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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Top six swingmen in the 2017 NBA Draft

Josh Jackson

Versatility has become such a crucial part of today’s NBA. Finding players who can play on the wings, but move into the post or work as a secondary ball handler has become a key part of team building.

This year’s draft features several prospects who can bring that level of malleability to the forward positions and could really cause problems for opposing matchups. Unlike guards or big men, the swingmen fit into almost every roster, without overhauling the trajectory of the teams at the top of the draft.

Athleticism, shooting, and defensive ability will separate the top prospects in this category, but all could have stellar careers with the right fit.

Here are the top six swingmen prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft.

1. Josh Jackson, Kansas

No player has such obvious strengths and weaknesses in this draft class as the talented Kansas freshman.

The good things about Josh Jackson’s game are fantastic. He’s an elite level athlete at both ends of the floor and in transition. Jackson slashes and cuts to the basket effectively, ending with dunks at the rim.

On defense, his versatility was paramount to Kansas’ success. The 6-foot-8 swingman played most of his minutes up at the power forward position. He showed himself able to battle with bigger bodies inside the paint and switch on to guards on the perimeter. His wingspan and footspeed could make him a dangerous weapon defensively. He was the first freshman in five years to average more than a block per game, 1.5 steals per game, and 7 rebounds per game.

All of that being said, Jackson’s shooting is such a question mark that it could leave him unable to use any of his other skills effectively. Just watching him take a jumper, even a casual observer can see the obvious hitch in his delivery. Changing his mechanics will be a big undertaking, so much so that Bill Self and his staff chose to only suggest minor tweaks, rather than the full scale overhaul Jackson’ shooting form probably needs.

That may have come from an unexpected hot streak from Jackson this season. After starting the season shooting 23.7 percent from outside the arc (38 attempts in 18 games), Jackson caught fire, shooting 48.1 percent the rest of the season (53 attempts in 17 games).

That’s a very small sample size, not aided by his dismal 57 percent free throw shooting, often a better indicator of future shooting success.

In the end, most of this may already be a moot point for most draft evaluators. Rumors have floated about Jackson receiving a promise from the Lakers before he’d worked out for any other team. Jackson even went as far as cancelling his workout with the Celtics, who pick behind the Lakers at the top of the draft. He’d certainly be an intriguing piece for a young Lakers team to add.

2. Jayson Tatum, Duke

With top recruit Harry Giles in the same recruiting class, not many would have expected Jayson Tatum to be the first Duke Blue Devil to have his name called in this June’s draft. Giles had injury issues, but Tatum shined and worked his way into the top 10, if not higher.

He has a big body for a small forward and could play both the three and four spots in the NBA. Regardless of whom he defends at the next level, he’ll be able to score against almost any size defender. Tatum is built to get buckets, in any way he can. He’s great in isolation or the pick-and-roll, with enough creativity to find the open man when doubled.

His offensive game has its drawbacks though. Tatum isn’t great without the ball in his hands and can really kill ball movement with his love of isolation. Even when away from the action, he won’t provide much spacing with a streaky, but unreliable jumper. He’s more of a shot-maker than a shooter, canning just 34 percent of his three-point attempts (with a high 87 percent of his makes coming via assist).

Teams taking Tatum are certainly going to get talent and star power. There is a worry that he could be the kind of flawed star player who stunts a franchise’s team building efforts, like Rudy Gay or Joe Johnson.

3. OG Anunoby, Indiana

Teams in search of a possible defensive gamechanger, this is your man. OG Anunoby showed in his two seasons at Indiana that he was a top level athlete and capable of competing at any pace, speed, or vertical level. His time as a Hoosier was filled with high-flying dunks, soaring blocks, and blink-and-you-missed-it highlights.

He’s 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, fully capable of guarding any of three positions, and comfortable switching for a moment onto point guards and centers too.

He’ll struggle to make a franchise-altering difference because he simply can’t shoot. Offensively he’s not going to provide much. It’s tough to see him as a starter because of that lack of production, but his value on defense and in the open court makes him an attractive prospect. He could be an elite substitute, capable of shutting down some of the league’s best scorers for a chunk of every game.

He is recovering from a midseason ACL tear, so teams with a desire to win now may pass and leave Anunoby on the board for a few picks longer than he should be.

4. Semi Ojeleye, SMU

After a stop-and-start stint at Duke, Ojeleye transferred to SMU and flourished. He averaged 19 points and 7 rebounds, while leading the Mustangs to a conference championship. His game would seem to translate nicely to the next level.

Ojeleye’s 230-pound frame should allow him to guard both forward positions, and he’ll be a tricky cover on the offensive end. He’s skilled and strong enough to punish smaller defenders in the post and he shot 41 percent from outside this season. He should bring some serious value in the modern NBA, where switching and mismatches reign supreme.

His age after two lackluster years at Duke and the requisite redshirt year after transferring is a bit of a worry, but he’s skilled enough for that to not matter.

5. Justin Jackson, North Carolina

After being crowned NCAA champion, the lanky Tar Heel scorer heads to the NBA. He brings with him an arsenal of floaters, leaners, and fadeaways that make him a deadly offensive weapon.

He’s not a knockdown shooter right now, but what he lacks in fundamental skill he makes up for with a craftiness that utilizes his long limbs. For someone his size, he does nicely with the ball in his hands, creating opportunities for himself and others.

He has the tools to hold his own defensively, giving his team productive minutes off the bench. He could provide the instant offensive jolt of a Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford.

6. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

Our third consecutive player on this list that is already 22 years of age. That’s a concerning number, with scouts fearing production in college came only from beating up on younger and smaller teenagers.

Thornwell, however, showed promise in his first three seasons at South Carolina as well. He averaged double-figure scoring every season in college, and topped 14.5 points per 40 minutes in each year on campus as well.

On top of that, Thornwell grew his game every year. He became an elite rebounder for a guard, refined his jump shot, and became one of the nation’s most sound defenders (earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior).

This past season, which ended with his Gamecocks streaking to the Final Four, he shot just shy of 40 percent from outside and over 83 percent at the free throw line. He projects to be a 3-and-D scrapper off an NBA bench.

Honorable Mention: Devin Robinson, Dillon Brooks, Jaron Blossomgame

Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.



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