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Providence's Dunn tops unique class of playmakers

David Aldridge's 2016 Big Board: Point Guards

POSTED: Mar 21, 2016 10:24 AM ET
UPDATED: Jun 16, 2016 1:55 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Kris Dunn has edged past Jamal Murray as the top point guard prospect in the 2016 class.

Overpromises, underdelivery, lying, exaggerations, and generally a waste of your time until the real thing happens.

Presidential primaries or pre-Draft hype?

Is there a difference?

Both take up thousands of pixels (I used to say 'column inches' in older versions of this rant ... sniff), page views and network broadcast hours, yet have no correlation to what people are actually thinking, or what actually happens. Agents/campaign managers give favor to media members who come to their clients' workout days/candidate's town hall meetings; teams/campaigns leak misinformation to reporters who print it without question; fans/voters who can't get enough get lied to and played, year after year/cycle after cycle.

But, I get it. I'm a politics junkie and can't get enough chatter and/or speculation about every primary, every caucus, every up and every down of every candidate. If there was a political Mock Draft, I'd be all over it. So, it's all good. In that bipartisan spirit (see what I did there?), we begin the annual countdown toward this year's Draft, on June 23, by looking at this year's potential group of point guards.

As ever: believing it's better to be thorough, we include undergrads that are likely or expected to declare for the Draft in these evaluations. By this time, with the NCAA Tournament in full flower, it would be a little presumptuous to think guys have yet to think about their future intentions, or that they'd be swayed one way or the other by seeing their names on a Draft board. So, we include them all. This is not a mock draft (though one of those is, sadly, coming).

We go 1 through 5 when making our assessments, so we'll start again this year with point guards, and go every other week with the other four spots, alternating with the Morning Tip. (The full Big Board schedule is below, FYI.)

The evaluations go in this order: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center. After this week, we'll continue with positions every other week (April 4, April 18, May 2, May 16), the last coming the day before the NBA's Draft Lottery, on May 17.

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DA's Big Board Schedule

POINT GUARDS | SHOOTING GUARDS | SMALL FORWARDS | POWER FORWARDS | CENTERS

Point Guards

A note on the rankings:

This is not a predictor of when these players will be taken. These rankings, based on discussions with dozens of NBA and college coaches, and NBA college scouts and team executives, address the question of how ready players are to play the position which they are assigned: In other words, if there was a game tonight, who would play better at that position tonight, not in three years. Players are ranked based on the position that the coaches and scouts believe is their best NBA position, and even then, there is always disagreement between teams.

We include underclassmen that are expected to declare for the Draft, or are at least thinking strongly about it. No one who hasn't thought about declaring is going to be swayed by seeing his name on a Draft board. So we include everyone.

Players are listed at the position at which NBA people believe they'll play as pros.

For example: there are two players who'll definitely be taken high in the first round of this year's Draft -- Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray and Michigan State's senior, Denzel Valentine. Both have been on the ball for much of the season for their respective teams. But the vast majority of NBA people I've spoken with believe that Murray's best position in the pros will be at the point, while Valentine will be a two -- or, maybe, a point forward. So Murray is on the Big Board as a point, while Valentine isn't.

Also, the NCAA's rule change -- enacted in January -- that gives underclassmen more time after declaring for the Draft to withdraw and return to college (the deadline is now 10 days after the Chicago Combine, running this year from May 11 to 15) will certainly increase the number of underclassmen who declare. Previously, underclassmen only had until the day before the college spring signing period in April to withdraw after putting their names into the Draft. The new rule also allows college players to continue practicing with their college coaches after entering the Draft if they're invited to the Combine, which colleges hope will encourage players to continue going to class and remaining eligible in case they decide to return.

Again: This is not a mock Draft (though one of those is, sadly, coming).They are a complete waste of time, especially this long before June. No one has any idea what will happen between now and then; we don't even know all the teams that will be in the Lottery, much less when they'll be picking. We don't know if there will be a major injury that will impact what a team wants or needs. What follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust -- and that, obviously, can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential for this year's crop of college and international players.

In the interim, what follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust -- and that, obviously, can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential for this year's crop of college and international players.

• "Sleepers" are players almost certain to go in the second round but who may have first-round talent or otherwise have an impact on the teams that select them if they overcome perceived shortcomings.

"Some Scouts Like" will refer to players whose intentions are not yet known for certain, but who are viewed as potentially draftable if they do. Emphasis on "potentially."

