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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

2017 NBA Draft: Ranking the 10 best big men

Lauri Markkanen

The 2017 NBA Draft class has been heralded for the last 18 months as a strong group filled with talent. With selections nearing, that prophecy appears to be mostly true. Certainly as more tape has been evaluated and players are poked and prodded to every extent, expectations can begin to slide, but this class continues to be seen as one of great value.

Oddly, most of that value is disproportionately found in the guard and small forward positions. The league has changed, favoring shooting, speed, and athleticism more than plodding bigs in the paint. Because of that, only about three legitimate big men will be selected in the lottery of this year’s draft.

Don’t be mistaken, though; there is size and inside talent available, though those players will be picked later in the night and are difficult to differentiate right now. It’s hard to decipher which of those bigs will put in the hard work and accept their roles with their new teams in order to succeed.

Here’s our look at the 10 best big men available in the 2017 NBA Draft.

1. Jonathan Isaac, Florida State

When teams are picking at the top of the draft, they’re expecting to get players with the potential to be a star on the offensive end, capable of being the go-to-guy in crunch time. In today’s NBA though, we’ve learned that those players aren’t always the most valuable players available. Big names like Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert have proven that there is value at both ends of the floor, even with passive scorers.

That is where Isaac will fit in. He is a 6-foot-11 freshman who never needed to be the key offensive cog at Florida State, and yet he was productive, efficient, and exciting in his only season in Tallahassee.

Even at only 19 years old, Isaac flashed the capabilities to defend both forward positions and centers, while being active on the glass and available to score when need be. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 18.3 points and 12.0 rebounds. He ranked in the top 3 in the vaunted ACC in rebounding rate and block rate. He embraced his place as a next level role player, like NBA All-Stars Draymond Green or Andrei Kirilenko.

In the right situation at the next level, he’ll become the kind of player analytics nerds love and you wished played for your team.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

Being a 7-foot fair-haired European means Markkanen has heard, and will continue to hear, a million comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and Kristaps Porzingis. In reality, he’s neither of those players. He won’t protect the rim like Porzingis, and he doesn’t have Nowitzki’s creative offensive toolbox (though no one does).

Markkanen is a unique specimen who will be a major factor in the NBA. He has a big body, but is smooth with the ball in the post. Centers who can score on the block and shoot over 40 percent from outside the arc certainly don’t grow on trees.

It will take him some time to find his footing on the defensive end, but Markkanen will make up for that by rebounding his position and getting buckets in both transition and the halfcourt.

3. Zach Collins, Gonzaga

It was clear during Gonzaga’s Final Four run that Collins was a force to be reckoned with. Coming off the bench behind fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski, the Las Vegas native saw more limited minutes than many other suspected first-rounders, but he made the most of them. After flashing his skills in the NCAA Tournament, he was destined to return to school as a preseason All-American or hear his name called in the lottery in June.

He chose the latter, for good reason. Despite a baby face and developing frame, Collins will be able to step in and produce from day 1 in the NBA. He can protect the rim, rebound, score with his back to the basket, and hit jumpers out to 18 feet. Immediately he’ll be a valued big man in any team’s rotation.

After a few years to grow his body and his game, Collins could resemble a solid traditional big man like Al Horford.

4. John Collins, Wake Forest

The Wake Forest big man put himself on the map this season by destroying ACC competition. He demanded attention, ranking in the top three in the conference in effective field goal percentage, offensive rebound rate, true shooting percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes, win shares, and points per game. He posted the highest PER ever by an ACC player, since the stat was first tracked in 2009-10.

He was energetic on both ends of the floor, showcasing a high motor that will earn him accolades at the next level. Collins will be able to switch all over the floor defensively, a highly valued skill in the run-and-shoot world of the current NBA.

In transition, he’ll make opposing big men run all 94 feet every possession, with a long stride and quick burst. A capable point guard will love Collins and grow him into a real weapon around the rim.

5. Ike Anigbogu, UCLA

Similar to Collins, Anigbogu will make his living at the next level through his energy and effort. Collins, however, will be adapting to that role after posting a high usage rate at Wake Forest.

We’ve all seen what Anigbogu can do as rim running rebounder – because that’s exactly what he did all season for UCLA. Following the lead of Lonzo Ball, the 6-foot-10 big man impressively streaked up and down the court, even while playing at 250 pounds.

His body, for someone who is only 18 years old, is stunning. He looks and moves like he’s already grown into his body. It will be a bit of process to teach him how to use his size and speed, but once he gets the hang of it, he could be the next Tristan Thompson.

See Nos. 6-10 on Page 2

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