There are varying levels of risk attached to every NBA draft pick, but which 2016 lottery studs are the biggest gambles?
An increased emphasis on youth and upside in modern scouting has resulted in a predominance of college freshmen and international teenagers rising to the top of draft boards. The downside is that many teams are putting their confidence in largely unknown or unproven competitors.
Some prospects are risky because their skills are limited and we don’t know whether they’ll ever fully develop. Other players are precarious because they’re from lesser-known leagues, such as small NCAA conferences or international leagues. And others are tricky to peg due to various intangibles and character concerns.
The top of the 2016 draft class doesn’t have a ton of hazardous options, but we identified the diciest potential lottery candidates.
3. Damian Jones, Vanderbilt PF/C (7’0″ Junior)
Jones is a fringe lotto prospect, which means he’s probably worth the roll of the dice anywhere from No. 12 to No. 16. But he’s a risk nonetheless, especially since he’s a junior whose skills still have a long way to go.
He certainly has the frame and agility to compete in the NBA, along with great pick-and-roll potential and rim-protecting talent. Jones is a handful for college opponents in the open floor, and he’s become a productive shot blocker in the SEC over the past couple of years.
What makes him a gamble? He may not be a sharp enough shot creator to consistently impact his NBA team offensively, and he’s shown fluctuating effort and alertness as a defender and rebounder.
Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress.com watched Jones as much as anyone last year, and he came away with a few concerning traits to balance out the obvious upside:
(Jones) has the tools to be very good on defense but lacks awareness and a consistent motor…Effort comes and goes…Isn’t the toughest player. Not all that willing to rebound outside of his area.
As for the offensive concerns, Jones has the makings of an effective post game, but is raw both physically and mentally. He doesn’t attack opponents dynamically, find the soft spots or connect with teammates.
Having that feel for the flow of the game and chemistry with teammates is a huge part of NBA success. If Jones doesn’t improve his awareness and execution, he may never realize his top 10 potential.
2. Cheick Diallo, Kansas PF (6’9″ PF/C)
It’s tough to imagine Kansas forward Diallo becoming a complete bust in the NBA, but he could be a colossal letdown if he doesn’t expand and refine his game.
The Mali native is billed as a lottery or top 10 commodity because his athleticism and energy allow for a lofty upside. Diallo used his massive wingspan, end-to-end agility and tireless motor to stand out from the crowd in high school and even shine among high school all-stars (he won the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic MVP awards). If he can add post moves and more consistent defensive technique to his repertoire, he’ll be more than worthy of an early draft selection.
However, he’s far from assured to blossom into a capable bucket-getter.
Right now, Diallo’s not the type of player you can run sets for or count on for a post-up basket. The footwork, fluidity and touch are just not there. His jump shot is also rigid and far from natural, so you can’t count on him for pick-and-pop consistency at the 4 spot. And while Diallo has the aggressiveness and length to play effective defense, he must learn to play with sharper discipline and better team positioning.
Given his effort level, he’ll likely improve a bit in many of these areas, but what if his gains are minimal? The significant risk is that he may become little more than an energy guy. No one would want to spend a top 10 pick on that.
1. Diamond Stone, Maryland C (7’0″ Freshman)
There’s plenty to like about Maryland newcomer Diamond Stone, who brings a long, 255-pound physique, end-to-end agility and a nose for the rim. He’s shown a willingness to turn over either shoulder to score and hoist sporadic jumpers.
Those traits have generated lottery buzz in recent weeks, but there are also several concerns surrounding his game.
Although Stone’s low-post game is further along than many center prospects, it doesn’t feature much more than baby hooks and drop-step dunks at this stage. Meanwhile, his defense has some noticeable deficiencies, particularly in the footwork and alertness departments. Stone is often caught out of position and exhibits shaky shot-blocking instincts.
One NBA executive told ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman that he needs to see a lot more from Stone in 2015-16 in order to be convinced he’s a top-tier prospect:
I haven’t seen a high-level stud there yet. I’ve seen a lot of sizzle, but not a lot of steak yet. To me, he has a lot to prove this year…
An equally risky aspect of his NBA candidacy is his conditioning and possession-by-possession effort. Stone has admitted that his motor isn’t consistent and that he must make fitness improvements.
Some players overcome these issues and become reliable cogs, but others have trouble rewiring themselves into hard workers and high-energy players. For example, it took a mid-career intervention for Jared Sullinger to start taking his physique seriously.
With all these factors in mind, it’ll take guts for a general manager to pull the trigger on Stone in the top 10.