If a player was not invited to the Chicago Draft Combine, his height and weight is his listed one from his school and/or his pro team if he's an international prospect.

David Aldridge's Big Board 2016: Point Guards

RANK | NAME | SCHOOL/TEAM | CLASS/AGE | HT | WT > Projected

1. Kris Dunn | Providence | Junior | 6-4¼ | 220 > High lottery

2. Jamal Murray | Kentucky | Freshman | 6-4 | 207 > High/mid lottery

3. Tyler Ulis | Kentucky | Sophomore | 5-10 | 149 > Mid-first round

4. Dejounte Murray | Washington | Freshman | 6-4 | 170 > Mid-first round

5. Kay Felder | Oakland | Junior | 5-9½ | 177 > Late first round/Early second round

6. Demetrius Jackson | Notre Dame | Junior | 6-1¼ | 194 > Late first round/Early second round

7. Melo Trimble * | Maryland | Sophomore | 6-2½ | 192 > Second round

8. Tyrone Wallace | California | Senior | 6-5 | 205 > Second round

9. Monte Morris | Iowa State | Junior | 6-3 | 175 > Second round

10. Anthony Barber | N.C. State | Junior | 6-2 | 190 > Second round

Honorable Mention: Isaiah Cousins, 6-4½, 194, Oklahoma; Marcus Paige, 6-1¾, 164, North Carolina; Gary Payton II, 6-3, 184, Oregon State; Fred VanVleet, 6-0, 186, Wichita State; Josh Adams, 6-2, 205, Wyoming; George Lucas (George de Paulo), 19, 6-5, 196, Pinheiros

Some Scouts Like: Wade Baldwin (SO), 6-4, 202 Vanderbilt; Boris Dallo (22), 6-5, 205, Antibes (France); A.J. English, 6-3, 182, Iona; Frank Mason III (JR), 5-11, 185, Kansas; Tim Quarterman (JR), 6-6, 190, LSU; Isaiah Taylor (JR), 6-3, 185, Texas

* = opted not to enter NBA Draft

Why Dunn is ahead of Murray

So we start at the beginning, and with a disagreement among NBA types: is Murray or Providence junior Kris Dunn the top point guard prospect?

Murray is a star in waiting, among the latest wave of Canadian-born talent to make a splash in the States. He's been on pro scouts' radar for a couple of years, even before dropping 30 on the U.S. team in the Nike Hoop Summit last year for the World team in a 103-101 World victory. And he added to the interest by getting Canada within one game of an Olympic berth during a star turn at the Pan American Games last summer -- including 22 points in a win over the U.S. team.

He hardly disappointed at Kentucky, being named first-team all SEC as a freshman, and led the Wildcats in scoring at 22.4 points a game, while shooting almost 41 percent on 3-pointers.

Yet Dunn was outstanding for the Friars, too, winning his second straight Big East Player of the Year award. He led the conference in steals per game (2.5, fifth-best in the nation), was second in assists (6.4) and seventh in scoring (16 points per game). He raised his 3-point shooting to 37.2 percent for the Friars, who fell in the second round of the NCAA East Regional to North Carolina over the weekend -- the same round that Kentucky and Murray reached before their loss to Indiana.

So...?

Seems like Dunn, by a hair. Don't worry, though; they'll both be in the Lottery.

The thing that separates he and Dunn is Dunn is so much quicker, and the way the league has trended, the way the up-tempo game, I think Dunn makes things look so much easier.

– A Pacific Division personnel man, on Kris Dunn

Dunn "is the best point guard in the Draft," a Southeast Division executive says. "He's got the size, he's good with the ball, he's got speed, athleticism. Obviously the shot is a work in progress, but there's guys who've had worse shots coming into the league. As long as he's willing to work, I don't worry about it. You can't put your hands on these guys, and he's going to put pressure on defenses. In the game the other night (against USC) he stepped up and made a big shot. I've seen him make big shots."

Dunn almost went to Connecticut to play with his close friend Andre Drummond, now with the Detroit Pistons. But he went his own way.

Kris Dunn
Heath issues are a thing of the past for Providence star Kris Dunn.

Dunn thought about entering the Draft after his sophomore season, but went back to school. The additional year of experience, and working with former Providence star God Shammgod, who's been an assistant at his alma mater the last few years, has helped hone Dunn's game. And after two shoulder operations early in his tenure at Providence that cost him large chunks of two seasons, the now 22-year-old junior has been healthy his last two seasons.

