NBA Draft Watch: Dennis Smith And The Post-NCAA Tournament Edition

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Lonzo Ball was the most famous college basketball player during the 2016-2017 season, in part because of the off-court persona of his father. Markelle Fultz began the year as the consensus No. 1 overall prospect and did little to take away from that belief with a stellar performance. De’Aaron Fox was, at least in some ways, overshadowed by his backcourt partner in Malik Monk, but it would be tough to argue that playing college hoops in Lexington provides anything but the best opportunity for exposure.

Then, there is Dennis Smith.

Because Fultz operated in relative obscurity on a (very) disappointing Washington team, the future star occupied the corner as the best prospect that did not appear in the NCAA Tournament. While Smith’s NC State squad wasn’t as anonymous as Washington, the Wolfpack also wildly underachieved to the point where his coach, Mark Gottfried, was let go before the campaign even came to close.

A (very) small portion of that failure could lay at Smith’s feet, if only because his effort level waned considerably at times on the defensive end this season. With that said, the 6’2, 190-pound point guard was easily the brightest spot on the Wolfpack roster in averaging 18.1 points and 6.2 assists per game (in 34.8 minutes) and it was quite easy to see why Smith is universally seen as a top-10 player in this year’s NBA Draft class.

There are reasons that Fultz and Ball rank above Smith on most NBA Draft lists, if only because both bring different and more polished approaches. Still, Smith is likely the best pure athlete of the bunch and that kind of explosiveness in a lead guard is very much “in” when it comes to the current NBA. It remains to be seen if he can adequately run an offense at the professional level if asked to facilitate through other people but Smith’s defensive ceiling is very real based on traits and lingering knee issues look, at least for now, to be on the back burner.

Dennis Smith isn’t nearly the household name of some of his counterparts but, even after a fantastic NCAA Tournament performance from De’Aaron Fox, it would be difficult to slip Smith out of the top three at the position before June. At any rate, he is one of the more underrated players in this class from a casual fan’s perspective and Dennis Smith is a name that every NBA Draft follower needs to be familiar with in the (very) near future.

Where does Smith stack up against the rest of the class as NBA Draft season heats up in the wake of the college season? Let’s find out.

The Lottery

1) Markelle Fultz (Freshman, PG, Washington)

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Fultz didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament (as noted above) but that did nothing to quell my excitement level for the one-and-done star. Fultz can score, pass, defend, and run an offense at the NBA level and it would be extremely difficult to find a glaring weakness in his game. It is easy to be captivated by Ball or impressed by Jackson but having a player other than Fultz in the top spot never crossed my mind. That’s how good he is.

2) Josh Jackson (Freshman, SF, Kansas) – Jackson plays hard and he is a scary athlete. Am I sure his upside is high enough to justify the No. 2 overall pick? Actually, no. The fact that his athleticism will translate defensively and he doesn’t need the ball to be effective is important, though, and Jackson fits extremely well in today’s NBA as a super-effective role player that could rise to become a legitimate go-to guy if everything falls into place. Having Jackson over Ball is controversial but Jackson is that good.

3) Lonzo Ball (Freshman, PG/SG, UCLA) – Ball’s game is extremely pleasing to the eye, with the grave exception of his shooting form. Whether he can get it off effectively, though, is of far more concern than whether it will go in, as Ball has proven to be a top-flight shooter in college. His NBA Draft stock zooms higher for me based on his court vision and size as someone who can effectively play point guard at the next level and, regardless, Ball’s NBA career will be wildly intriguing to follow.

4) Dennis Smith (Freshman, PG, NC State) – If this seems high for Smith, it is probably because it is. That doesn’t make it any less reasonable. He’s a stud.

5) Jayson Tatum (Freshman, SF, Duke) – It would stun me if Tatum wasn’t a “professional scorer” at the NBA level and there is something to be said for that. My concerns are based more on the potential for a lack of efficiency and an unwillingness to involve others in the proceedings but if Tatum is destined for a Rudy Gay-like career, that is worthy of the No. 5 pick, even if this draft.

6) De’Aaron Fox (Freshman, PG, Kentucky)

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Fox has been ranked ahead of his teammate, Malik Monk, on this list for months and that isn’t changing now. The talented point guard made his decision to jump to the NBA official on Monday and, to put it bluntly, that was never in doubt. The questions about Fox’s shooting are legitimate, but he rose to the occasion in the NCAA Tournament by showing confidence in his jumper and it doesn’t appear broken to me. Plus, everything else about Fox’s game is tremendous.

