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Top 30 Draft Board

Despite recent struggles, Kentucky's Labissiere has kind of size and mobility that translates into major potential

POSTED: Jan 23, 2016 1:40 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Despite his struggles this season, Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere is still projected as a potential lottery pick this summer.

The topic was Skal Labissiere, the Kentucky freshman who began the season as the projected No. 2 pick in the Draft and receiving some backing for the top spot on June 23, before stepping on the slide with the 90-degree angle of descent.

"He's starting to concern people," one NBA executive said.

In what way?

"That he has absolutely no feel for basketball whatsoever," the exec replied.

So this has not been a good few months for Labissiere and his draft stock that has plummeted all the way to where it's possible to imagine him falling out of the top 10 as front offices also see a concerning soft side to his game. He lost all the momentum that accompanied his arrival in Lexington. He lost his starting job after being benched by coach John Calipari and then lost more minutes, until Labissiere was barely getting into double digits. He even lost his way, admitting he quickly lost confidence and that he needs to believe in himself more.

Calling it a rough start to his college career would be an understatement. Saying he had a big tumble among the top 30 prospects, compiled in consultation with scouts and executives, would be accurate.

1. Ben Simmons | LSU | PF-SF | 6-10 | 245

Whatever uncertainty, however small, existed at the start of the season about his hold on the top spot is long gone. Simmons' lead is bigger than ever, and so is his national profile as the bandwagon fills to capacity. Now to wait for the inevitable backlash as the hype that accompanied his move from Australia to high school in Florida to college mega-recruit reaches a new level in his freshman season at LSU.

2. Brandon Ingram | Duke | SF | 6-9 | 200

Ingram is so smooth for a freshman, with enough ball-handling skills to create his own shot on the perimeter or play above the rim when he moves inside. Even with the rough patches in his transition to college, the NBA finds it easy to envision a small forward with great size who should get stronger as he grows into his body. Ingram does not turn 19 until September, just before training camp.

3. Kris Dunn | Providence | PG | 6-4 | 205

The decision to return for his junior season has taken Dunn from possible lottery pick in 2015 to almost certain for the top 10 and maybe even the top three in 2016. The extra time not only gave him a chance to develop as a point guard, but also to show there are no lingering effects from two shoulder operations. Some front offices won't like that Dunn will be 22 years old by the time of the draft, others may appreciate that he is more developed physically and emotionally and therefore better equipped for the NBA life.

4. Dragan Bender | Israel | PF | 7-1 | 220

That size, in height and thin build. A versatile offensive game at power forward. The European background. He's a bit of Kristaps Porzingis at exactly the right time to be any portion of Kristaps Porzingis, with the difference that Bender is a better distributor and KP has better range. Bender was born in Bosnia and Herzogovina, grew up in Croatia and now plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv and coach Zan Tabak, a former NBA center.

5. Jaylen Brown | California | SF | 6-7 | 220

Brown has the kind of elite athleticism that translates into a great open-court player, a good rebounder for a wing and the potential to be a high-level defender, all with the other physical advantage of good size for a small forward. That package comes through even as he shares time with at least one teammate tracking to the lottery and two as possibilities for the first round. The next step is to show he can have a consistent jumper.

6. Jakob Poeltl | Utah | C | 7-0 | 235

Poeltl has the chance to put Austria on the NBA map after two seasons on the college fast track from unheralded recruit to possibly the first half of the lottery. Playing for former NBA big man Larry Krystkowiak at Utah, Poeltl can be a bruising presence inside, especially on defense while appearing not only able to handle the contact but enjoying the chance to initiate it. He needs to develop an offensive game, no surprise given the relative lack of experience, but is the kind of hard worker who will put in the time to make it happen.

7. Jamal Murray | Kentucky | SG-PG | 6-5 | 200

The latest installment of the recent Canadian influx into the NBA is the 2016 version of D'Angelo Russell, lacking great athleticism while projecting as a point guard with good size and natural instincts as a passer but also the scoring ability to play off the ball. Murray was shooting 38.7 percent behind the arc as of Jan. 20, not a standout number but encouraging of what could come after a freshman season. Having more turnovers than assists at the same point of the calendar is the concern he may turn out to be more combo guard than true point.

8. Ivan Rabb | California | PF | 6-10 | 215

The other half of Cal's highly regarded freshman tandem, along with Brown, does not yet have the shooting ability to be a stretch four in the Porzingis/Bender mold, so he needs to continue to get stronger. The intrigue of Rabb is his length and mobility for the possibility of a very good rebounder and shot blocker. The strength issue is critical.

