With our reports on the wings/forwards and bigs in the books, we move onto the best positional group in the draft, the guards. This year’s guard class is one of the best in recent memory, featuring a potential franchise player, and three more perennial All-Stars in the making. The class’ strength doesn’t end there, as I have four more players pegged as long-term starters in the league. This is the year to need a guard in the top 10, and it would be no surprise to see six, if not seven, taken that early.
All measurements are from DraftExpress.
These players can be the best player on a perennial championship contender. Anything short of a perennial All-Star would be a disappointment.
1. Markelle Fultz
Weight: 195 pounds
Wingspan: 6’9 ¾”
It’s fairly easy to see why Markelle Fultz is going to be the first pick in this year’s draft. Fultz can score at all three levels offensively and does it with ease. Although he shot 41.3 percent from three at Washington, he only projects to be a good shooter from deep, most likely closer to 38 percent. This is because he shoots the ball on the way down, which could limit him. Regardless, Fultz uses a wide array of moves to get to the hoop and finishes better than any prospect at the rim since Kyrie Irving. He isn’t afraid to shoot with a hand in his face and is an elite scorer when guarded. He is at his best shooting off of the dribble when he can create space. His passing and court vision are both great. Fultz easily finds the open man in the pick and roll (PnR) and keeps his defender on his side or behind him to create openings. He has great athleticism and defensive tools, even though he looked lackadaisical at times when he was defending. Fultz is as close to a sure thing as you’ll find, and it would be a shock if he weren’t at least an All-Star in the NBA.
These players are high-level starters on a championship team. They have the potential to be the best player on a title-winning team, although being the second or third best player is more likely.
2. Lonzo Ball
Weight: 190 pounds
Ball possesses one of the few elite skills in this class in his court vision. He is as good as it gets when running in transition thanks to his ability to find and hit the open man. His passing will make him an immediate threat in the NBA, where the spacing will make it even easier for him to pass his teammates open. His jumper is as odd as they come, releasing the ball to the left of his face and almost following through across it. It’s effective off of the catch and the dribble, when he’s given space. He’s a high-level shooter from range off of the catch, but he’s limited taking the ball to the hoop. His odd shot makes any drive to the right difficult, because he must get to the hoop or kick it out. If he were to try shooting, his shot would be easily blocked because of his release. Ball is limited defensively, but he puts the work in to be an average defender and that should translate to the NBA.
3. Dennis Smith Jr.
Weight: 195 pounds
Like Fultz, Smith is a fantastic scorer at all three levels. He uses his strength to get to the hoop and his athleticism to finish when he gets there. Smith is an explosive athlete that has slowly returned to form after a high school knee injury. He played at NC State with a clogged lane, yet still was able to finish around the hoop. With NBA spacing at his disposal, Smith will be an elite offensive player. He’s an above average passer and should improve as he trusts the players around him more. Defensively, Smith struggled because he is not very long and doesn’t have the lateral agility to stay in front of some point guard. He also looked completely disengaged in college at times. Ideally, that will improve as well when his team plays in meaningful games. He will never be a great defender, but could be above average if he puts the work in.
4. Malik Monk
Weight: 197 pounds
Wingspan: 6’3 ½”
Even though he was one of the top recruits in the country out of high school, and went to a powerhouse program in college, Monk feels like a bit of an unknown. What is known is that he’s a lights-out shooter who moves incredibly well off of the ball. He has elite athleticism and average length, but still could end up being a good defender in the NBA. The reason he is unknown, is because of the role he played at Kentucky. Often, John Calipari gives players a specific role that can hide some of their talents. This happened most recently with Devin Booker. Monk flashed some ability as a lead guard, making me think he could be even better in the NBA than at Kentucky. He has a handle and some passing ability, which would allow him to play the one, a position he is much better suited to defend.
These are players that could be low-level starters on a championship team, with an All-Star game appearance not being a surprise in the long run.