"He's not a pure point guard, but as far as the physical tools he has, and the speed, he makes everything look easy. I'd take Dunn," a Pacific Division personnel man says. "I think Dunn has a higher ceiling. I've seen Jamal Murray for three summers. The thing that separates he and Dunn is Dunn is so much quicker, and the way the league has trended, the way the up-tempo game, I think Dunn makes things look so much easier."

Murray's size one of his benefits

There is no question, though, that Murray is a superior shooter.

"He's not the fastest, quickest guy, but he has an understanding of the game and when to shoot," said the Southeast exec who prefers Dunn. "I'm not saying he's this guy, but when I saw him he put me in mind of Deron Williams a little bit. I'm trying to figure out what would be his best advantage (in terms of position). He might just be a guard, one of those combo guys, and depending on where he goes, he'll play one or two."

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Alabama vs Kentucky
Some executives see a lot of Chauncey Billups in Jamal Murray's game.

A Central Division executive said of Murray: "he's younger, way better shooter (than Dunn). But I like them both. Murray was really good in the Pan Am Games. As soon as he came into the game he turned it around from the get go. He's not a true point guard; he's like a Chauncey Billups type. He can distribute, too. I think he's a better point guard than Kris Dunn. He's a better decision maker."

Dunn cut his turnovers down to 3.5 this season, but that's still a question mark on him.

"Is he careless at times with the ball? Yeah," the Pacific personnel man says. "But those are things I think you can tighten up with good instruction and good coaching. I'd rather have somebody like that. His deflection rate, his ability to get his hands on the ball is off the charts. He's got the length, he's got the quickness. He needs to mature a little bit, get experience. But as far as his attributes to me, he's got a chance to be real special."

After Dunn and Murray, there's a dropoff, with beauty in the eye of the beholder.

The analytics crowd loves guards like Iowa State junior Monte Morris and Wichita State senior Fred VanVleet, who, per sports-reference.com, was ninth in the country in Defensive Rating this season (88.6 points per 100 possessions) and became the Shockers' all-time steals leader this season.

Don't overlook diminutive Ulis

But more scouts like another Kentucky guard, diminutive but skilled Tyler Ulis.

Listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Ulis is among many smaller guards whose skills can flourish in the new NBA with its emphasis on spacing and 3-pointers. Two decades ago, a guard Ulis's size would have had to have been an explosive freak like Spud Webb or a defensive demon like Muggsy Bogues (both were shorter than Ulis, I know). Today, a guy like Ulis gets as much admiration for how he ran the Wildcats this season than demerits for his size.

He's probably the best pure point guard maybe even in the draft. He really controls the tempo of the game.

– Northwest Division scout, on Tyler Ulis

The SEC agreed, giving Ulis both Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors this season. And his abilities in the open court will get him more than a passing look at the next level.

Ulis thought about declaring after his freshman season. NBA types hoped he wouldn't; they wanted to see him return to Lexington to show he could lead a team full of Lottery picks. Kentucky didn't have quite the starpower this year that it's had in previous seasons, especially up front. But Ulis earned his props.

Tyler Ulis, Yogi Ferrell
Many NBA scouts like Tyler Ulis' playmaking ability.

Ulis was fourth in the country in Offensive Win Shares (5.4) and seventh in total Win Shares (7.1, tied with Duke's Grayson Allen). He led the SEC in assists and minutes played. And he shot 167 free throws, just 32 fewer than the much taller and much more hyped Ben Simmons from LSU.

"I think he's terrific," said a Southwest Division fan. "The way the rules are written today, the little guard is much more in play. Executives prefer the bigger, stronger guy, but with the rules and the three-point shot, that's much more in play. There was some stat where he had played something like 84 minutes with two turnovers (Ulis had just 69 turnovers in 35 games this season). I think he's a really good player."

Said a Northwest Division exec: "He's probably the best pure point guard maybe even in the draft. He really controls the tempo of the game. He makes his guys better. He's got to shoot the ball a little better because of his size and he's got to learn to finish better in the paint. But he probably had the best year out of all of those guys -- even Kris Dunn. So I think he's helped himself. It's just whether a coach and a team will be comfortable with a 5-9 point guard."

Washington's Murray a fearless driver

There is just as much uncertainty about Washington's Dejounte Murray, but for a different reason: he's just 19. And he played on a team that didn't qualify for the NCAAs, finishing sixth in the Pac-12. But Murray has flashed in his first college season, and is contemplating whether to put his name into the Draft.