9. Skal Labissiere | Kentucky | C-PF | 7-0 | 220

While 2015-16 has been a cold comedown, there is a reason most front offices rated Labissiere as the second-best prospect at worst at the start of his freshman campaign. One good postseason run, in the Southeastern Conference tournament and then the NCAAs, and a lot of people fall in like all over again. He has that kind of size and mobility that translates into major potential. In late-January, though, skepticism was everywhere.

10. Henry Ellenson | Marquette | PF-C | 6-10 | 230

Losing a lot of weight is paying off with a ticket into the lottery as a big man who now has the mobility to handle an up-tempo system as well as the strength to play physical. That makes for the potential of a very good draft follow up for the state of Wisconsin a year after Frank Kaminsky went ninth and Sam Dekker went 18th. By choosing to stay close to home rather than play at a program with better talent in place, Ellenson has faced constant attention from defenses, yet still has impressed scouts.

11. Furkan Korkmaz | Turkey | SG | 6-7 | 185

Korkmaz is a scoring threat beyond the 3-point line but also a talented and willing passer, a nice combination for someone with good size for a shooting guard with the chance to keep growing. He needs to add bulk more than height, but is still only 18 and could fill out in time. And if he doesn't get stronger, Korkmaz could still make a big contribution as a shooter and facilitator.

12. Diamond Stone | Maryland | C | 6-10 | 250

Stone has made an early-season case for the lottery despite a relatively limited role as a part-time starter averaging about 20 minutes a game heading into the final week of January. He is turning 19 on Feb. 10 and already has NBA size as a true center, while also moving well with a large frame. That is the obvious selling point. Meanwhile, his defense is improving.

13. Buddy Hield | Oklahoma | SG | 6-4 | 215

One of the leading candidates for Player of the Year is a versatile and explosive threat who can score in transition or as a catch-and-shoot guy in half-court sets. He gets to the rim and creates on the perimeter. He comes with the experience of four seasons in a major program and being 22 years old. In short, Hield will be one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft.

14. Wade Baldwin | Vanderbilt | PG | 6-3 | 195

The improbable rise from under-the-radar college recruit to the SEC All-Freshman team could take him all the way to the lottery after his sophomore campaign. Baldwin improved from 43.9 percent from the field as a newcomer to 47.7 in the second season (as of Jan. 20) and from 43.9 to 45.8 on 3-pointers. He is a fiery, emotional leader trying to take control early in his college career.

15. Stephen Zimmerman | UNLV | C | 7-0 | 235

Size plus the ability to play in transition plus a nice touch from the perimeter plus the potential to defend both big-man spots. It's easy to see Zimmerman moving up again, into a secure spot in the lottery. The question is whether he will convince front offices he can play a physical style as well, at least on defense and go after contact rather than rely entirely on finesse. It doesn't help that his freshman season has been dotted by nagging injuries, illness and a coaching change.

16. Damian Jones | Vanderbilt | C | 7-0 | 250

At 20 years old, and turning 21 the week after the draft, Jones is more developed than a lot of others in the class. That would be a potential bonus anyway -- although a lot of executives prefer to develop younger prospects -- but is especially the case for someone who could reach the lottery specifically because of the physical. He has NBA size and athleticism, the makings of being able to play up in an up-tempo system or a power game and become a shot blocker. The offense needs work.

17. Domantas Sabonis | Gonzaga | PF | 6-10 | 230

The son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, a superstar in Europe before seven seasons with the Trail Blazers, was an intriguing prospect a year ago, in the same lottery territory at 2016, before returning for his sophomore season. Domantas moves well for a big and plays hard, a combination that produces good results on the boards. He does not have much of an offensive game, especially beyond close range.

18. Cheick Diallo | Kansas | PF | 6-9 | 220

The Mali native who attended high school in New York state has had a very choppy freshman season, from missing two exhibitions and five games as the NCAA sorted through eligibility issues to undependable play once he was cleared. By the end of January, just staying on the court had become a challenge. But athleticism, size and potential on defense makes him a very intriguing prospect. It would not be a surprise if he had a big drop.

