In the first parts of my league-by-league prospect outlook series, I took a look at the top prospects in the Big Ten and ACC. Today, it’s time to look at the loaded SEC, which is mostly comprised of prospects on NBA talent-laden Kentucky.
Despite seven departures off last year’s Final Four team, John Calipari loaded up on more NBA talent in his No. 1 ranked recruiting class. LSU has a couple of prized prospects despite a great loss in talent following last season, and even Florida and Vanderbilt have prospects who look to be lottery picks in next year’s draft.
Honorable mention: Malik Newman PG/SG Mississippi State, Isaiah Briscoe PG/SG Kentucky, Marcus Lee PF/C Kentucky, Tyler Ulis PG Kentucky, Alex Poythress SF/PF Kentucky, Antonio Blakeney PG/SG LSU, Tim Quarterman PG/SG LSU, Perry Dozier PG/SG South Carolina, Sindarius Thornwell SG/SF South Carolina
5. Devin Robinson 6-8 180 SG/SF Florida Sophomore
On raw upside alone, Robinson belongs on this list. If you watched him at any point last season, it might be somewhat of a surprise. Towards the end of last season, Robinson really came on as a slasher and scorer, tallying six double-figure scoring games in his last 10 games.
Robinson’s versatility is obvious, with the size and athleticism of an NBA swingman, but also enough size to play some small ball 4. Robinson can finish at the rim (66.7 percent from that distance, per hoop-math.com), but he struggled with an in-between game and from the perimeter (34.0 percent on two-point jump shots, 27.3 percent from three, per hoop-math.com).
Robinson showed potential, albeit on low volume, from three-point range in the right corner where he shot 38.0 percent (per shotanalytics.com), and can really do damage as a slasher while getting to the free throw line. It’ll be interesting to see how new Florida coach Michael White uses Robinson, but there’s no doubt if he has a solid season, Robinson should be a top 20 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
4. Damian Jones 7-0 245 C Vanderbilt Junior
Jones ranked as my No. 8 NBA prospect in late June on my early top 10 in 2016, and remains my fourth-ranked prospect in the SEC. Jones has legit NBA center size at 7-0 with a 7-2 wingspan at 245 pounds, with a combination of skill and athleticism that gives him plenty of intrigue for the NBA level.
Jones has two-way potential as a shot blocker (2.0 per game last year) and as a scorer in the low post and mid-range. Jones shot 67.0 percent at the rim and 44.7 percent on two-point jump shots (per hoop-math.com), including 53.0 percent from the right elbow (per shotanalytics.com). This efficiency gives him potential as an effective pick-and-roll shooter in the NBA, and when you combine his defensive prowess, it’s what makes him so intriguing.
However, Jones has a ways to go to round out his overall game, as he struggles as a rebounder right now (6.5 per game last season). Jones also doesn’t contribute much as a passer and struggles with turnovers, which could limit his potential as an option on the low block. Jones needs to improve as a free throw shooter as he only shot 59.9 percent last year from the line.
Overall, Jones looks the part of an NBA center, but has a bit of work to do on his game. If he’s able to keep improving next season as a junior, look for Jones to be a top 10 pick in the 2016 draft.
3. Jamal Murray 6-5 205 PG/SG Kentucky Freshman
Murray has been one of the biggest risers after a productive summer competing against top international competition. Murray brings a lot of versatility for John Calipari and Kentucky to work with thanks to his size and build at a solid 6-5 and 205 pounds. Murray is a combo guard who thrives with the ball in his hands but can also shoot from NBA three-point distance already.
Not exceptionally athletic, Murray uses his deceptive quickness and elite handle to get to where he wants on the floor. Murray is already very good in the pick-and-roll, where he can get to the rim and finish in a variety of ways. Murray also shoots the ball very well, which should fit in nicely alongside sophomore Tyler Ulis and incoming freshman phenom point guard Isaiah Briscoe.
At the college level, Murray can play any of the perimeter positions. When projecting to the NBA level, Murray will be a combo guard who can play alongside any backcourt partner. He reminds me a bit of Brandon Roy at this stage, and is someone who’s selfless, talented and willing to make the right play. After a solid season at Kentucky, look for Murray to be in the conversation in the top half of the lottery come draft night in 2016.
2. Skal Labissiere 7-0 215 PF/C Kentucky Freshman
When profiling Skal Labissiere, I saw how he grew from incredible circumstances in Haiti to get to where he is today. Labissiere is a very skilled, two-way big man who should factor in as a shot-blocker and scorer immediately at Kentucky. He has adequate NBA size and length for a 7-footer with the quickness to defend on switches in the pick-and-roll.
Labissiere is also a very good mid-range shooter, which will allow him to thrive either off the pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll upon entering the NBA. It’s going to be a joy watching Murray and Labissiere run pick-and-rolls next season at Kentucky, as both are perfect fits alongside each other.
Labissiere does need to gain strength in his lower body to help him bang in the post with bigger, more athletic opponents, because he’s pretty lightweight at 215 pounds. What frontcourt position might Labissiere primarily play? He’s too light for a center and might not be fast enough for mobile, stretch 4s.
Overall, Labissiere is a very promising prospect with an intriguing mix of size, skill and athleticism. Expect Labissiere to be in discussion for the No. 1 pick all season long while projecting no lower than pick No. 3.
1. Ben Simmons 6-10 230 SF/PF LSU Freshman
Simmons rounds out the top five with his NBA-ready game and frame. At 6-10 and 230 pounds, Simmons already has the size of a combo forward with pretty good athleticism and quickness as well. Simmons is an incredibly smart passer and advanced ball handler, capable of running an offense from a variety of different positions on the floor.
Simmons alone should help LSU reach the NCAA Tournament despite the loss of two top 40 picks in power forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Simmons’s presence helped attract talented, highly touted 6-4 guards in Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson, which should help them go far in March.
Simmons still needs to work on extending his range, as he rarely takes jump shots when he consistently has mismatches. Also, Simmons is a bit of a tweener at this stage, lacking the length (6-10 wingspan) to defend power forwards, and lacking the lateral quickness to defend elite athletes on the perimeter. It’ll be interesting to see what position he defends at the next level, as this deficiency likely won’t be shown as often in college.
Overall, Simmons is too skilled and versatile to be considered anything less than a top two overall pick in next year’s draft. With added range and a solid freshman season at LSU, expect Simmons to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.