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Top 30 Draft Board: NBA Combine edition

Simmons still at top of Class of '16, but Ingram gaining ground

POSTED: May 14, 2016 12:58 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


The Chicago combine is the last evaluation of draft eligible players before Tuesday's NBA Lottery. The third edition of the Top 30 Board is based on conversations with executives and scouts during the combine activities. One of the big takeaways from Chicago is that front offices remain torn on the top spot, with some support for each of the two candidates and a lot of insiders who had the race too close to call. (One executive, asked for his No. 1, replied: "Simgram.")

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

The increased public visibility once he reached college, as opposed to simply being tracked by the NBA from his native Australia to high school in Florida, was followed by the inevitable backlash. But Simmons was the consensus No. 1 at the start of the season and held the spot as his LSU one-and-done season ended with the Tigers missing the NCAA tournament and saying they would not accept an invitation to one of the smaller post-season events. There are concerns about an attitude that comes across as, in the words of one GM, prima donna, but there are concerns about anyone who would take his place at the top of the list.

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

Ingram was so smooth as 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 rough patches in his transition to college, the NBA finds it easy to envision a small forward with great size who will need to get stronger as he gets older. Ingram does not turn 19 until September, just before training camp. "You can't expect anything out of him next year," a GM said. "He's so weak it's crazy."

3. 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 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.

4. 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 good size for a small forward. That package comes through even as he shared time with Ivan Rabb, a possible lottery pick before deciding to return to school, and Tyrone Wallace, who should get drafted. Brown was the Pacific 12 Conference Freshman of the Year.

Draft Combine: Kris Dunn

Providence's Kris Dunn speaks at the NBA Draft Combine.

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

The decision to return for his junior season took Dunn from possible lottery pick in 2015 to an automatic for the top 10 barring an unexpected development 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 don't like that Dunn will be 22 years old at the draft, others appreciate that he is more developed physically and emotionally and therefore better equipped for the NBA life. "He's good enough to start for a good team as a rookie," an executive said.

6. 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 versatile guard with good size and natural instincts as a passer but also the scoring ability to play off the ball. Murray is more shooting guard than point guard, though. He was 38.7 percent behind the arc as of Jan. 20, but improved to 40.8 by the end of the season as part of a big second half that included 11 consecutive games with at least 20 points. His work as a ball handler didn't get much better, though -- Murray had more turnovers (84) than assists (79).

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

One of the stars of the college game in 2015-16, 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, with the added benefit 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. He shot 45.7 percent on three-pointers.

Draft Combine: Jakob Pöltl

NBA Draft prospect Jakob Pöltl speaks with Scott Howard-Cooper at the Draft Combine.

8. 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 showed he can be a bruising inside presence, especially on defense while appearing not only able to handle the contact but enjoying the chance to initiate it. He has been working to develop an offensive game, the area where his lack of experience most showed, but is the kind of worker who will put in the time to get better.

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

Losing a lot of weight paid 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 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 impressed scouts.

Skal Labissiere Interview writer Scott Howard-Cooper talks with 2016 draft prospect Skal Labissiere.

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

High-risk, high-reward. Labissiere was the second-best prospect at worst at the start of the season, and No. 1 in the eyes of some execs, and had a bad start that caused his draft stock to plummet. His skills are not the issue. "Does he love to play?" one general manager said. "That's the question." An encouraging finish to the season helped, but teams will want to see desire from Labissiere in the individual workouts leading to the draft.

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

Coach Tom Izzo raved about Davis' high ceiling, with the supporting evidence of a freshman continuing to improve while being held back by persistent foul trouble early in the season. Though not much of an offensive threat now, especially beyond the paint, Davis showed the potential to develop a perimeter game. Rebounding and blocking shots has driven the rise from late-first round in January into solid lottery territory.

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

Luwawu made his big move last year playing in his native France, then built 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 won'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 has had to ease concerns about the jump in competition.

13. Marquese Chriss | Washington | PF | 6-9 | 235

Chriss surprised even himself in coming so far so fast as a freshman, using advanced athleticism and a decent perimeter game to charge up draft boards. Teams like to see a prospect trending up, and that's Chriss in a big way. But he is not a good rebounder for a power forward and he fouled out in 15 of 34 games.