Murray was a second-team all-Pac 12 selection, finishing second on the Huskies in scoring and assists (16 points per game; 4.4 assists) and first in rebounding (5.9). And he's yet another Seattle-area hooper (Jamal Crawford is a mentor) who's likely to do damage as a scorer in the pros when he arrives -- even though he's weighs just 170 pounds today.

"He's skinny," one admirer says, "but he's not soft at all."

Dejounte Murray
NBA scouts see much to love in Dejounte Murray's game.

His willingness to mix it up is what has already gotten the attention of pro scouts.

"He's got a little Monta Ellis in him, a little (Rajon) Rondo in him," one Western Conference general manager said. "He's got to get a little stronger, but he's fearless. He doesn't back down from anybody, anything. I hope he stays, but he's probably seeing his name rise."

Make no mistake: Murray has a lot of work to do. He's not good at all from 3-point range, shooting just 29.6 percent this season. And despite being able to get to the foul line -- he was second on the team in free throws to teammate Andrew Andrews, who was second in the country this season in free throws attempted -- Murray shot just 66.3 percent from there. And -- if he's going to be an NBA point guard -- he's got a world of improvement to do on making decisions, such as when to utilize his speed and when to ease up.

But in a conference full of point guards that hope to be pros, Murray is viewed by many as having the best shot.

"He's long, has the ability to score like Jamal Crawford, but he doesn't shoot it as well," said a college coach whose team played Washington and Murray this season. "If he did that, he'd be a lottery pick. I'm serious about that. But because he doesn't, I have a harder time giving him that kind of status. What he does well is finish well around the basket. He finds ways of throwing that crap in. That dude can play."

Felder may have NBA 'it' factor

Scouts' feelings about Washington's Murray are how they talk about Kay Felder, another small-but-talented guard and an offensive machine this season for Oakland University. The junior was the Horizon League Player of the Year, and hopes to join former Horizon stars like Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Norris Cole and Ray McCallum in the NBA.

Malcolm Brogdon
Oakland's Kay Felder is a talented passer and scorer.

Felder led the country in assists, averaging 9.3 per game this season, and was fourth in the country in scoring, (24.2 points per game) for the Golden Grizzlies, who are 21-11 this season and playing in the Vegas 16 postseason tournament after losing in the first round of the Horizon Tournament.

"He has that 'it' that the little guys need that make it," said a Northwest Division talent evaluator. "The little guys, you've got to have something special, the way the Nate Robinsons have, the Isaiah Thomases have. He can probably be in the Dunk Contest."

At present, Felder is viewed as a potential off-the-bench, change-of-pace player who can produce and is willing to pass. He showed an ability to hit guys in stride, but also could drop off a pocket pass off a pick and roll -- a necessary skill for an NBA point guard.

He has that 'it' that the little guys need that make it. The little guys, you've got to have something special, the way the Nate Robinsons have, the Isaiah Thomases have.

– A Northwest Division scout, on Kay Felder

"Once he gets to our level, wherever he goes to, the coaches are going to have to work on more screen-roll, because they don't play a lot of it, making more decisions out of the screen and rolls, screen and pops," one scout said. "I think he's got vision, and a point guard has to have vision. Coaches can always work on decision making, and making correct reads. If he didn't have vision, then I think it would be tougher."

Others are withholding judgment until the combine.

"I want to see him in Chicago against bigger people," a Southeast Division evaluator said. "When you're the best player by far on your team, your coach needs you to score 23 a night. The question is, can you adjust? Can you say 'I don't need to score 23; I have to get these other guys going.' Can he do that?"

Jackson viewed as solid prospect

Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson is an explosive athlete (he showed his flow Sunday during the Irish's come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the second round) who has more contemporary size (6-foot-1, 201 pounds) at the position.

Jackson, a second-team all-ACC selection, led the Irish in scoring and assists. But he was one of many lead guard prospects this season that struggled with consistency. After a strong start, he tailed off the second half of the year -- though he scored a team-high 18 against Stephen F. Austin on Sunday.

Avry Holmes, Demetrius Jackson
The speedy Demetrius Jackson led Notre Dame in scoring and assists.

"Of all the guys, he may be the best athlete," an Eastern Conference executive said. "He's fast and explosive off the floor. But he's probably the guy with the most developmental temperament needed. Because he's an athlete, he always tries to blow by you. It's like a pitcher that keeps throwing 100 miles an hour."

But Jackson has NBA fans that like his competitiveness and think he might flourish when and if he gets to the pros.

"I saw him play really well, but he struggled" late, one Central Division evaluator said. "He's athletic, tough. I think he's better than people think. He plays within himself. He'll be a good, solid player."

