Versatility has become arguably the most coveted trait NBA teams look for in a draft prospect. Coaches and executives love youngsters who can accomplish a variety of tasks, compete on both ends of the floor and play multiple positions.
Just look back at some of the prized No. 1 picks in recent years — studs like Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — they earned favor with scouts and suitors because they could score inside and out and dominate defensively.
If you can contribute in a wide range of scenarios and serve as an interchangeable weapon, NBA front offices treat you like a precious gem.
The 2016 draft class has a small group of such jewels, and it’s no coincidence that most of these ultra-versatile weapons are near the top of mocks and big boards.
Which one is the most versatile of the bunch? We graded them in every major category, basing our marks on their mastery at this stage in their career. In other words, we assessed them considering their age. With apologies to multidimensional first-round prospects such as Caris LeVert, Henry Ellenson and Jamal Murray, here are our top three:
3. Dragan Bender, Croatia F (7’1″, 1997)
Creating Offense: B+
Outside Shooting: B+
Croatia’s latest stud prospect has catapulted into the top five discussion largely due to his versatility. Dragan Bender has the skill set and basketball IQ to operate near and far from the cup.
He’s not yet strong enough to consistently establish interior position, but he can covert sporadic post-ups and on pick-and-rolls. On the perimeter, he’s surprisingly gifted for his size. Bender’s three-point stroke is rapidly developing, and he can also attack closeouts and create a little offense off the bounce.
Bender’s passing is one of the most impressive parts of his repertoire. He’s the type of player who sees the floor extremely well from every angle, and his timing and precision as a distributor is outstanding for a 7’1″ teenager.
Bender’s game is rounded out by a promising blend of defensive agility and a 7’2″ wingspan. His ability to challenge opponents both vertically and laterally was on full display at the Adidas Eurocamp in June, as Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com notes:
He also had some fantastic moments defensively recovering to close out shooters on the perimeter and in one memorable sequence, stayed in front of a much smaller player he was switched onto before swatting away the player’s attempt at the rim. His lower body strength appears to be improving…
I think most teams would be more than willing to spend a top 10 or even a top five pick on someone with such inside-out effectiveness.
2. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky PF/C (7’0″, Freshman)
Creating Offense: A-
Outside Shooting: A-
Haitian-born, Kentucky-bound big man Skal Labissiere earns strong versatility marks because he’s quickly becoming a two-way monster.
The 7-foot Wildcat can finish above the rim with ease, score softly with hooks and flip shots and also drill outside jumpers. Labissiere has a great feel for attacking opponents’ weak spots and using his length to coolly convert.
“He can stretch it all the way out to the three-point line, he can pass. His difference is that he can stretch the defense,” Hardaway said. “I haven’t seen a guy at Kentucky in the last few years that can actually stretch the defense at (that size). All the other guys are kind of slashers. He can stretch and he can slash.”
And here’s more praise:
Not hard to see why Skal Labissiere is possibly the early favorite for 2016 No. 1 pick. Length, smooth release, adding muscle, blocks shots.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) April 18, 2015
Labissiere is equally intriguing on defense, where his height and reach effectively blanket the paint. He didn’t simply rely on his overwhelming size during high school; Labissiere also exhibited terrific timing and moved extremely fluidly for someone his size. Expect him to collect a heaping pile of blocks during his freshman campaign, as well as countless shot-altering contests.
1. Ben Simmons, LSU F (6’9″, Freshman)
Creating Offense: A
Outside Shooting: B-
With the size of a combo forward and the skills of a combo guard, Australian prodigy Ben Simmons is poised to electrify the SEC next season at LSU. He tops our versatility rankings for many of the same reasons he’s challenging for the No. 1 draft slot.
Simmons’s rare combination of length, strength and handles enables him to slash effectively through crowds and create opportunities for himself and teammates. When he’s in scoring mode, he fills up the bucket with acrobatic dunks, feathery floaters and mid-range jumpers. When Simmons is facilitating, he does a smooth job of delivering well-timed dump-offs or passes out of pick-and-rolls. He projects to be one of the best forward passers in the game in a couple of years:
Ben Simmons is far and away the best passer out here. Distributed from anywhere on the floor with either hand.
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) June 30, 2015
Three-point shooting is Simmons’s most notable deficiency right now, as he’s not yet consistent from that range. However, his two-point jumpers look solid, and while his mechanics aren’t perfect, his motion could be ironed out.
Simmons’s defense is also strikingly multidimensional. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman explains:
“His physical tools also translate to defensive playmaking—steals, blocks, deflections, forced turnovers—as well as more versatility,” said Wasserman. “He sticks with guards outside and holds his ground down low.”
Simmons is so appealing to NBA scouts and executives because he’s truly an interchangeable, positionless asset. With steady training and preparation, it’s not a stretch to think he could be able to play three or four spots on offense while guarding up to four spots defensively in his prime.