The 2017 NBA Draft is the deepest in years and there are plenty of high-upside players to choose from. But as with any draft, there are a ton of questions surround the top of this year’s class and whether or not the players projected to go in the first round will pan out long-term. Earlier we looked at the high-risk, high-reward guys available, now it’s time to focus on the safe bets.
What follows is a look at the surest things in this year’s NBA draft.
Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
This seems obvious because Markelle Fultz is almost certain to be the first pick in the draft, but there’s reason the consensus on the Washington product is so strong. In short, Fultz has absolutely no flaws in his game. The guy has no weaknesses on either end of the floor.
Fultz is 6’5″ and 186 pounds, with a 6’9″ wingspan and the quickness, versatility and athleticism to be an elite guard in the NBA. He’s a good shooter, is already an excellent defender and can finish at the rim with the best of them. He’s a phenomenal prospect and he proved that as a freshman by averaging 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.6 steals in 35.7 minutes per game.
It’s clear that Fultz is going to be a good pro for a long time. At worst he’ll be an NBA starter for the next decade. At best? He’s a perennial All-Star with MVP upside. That makes him the rare safe pick with a high ceiling. What Karl-Anthony Towns was to the 2015 draft, Fultz is to the 2017 draft. He’s that good.
Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Jayson Tatum is the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft. At 6’8″ and 204 pounds, the Duke product is a wing who could get you points immediately. He’s an above average athlete, has shown flashes as a defender and has the makings of a good jump shot, though his range is currently limited to inside the 3-point line. As a freshman Tatum averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.3 steals in 33.3 minutes per game for the Blue Devils.
Any team that needs a wing near the top of the draft should be looking hard at this kid. While Tatum needs to add some size and learn to play tougher when heading to the hoop, there’s very little that needs to be corrected in his game.
Tatum has the highest floor in this year’s draft, the only concern is where his ceiling might be. It’s not as high as a few of the other top guys like Josh Jackson and Lonzo Ball. But whichever team selects him is guaranteed at least a solid player who could contribute from Day 1.
Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
Like Tatum, Lauri Markkanen is likely already able to contribute in the NBA. At 7-feet and 230 pounds the Finnish forward has good size and the outside shot to be a perfect stretch-four in the modern NBA. He’s 20 years old so his body has some maturity to it and he’s remarkably well-rounded considering he just wrapped up his freshman year at Arizona. This season he averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds while playing 30.8 minutes per game for the Wildcats.
Markkanen is a very good 3-point shooter, can handle the ball and is actually pretty quick off the bounce going to the rim for his size. He moves well off the ball and should be able to at least provide serviceable defense as he progresses. The downside is that Markkanen has clearly grown up watching the latter portion of Dirk Nowitzki’s career and has modeled his game after him. That means he hangs out on the perimeter far too much. Dirk can get away with that now, he’s a legend, but Markkanen has never become a great rebounder or inside scorer. That needs to change.
I like what Markkanen brings. He could easily step onto an NBA floor and help a team right now. If he continues to develop, becomes better on the interior and improves defensively he could be a franchise cornerstone. As for now, you know what you’re getting: a big guy who can shoot it and get to the rim when he needs to.