7) Jonathan Isaac (Freshman, PF, Florida State) – There is a great divide as to whether it was Isaac’s fault that he never fully took the reins at Florida State or whether it was the fault of the coaching staff and/or his teammates. Frankly, I don’t really care about that. I’m more interested in a 6’11 forward with explosive athleticism, a ton of skill and encouragingly efficient shooting numbers during one college season.

8) Lauri Markkanen (Freshman, PF/C, Arizona) – The end of Markkanen’s career at Arizona wasn’t a good one and that will probably hurt his stock in the minds of some. The 7-footer was largely invisible (3-9 FG, 9 points) in a close-fought loss to Xavier in the NCAA Tournament and that performance foreshadowed some legitimate concerns about what happens when Markkanen isn’t in a favorable situation. Still, his shooting ability is tantalizing and Markkanen is an underrated athlete.

9) Frank Ntilikina (18-year-old, PG/SG, France) – You won’t find many American folks who are poised to place Ntilikina ahead of Malik Monk on their draft boards but I’m willing to bet there are more than a few NBA people who fit that profile. For me, it is a pure preference issue, as Ntilikina is a facilitator with better size and the more apparent ability to affect the game in a variety of ways. Oh, and Ntilikina is one of the youngest players in the draft to boot.

10) Malik Monk (Freshman, SG, Kentucky) – This ranking is sure to infuriate #BBN but it reflects my feelings on Monk. When he is on, there are few players in the country more electrifying than Monk from an offensive perspective and he is a joy to watch when things are going well. Still, there isn’t much on the floor that Monk provides when things are not going well in the scoring department and, with every passing day, he looks to be more of a “microwave”-type third guard than anything else.

11) Miles Bridges (Freshman, SF/PF, Michigan State)

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I’ve come back around on Bridges and it shows in this ranking. At 6’8 and 230 pounds, he is a grown man already despite turning 19 years old just days ago and Bridges profiles as an intriguing combo forward at the next level. The big X-factor, at least for me, is whether his shooting (38.9 percent from three) is real or not but Bridges looks to be a player with a higher floor than I originally thought.

12) Terrance Ferguson (18-year-old, SG/SF, Australia) – Ferguson, by all accounts, was not good in Australia and that might push his stock down to a certain degree. In fact, I’m probably higher on him than most but the combination of his athleticism and shooting stroke (at least what is on film more so than the Australian percentages) is quite impressive. This would be a gamble for an NBA team but I think Ferguson is a lottery talent, even in this loaded class.

13) Justin Patton (Freshman, C, Creighton) – Patton will be 20 years old before the NBA Draft and that puts him on the older side when compared to other freshmen in this class. Still, he is a legitimate 7-footer with high-end athleticism and the ability to step out and shoot it at a capable rate. It would be difficult to begrudge anyone for skepticism but the ceiling is immense.

14) Harry Giles (Freshman, PF, Duke)UPROXX colleague Robby Kalland won’t like this one bit but I am still on the Harry Giles bandwagon. The ceiling is immeasurably high and, even if the downside is “out of the league before he starts,” it wouldn’t be crazy (at all) to invest a late lottery pick in Giles. In the end, it all comes down to medical information on his oft-injured knees but, if he is fully cleared, you’ll likely see Giles rising on draft boards everywhere.

The Rest

15) Justin Jackson (Junior, SF, North Carolina)

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16) Bam Adebayo (Freshman, PF/C, Kentucky)

17) Isaiah Hartenstein (18-year-old, PF, Lithuania)

18) Luke Kennard (Sophomore, SG, Duke)

19) John Collins (Sophomore, PF/C, Wake Forest)

20) Ivan Rabb (Sophomore, PF/C, California)

21) OG Anunoby (Sophomore, SG/SF, Indiana)

22) Jarrett Allen (Freshman, C, Texas)

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23) Rodions Kurucs (18-year-old, SF, Latvia)

24) Josh Hart (Senior, SG, Villanova)

25) T.J. Leaf (Freshman, PF, UCLA)

26) Donovan Mitchell (Sophomore, SG, Louisville)

27) Semi Ojeleye (Junior, SF, SMU)

28) Zach Collins (Freshman, C, Gonzaga)

29) Jawun Evans (Sophomore, PG, Oklahoma State)

30) Johnathan Motley (Junior, PF, Baylor)