve Kryptonite to many teams in today’s NBA, as guys like Kevin Love, Channing Frye, and Ryan Anderson all seem to have Markannen’s same problem. His 134.1 Offensive Rating this season at Arizona absolutely jumps off the page, leading the Pac-12 by a wide margin. He also led that league in Offensive Win Shares, showing just how valuable his shooting is to any offensive system.

The fit with this lineup also has the potential to be special. Lonzo and Fultz have drive-and-kick ability that will allow Markannen to absolutely feast on pick-and-pop, spot-up, and secondary-break-trailing “step into one big fella!” 3-pointers.

C: Tony Bradley, UNC (24th) – My Projection: 23rd Overall to the Portland Trail Blazers

Tony Bradley. MY ANCHOR. Bradley didn’t play too many minutes this season at Carolina, but posted absurd numbers in those that he did. He pulled down an absurd 18.7% of available rebounds on the offensive glass when he was on the floor, meaning Bradley alone ate up about 1 of every 5 missed Carolina shots. With a shooting-heavy lineup around him, that offensive rebounding ability is sure to prove invaluable. Again, a limited sample size,but Bradley posted a net rating of +31.5 in his minutes this season, making him one of the winningest (in his minutes) players in the nation. He also has all the elite physical tools to become the perfect modern big in the NBA. At 6’10 with a really long 7’4 wingspan, Bradley’s catching wingspan is massive, making him the perfect lob target off of hard rim-runs. He also has great flexibility and leaping ability that make him a perfect project for an elite defensive coach to create a new verticality-master.  Tell me what you think of the squad, and comment below with your 5!

Edited by James Malloy, Kat Johansen, Vincent Choy.

SQuiz
What team drafted Jeff Hornacek in the 2nd Round of the 1986 Draft
Created 4/17/17
  1. New York Knicks
  2. Utah Jazz
  3. Philadelphia 76ers
  4. Phoenix Suns

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