Shooting woes plague Trimble's season

Maryland sophomore Melo Trimble returned for his second season with the Terps, and it's led so far to a Sweet 16 berth and second team all-Big 10 honors this season. When he's aggressive and looking for his shot, the Terrapins have been very hard to beat. But he's had a very inconsistent season, especially shooting the ball.

During a six-game stretch late in conference play, Trimble was a ghastly 14 of 60 (23.3 percent) from the floor. For the season, he only shot 41.6 percent, and he was just 2 of 15 against Michigan State in the Big 10 Tournament semifinals. Yet against Hawaii in the second round of the NCAAs Sunday, Trimble hit the biggest shot of the game -- a 3-pointer that gave the Terps some breathing room and led them to a 13-point win and that Sweet 16 appearance against top-ranked Kansas Thursday.

Melo Trimble
Melo Trimble has struggled to find a consistent shot all season long.

At least some NBA types think Trimble's struggles have come because he's on a much more talented team this season.

"Last year he was the pro player on his team," an Eastern Conference executive said. "This year, he has two guys on the team: (Robert) Carter and (Diamond) Stone. He's had to learn to play with them. You've got to learn how to play with other good players. And when he lost confidence in his jumper ... he's not a speedy guy. His quickness is not superior. He's got good quickness. But he needs his shot to be falling in order to blow by you. If he doesn't, he has to yo-yo."

Trimble will have to work extensively on his shot, because he's not viewed as having incredible speed.

"He can cross you up and hit the seam, but then you catch up with him," another executive said. "He can't take it all the way. He has that initial burst but he doesn't take it all the way to the basket."

Morris, Barber offer vastly different style

Morris was a second-team all-Big 12 performer for Iowa State, with good size that puts some in mind of a Mike Conley style of player. But he will have to be dedicated in the weight room to get stronger and be able to hold up to take the pounding he'd take in the pros. Barber never came out of the game for the Wolfpack, finishing second in the nation in minutes played (38.7) this season. (Morris was fourth, at 38 minutes per game.)

Barber, known as "Cat," was a first-team all-ACC selection, finishing sixth nationally in scoring (23.5 points per game). And he didn't take a ton of 3-pointers to do it, doing most of his work inside the arc. Among the names scouts used in comparison were Lou Williams and Ish Smith. He is, most assuredly, a score-first point, who's tough and talented. But the Wolfpack was a sub-.500 team this season, and scouts would want to dive deeper into finding out why a guy so good couldn't make his team better.

"He is so quick," one executive said. "But a lot of guys like that, okay, he's quick, but he's out of control. Being that quick, they can really help themselves by getting up into guys and being tough and getting the ball out of their hands. But they display it more at the offensive end. He's got a weapon if he uses it quickly."

And some notes on the others ...

• Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins has good size and is very athletic, making third-team all-Big 12, but he has to show he can run a team and make better decisions shooting the ball.

Wyoming's Josh Adams, first-team all-Mountain West, was third in the country in scoring, and several coaches who played against him said he was the best at putting the ball in the basket of any opponent they had this year. Double-teams and other defenses didn't work.

"I saw him against Vegas late in the year," one scout said. "He's a very good athlete. He can shoot the ball. I have to see if he makes his teammates better."

• Oregon State's Gary Payton II surely has the pedrigree and genes to be a pro, being the son of a Hall of Famer. But he is just learning how to play point guard after being a primary scorer most of his young career. But he has a great base on which to build, having won back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and earning his second straight first-team all-Pac 12 selection this season.

He's the first player in conference history to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year, leading the conference in steals (he was fourth in the country in that category). He's not quite as tall as the old man, but he has a lot of the same characteristics.

He's crafty, seeing plays develop two and three beats before anyone else. And for someone who is just getting comfortable running a team, and had scoring responsibilities, he impressed by averaging five assists per game.

"I'm a big fan," a Pacific Division scout said. "He can play both positions. He's got his dad's toughness, mentally and physically. And I think people are sleeping on him a little bit, personally. I know he's a senior and he's not as sexy as some of the one and two-year players. But his length, and the fact that he's grown up around the NBA game, I think that means something...I think this kid has taken his father's fame and the perks that have come along with that and taken it the right way and built upon that and made himself into his own player. I think he's a player that's going to be in the league."

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DA's Big Board Schedule

POINT GUARDS | SHOOTING GUARDS | SMALL FORWARDS | POWER FORWARDS | CENTERS

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.