Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk might be most exciting player to watch in college basketball this season. Monk exploded for 47 points on national television earlier in the year and the youngster from Arkansas continues to rack up a slew of highlights. However, Monk’s backcourt mate, De’Aaron Fox also happens to be an intriguing NBA Draft prospect as well. And he may even be the more attractive target in June.
Fox does have one glaring weakness, and it is manifests in the fact that he is converting only 14.3 percent from beyond the arc in his freshman season. To be fair, Fox probably isn’t that bad as a shooter, but question marks about his overall upside given that issue are real.
With that out of the way, virtually every other part of his game is highly impressive. He stands at 6’4 with the ability to swallow up opposing point guards defensively, and Fox is quite possibly the most dominant defensive guard in the nation. Offensively, Fox attacks the rim with reckless abandon, rebounds at a high level (5.0 per game), and distributes to his loaded assembly of teammates as the team’s primary facilitator.
De’Aaron Fox probably won’t explode for any 40-plus point barrages this season but he is, without question, one of the top ten prospects in the country and it seems as if he is flying under the radar. The NBA is blooming at the point guard position in a way that the league has never seen, but Fox looks the part as a high-end starter at the next level with the possibility of a superstar jump should he fix his jump shot from long range. It is time to start paying attention to Malik Monk’s less famous partner in crime.
1) Markelle Fultz (Freshman, PG, Washington) – There isn’t a ton of consensus with regard to the top of the 2017 draft – except for the fact that Fultz should be No. 1. There is, obviously, still time for things to change but Fultz’s individual performance thus far as a freshman has done nothing to take away from his place at the top. The 6’4 lead guard is averaging a robust 22.3 points, 6.7 assists, and 6.4 rebounds per game. His upside as a future NBA All-Star really isn’t in much doubt. The gap between Fultz and everyone else isn’t incredibly wide but it exists.
2) Josh Jackson (Freshman, SF, Kansas) – We’ve seen Bill Self using Jackson as a small-ball 4 at times, and that unlocks a lot for Kansas. From an NBA standpoint, Jackson is a preposterous athlete that plays intelligently and seemingly attacks at will when allowed to do so. The big question remains his jumper, but it needs only to be passable, and he hasn’t disappointed thus far at Kansas.
3) Jayson Tatum (Freshman, SF, Duke) – Tatum hasn’t blown the world away after returning from an early-season injury, but he looks like one of the safer picks in this year’s class. His midrange game looks smooth and effective and Tatum’s future as an NBA scorer seems secure. Is his jumper good enough? Can he turn his defensive traits into actual production on that end? If the answer is yes to both questions, look out.
4) Lonzo Ball (Freshman, PG/SG/SF, UCLA) – Ball was the biggest story in college basketball earlier this season and he has been tremendous. There is some concern about how his defense will translate if asked to guard point guards at the next level and, well, not everyone is sold on his jumper. With that said, it is extremely rare to see a player with his passing instincts. I’m having to actively calm myself down when trying to rank Ball appropriately. He’s splendid.
5) De’Aaron Fox (Freshman, PG, Kentucky) – This might be a tick high for Fox if you don’t believe that his jumper can improve. If you do, it might be low.
6) Dennis Smith (Freshman, PG, NC State) – Smith’s recent uptick in efficiency has helped to remind fans (and scouts) of what he could be. It might seem crazy to say, but Smith is actually the best athlete of any point guard in this class, and his days of flying under the radar will come to an end with the start of ACC play. I have some questions about his overall floor game and defensive effort, but the tools are stellar.
7) Harry Giles (Freshman, PF, Duke) – Giles appeared in three college games and has tallied only five points in 23 minutes of action. How in the world, then, is a top-10 pick? Well, Giles brings measurables and raw tools that no one else in this class can match, and I still believe in him as a player. This might look silly in a month if injuries return or he continues to struggle but Giles is a monster in the making.
8) Jonathan Isaac (Freshman, PF/C, Florida State) – Isaac is 6’10 with a standing reach of greater than nine feet. To put it mildly, his length is a positive. Throw in the fact that he can shoot with range (36.6 percent from three) and his college numbers (19.5 points, 11.7 rebounds per 40 minutes) and you can see why pundits were incredibly high on him before the season began. He’s a tricky prospect to evaluate, but he’s impressed to this point.
9) Malik Monk (Freshman, SG, Kentucky) – Monk might be the best pure scorer in the entire draft and that matters. He is also small for an off-guard, doesn’t profile as a defensive stopper, and might be a fairly limited player in the NBA. He’ll have three more months to prove skeptics wrong but the hype is a bit aggressive at this moment.
10) Frank Ntilikina (18-year-old, PG/SG, France) – If you like tools, Ntilikina is another prospect that will make you salivate. He is 6’6 with point guard skills at the age of 18 and fits the prototype of what many NBA teams are searching for at the position. With that in mind, he is barely playing in Europe right now and appears to be a (very) long term project.