5. Frank Ntilikina
Weight: 170 pounds
[the_ad id=”384″]Monk may be a bit of an unknown, but Ntilikina is the draft’s real mystery man. Playing for Strasbourg in France, Ntilikina averaged about 18 minutes per game. He has good length and athleticism that should allow him to guard ones, twos, and some threes in the NBA. He is a very active defender, appearing fully engaged at most points in the game. On offense, his handle needs tightening up, as he can be sloppy with the ball in his hands. He has good court vision and a nice shooting stroke, which should translate to the NBA three-point line.
6. De’Aaron Fox
Height: 6’3 ¼”
Weight: 170 pounds
Wingspan: 6’6 ½”
A wiry, lightning fast guard from Kentucky, Fox has been one of the highest risers from this college season. His offensive game is all about getting to the rim and finding the open man on drives. He struggles to shoot, even though his jumper looks alright. His elbow needs to stay square on his shots, but even then, he shouldn’t be as bad of a shooter as he was from deep. That is worrisome because he may not be strong enough to shoot effectively from deep, and his frame is almost maxed out. Fox is a pest on the defensive end of the floor, using his quick hands to force turnovers and his quick feet to cut off drives to the hoop. There is some concern that he will be the target of switches, because he is relegated to only guarding ones in the NBA.
7. Jawun Evans
Height: 5’11 ½”
Weight: 185 pounds
Wingspan: 6’5 ½”
If there is one player in this class that we look back on and wonder how they didn’t go top 10, it’ll be Jawun Evans. Evans has as much ability as anyone in this class. He has good court vision, good passing skills, he can shoot, and he can get to the rim and finish. His biggest question mark is his size. I don’t think it will be an issue when it comes to finishing in the NBA, because his long arms are more than enough to make up for it. Defensively, his length will once again mask his size disadvantage, and he should be able to guard most ones. Evans may go down as the most overlooked player in the entire draft class.
8. Donovan Mitchell
Weight: 211 pounds
Perhaps the biggest riser through the draft process, Mitchell is a perfect fit for today’s NBA. He displayed an improved shooting stroke, especially off of the catch, and even some ability to handle the ball this year at Louisville. Mitchell really separates himself on the defensive end of the floor. He may be short at 6’3” but his long wingspan will allow him to guard both ones and twos in the NBA. Not only that, but his strength could even prevent him from being bullied by threes if gets switched onto them. Mitchell is the ideal 3-and-D guard to pair next to a ball-dominant one.
These players are best suited as the worst starter on a playoff team, or a high-level player off of the bench. Most of these guys have the potential to start on a championship team, but they would have to maximize their potential to get there.
9. Josh Hart
Weight: 209 pounds
Wingspan: 6’8 ¼”
Another high-level role player, Hart is this far down because he lacks an elite skill. At Villanova, he worked his way up from defensive energy guy, all the way to best player on one of the best teams in the country. He can shoot off of the catch and the dribble, but his handle is not the best. It’s a very basic set of moves that won’t succeed as often in the NBA because of his lack of elite athleticism. On defense, he can guard ones and twos, but lacks the length to ever be a top defender. Hart is merely good at everything, and he is easy to project as a bench 3-and-D player in the NBA.
These players are bench players who can provide a particular skill at a high level. They could have a role on any team in the league, but they are isolated to being used in that singular role.
10. Luke Kennard
Height: 6’5 ½”
Weight: 196 pounds
Wingspan: 6’5 ¼”
Kennard can shoot it as well as any guard in this class, and that skill alone will cause him to be over-drafted. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor and his height allows him to get his shot off over most guards. However, he struggles to finish inside the arc when he’s pressured, and his handle is not good. On defense, he will always be a below average defender at best, thanks to his short arms (his wingspan is smaller than his height) and slow feet. He will be the kind of player that you hide on a team’s worst player in the corner. As long as he shoots, Kennard will have a place in the NBA.