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Early Impressive Performances From 2016 NBA Draft Prospects

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

College basketball is back, and it’s fun to watch the talent from last year improve and the freshmen try to find their way or dominate from the get-go. It’s been only a week, but several top 2016 NBA Draft prospects have impressed as they make their statement to the college basketball world. Who’s been the most impressive?

5. Domantas Sabonis 6-10 240 PF/C Gonzaga Freshman
Season stats: 26.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg (one game)

Sabonis, the 22nd-ranked prospect on my Big Board, came off the bench for Gonzaga in their season opener against Northern Arizona. Not a problem for Sabonis, as he put up 26 points, seven rebounds and a block in just 21 minutes(!) on 12-of-13 shooting in their only game so far this year. The ‘Zags are loaded up front with center Przemek Karnowski and All-American forward Kyle Wiltjer, so Sabonis might come off the bench all season long:

But that shouldn’t slow him down at all, as many teams don’t have the type of girth in their second unit to handle Sabonis’s size and physicality. Sabonis needs to show a bit more range and activity on the defensive end for his NBA outlook to improve, but this was a nice showing to start the season.

4. Dwayne Bacon 6-6 210 SG/SF Florida State Freshman
Season stats: 19.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 spg (three games)

Bacon has been impressive early on for Florida State, although he faltered Friday in a surprising loss against Hofstra. Bacon put up 20 points or more in the Seminoles’ first two games, including a dominant effort against Jacksonville with 29 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Bacon was efficient in only his second collegiate game, shooting 3-of-5 from distance and 10-of-18 from the field:

Bacon also displayed his high theatrics, and there will surely be more of that moving forward as he continues to develop range and consistency, forcing teams to commit to his ability to hit the outside shot. Bacon looks like a natural NBA 2-guard physically, which will warrant looks in the first round. If Bacon can bounce back strongly from his disappointing performance on Friday (he should be fine), it bodes well for the rest of the season for Florida State.

3. Ben Simmons 6-10 240 SF/PF LSU Freshman
Season Stats: 18.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.0 spg, 1.3 bpg (three games)

Simmons has consistently lived up to the hype through LSU’s first three games, filling up the stat sheet across the board. Perhaps the most impressive thing with his game is his ability to know where to be on defense and make plays on the help side, as his 2.0 steals per game has helped rev up the LSU offense on the fast break:

His game against Kennesaw St. was his best this season so far, as Simmons put up 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks. The competition wasn’t fair, but Simmons wasn’t either. Simmons is in the running for the top pick of the draft, so it’ll be fun to watch him as the competition toughens and he adapts and improves his game.

2. Buddy Hield 6-4 215 SG Oklahoma Senior
Season Stats: 27.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 spg, 1.0 bpg (two games)

Hield looks every bit the part of a potential first-round pick in the 2016 draft, and if he keeps up his strong all-around play he could be a lottery pick. Hield had a great game against a pesky Memphis team and was able to use his length to change the game defensively with three steals. He also showed tremendous accuracy beyond the arc (4-of-8 from three) and was able to choose his spots smartly, even going up for a nice alley-oop:

Hield has enough length to help him defensively at the next level, and with shooting becoming more and more valuable in today’s game, his efficiency and consistency will give him a long career. Sooners fans should expect a better season out of Hield after struggling as the first option a year ago, and if so, he’ll be firmly on the first-round radar.

1. Denzel Valentine 6-5 220 PG/SG/SF Michigan State Senior
Season stats: 16.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 10.7 apg (two games)

Valentine takes home the top spot, putting up a stat line none of us have seen the last 20 years against a top five team in Kansas, totaling 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Valentine does it all for Michigan State from a leadership and on-court standpoint as a senior, but this performance might validate a selection in the late first or early second-round area as a potential steal — a la former Spartan Draymond Green:

That’s not to say Valentine will have the same impact as Green at the next level, as Valentine reminds me of another Green as a player — Spurs shooting guard Danny Green. Valentine isn’t the most athletic player, but plays very sound defense and has an old man’s game on offense. When you combine that with his ability to shoot from deep (41.6 percent last year on 6.3 attempts per game) and elite passing ability, his all-around play really stands out.

DraftExpress has already moved him from 47 to 26, and if he can keep it up, it’s not out of the question that he’ll be a late-first round pick.

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