14. 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 as 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.

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

Korkmaz is a scoring threat beyond the three-point line and 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.

Draft Combine: Denzel Valentine

NBA Draft prospect Denzel Valentine speaks with Scott Howard-Cooper at the Draft Combine.

16. 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 shot 44.4 percent behind the arc 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.

17. 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.

18. Wade Baldwin IV | Vanderbilt | PG | 6-3 | 195

The improbable rise from under-the-radar college recruit to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team has taken him all the way to the edge of the lottery, and possibly into the top 14 with good workouts, after the sophomore campaign. He is a fiery, emotional leader who tries to take control, even as a freshman. With the extra attention from defenses, though, he went from 43.9 percent overall to 42.7 and from 43.9 percent behind the arc to 40.6.

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

Stone built a case for the teens, and was in the lottery conversation earlier in the season, despite a relatively limited role early as a part-time starter who averaged 22.6 minutes. He turned 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.

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

At 20 years old, and turning 21 the week after the draft, Jones is more developed than many 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 still move up specifically because of the physical aspects. 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.

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

He has an opportunity to become a solid player on both ends, with a good chance he would stay in Europe at least one more season to develop his skills more. 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.

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

He coasts with frustrating regularity, enough to possibly, though not likely, be 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 high-jump championships in South Carolina.

23. Tyler Ulis | Kentucky | PG | 5-9 | 160

Yeah, the height. But Ulis is such a great leader that Kentucky's John Calipari called him the best floor general he has ever coached, a list that includes Derrick Rose, John Wall and Brandon Knight. Ulis was also third in the nation in assist-to-turnover two seasons ago and first in the SEC in 2015-16. NBA teams liked him as a freshman and then really liked him this season in an expanded role after Andrew Harrison went to the pros along with two other members of the Wildcats backcourt.

24. 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 back up, after previously being in the lottery mix. 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 didn't help that his freshman season was dotted by nagging injuries, illness and a coaching change.

25. Taurean Prince | Baylor | SF | 6-7 | 215

The same player who began high school at a 5-9 guard and left as a 6-7 center has made similar strides in college, even if not on the growth chart. Prince will leave Baylor as one of the top seniors in the nation as a 3D prospect on the wing -- three-pointers and defense, although he did drop from 39.5 percent behind the arc in 2014-15 to 36.1 last season.

26. Ante Zizic | Croatia | C | 6-11 | 240

A high-energy player with nice athleticism for a big, he runs the floor well and handles the contact of playing inside. His offensive game is still limited, though. Zizic is 19, making him an ideal draft-and-stash pick for the end of the first round. With his intensity and with time, he could become a contributor for an NBA team.

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

A solid point guard who will not beat many people on athleticism but has three-point range and leadership qualities. Trimble worked last season, as a sophomore, to show he is more than a scorer, with good results as the Terrapins went 27-9 and reached the Sweet 16. He has improved his decision making and ball handling after a 2014-15 with a poor assist-to-turnover ratio.

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

The Mali native, who attended high school in New York state had a very choppy freshman season at Kansas, from missing two exhibitions and five games as the NCAA sorted through eligibility issues to undependable play once he was cleared. There were stretches when just staying on the court was a challenge, and he averaged 7.5 minutes. But athleticism, size and potential on defense makes him a very intriguing prospect. While it would not be a surprise if he dropped out of the first round, some team will be intrigued enough by the physical tools to invest intensive coaching and a lot of D-League time.

29. Juan Hernangomzez | Spain | PF-SF | 6-9 | 220

Hernangomez has used a season of good production in the best overseas league, the ACB, to greatly help his chances of making the first round. His experience -- 20 years old now, 21 for the start of training camp -- is showing. He is a good athlete who runs the floor well, plays above the rim and can score in a variety of ways. His brother Willy was the No. 35 pick by the 76ers last year and traded the same night to the Knicks.

30. Dejounte Murray | Washington | PG- SG | 6-5 | 170

He excels in transition, whether pushing the ball himself or running the wing and staying in attack mode. That is comes through at 170 pounds is especially appealing to front offices that expect him to fill out and get stronger. Poor shooting is the problem. Murray made just 41.6 percent of his attempts overall and 28.8 percent of his threes.

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

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