19. Timothe Luwawu | Serbia | SG-SF | 6-7 | 205

Luwawu made his big move last year playing in his native France, then has been building on that in 2015-16 against tougher competition with a varied offensive game of scoring and passing. His size would be an asset in the backcourt, with enough athleticism that he wouldn't be a liability on defense against smaller, quicker shooting guards. With little experience before this season other than the lesser French leagues, not even as part of the national teams at a junior level, he will have to erase concerns about the jump in competition.

20. Denzel Valentine | Michigan State | SG | 6-6 | 225

The important part of the Final Four team in 2014-15 has made a nice climb up draft boards this season with more experience and a larger role for an elite program. Valentine earned that centerpiece role as 22-year-old senior who is smart and versatile. He was shooting 41.7 percent behind the arc as of Jan. 21 and also easily leading the team in assists, a testament to his ability to become a secondary ball handler in the pros as well as score.

21. Melo Trimble | Maryland | PG | 6-3 | 190

A solid point guard who will not beat many people on athleticism but has 3-point range and leadership qualities. Trimble has worked this season, as a sophomore, to show he is more than a scorer, with good results as the Terrapins emerged as a strong candidate for a long tournament run. He has improved his decision making and ball handling after a 2014-15 with a poor assist-to-turnover ratio.

22. Deyonta Davis | Michigan State | PF | 6-10 | 240

Coach Tom Izzo is raving about Davis' high ceiling, with the supporting evidence of a freshman continuing to improve while being held back by persistent foul trouble. Though not much of an offensive threat now, especially beyond the paint, Davis is rebounding and blocking shots. Being able to stay away from fouls and on the court longer than 20 minutes will be a help.

23. Thomas Bryant | Indiana | PF | 6-10 | 245

Bryant quickly lived up to expectations as a top recruit, emerging as an integral part of the long winning streak around midseason without many numbers that pop. His size and wingspan, creating a long reach, do. Bryant plays tough inside and also has the mobility to excel in transition. The biggest improvements are needed on offense.

24. Demetrius Jackson | Notre Dame | PG | 6-1 | 195

The Fighting Irish have a chance to send a point guard into the first round for the second year in a row, after Jerian Grant went 19th last June. Jackson has speed to play in the open court, leaping ability to play above the rim and a quick first step to create an opening. The physical advantages are especially important because he does have great size.

25. Caris LeVert | Michigan | SG | 6-7 | 200

Averaging 32.4 minutes through Jan. 21 was arguably the most important of all the LaVert statistics, indicating a strong recovery from the foot injury that ended his 2014-15 after just 18 games and required surgery. He has good size for his position with the bonus of possibly becoming a secondary ball handler in the pros. LaVert may even be able to play some backup point guard that could create mismatches with his size.

26. Jonathan Jeanne | France | C | 7-2 | 195

The obvious drawback: He needs to gain weight just to be considered thin. Jeanne appears weak in the upper body and weak in the lower body, but 7-2 with a 7-6 wingspan and mobility and athleticism will always capture attention, so some NBA strength and conditioning coach may get the project of a lifetime. With that size and ability to move, Jeanne could become a shot blocker.

27. Brice Johnson | North Carolina | PF | 6-10 | 230

He coasts with frustrating regularity, enough to possibly cost Johnson the difference between first-round talent and second-round reality. He has good scoring instincts, the experience of four seasons on Tobacco Road and good height for the position along with the leaping ability that helped him win two high school state championships in South Carolina in the high jump.

28. Malik Newman | Mississippi State | PG-SG | 6-4 | 190

It has been a challenging freshman season in some ways -- poor shooting numbers, poor assist-to-turnover ratio -- but the potential to generate offense at the next level comes through. Newman has shown the ability to score in the open court, with a particular thirst to attack the rim, and from the perimeter. His decision making with the ball is a concern, especially for the general managers who see him more as a point guard than shooting guard.

29. Isaiah Briscoe | Kentucky | PG-SG | 6-3 | 220

Playing shooting guard in the NBA at his size will obviously be a challenge, unless paired with a big point guard, but Briscoe is strong enough at 6-3 and aggressive enough to handle a lot. He also doesn't have much range. Making it more of a lean away from playing off the ball a lot, Briscoe does have good skills at the point.

30. Ivica Zubac | Croatia | C | 7-0 | 240

Zubac has the chance to become a solid player on both ends, with a good chance he would stay in Europe at least one more season to continue to develop. He will only be 19 at the time of the draft, yet already has good size along with excellent mobility and good hands that will allow him to play in transition.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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