Thirteen of the 30 picks in the 2015 NBA Draft were one-and-done college stars, and only eight stuck around college long enough to call themselves upperclassman, with Kentucky junior big man Willie Cauley-Stein the highest to go at No. 6 overall.
While the debate over whether 19-year-olds are "NBA ready" continues, this year’s draft was technically down from 2014, when the first four picks were all freshman.
In today’s NBA, teams have resigned to the risk of taking college freshmen, rather than watch them go to another team with the next pick. Passing up a versatile 6-foot-11 star like No.1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns due to his lack of experience at 19 might seem a little too shortsighted for most teams.
Thus it’s a trend that will certainly continue next year, and could even grow with a potentially star-laden 2016 NBA Draft class loaded with wings and big men. Similar to this year, the top two picks should come down to talented big men with range on their jump shots and length to hold down the paint.
Here are the five players who could hear their named called when the first five picks are announced in 2016.
1.Ben Simmons, PF, LSU
Ranked as the best high school player by most scouts, the gifted power forward out of Montverde Academy in Florida has all the tools necessary to make the Tigers major threats in the SEC next season. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, the 6-foot-9 Simmons possesses the type of ballhandling skills of an experienced guard, moves seamlessly in the open court, and added some bulk to dominate in the paint.
He’s the type of all-around player that makes NBA scouts drool, and barring any injuries or poor play with LSU, he’s the player to beat out for the No. 1 pick.
2.Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky
Wildcats head coach John Calipari set a record with four of his players picked in the lottery this year, and Labissiere might be the fifth player of Calipari’s to go No. 1. Born in Haiti, Labissiere is a shot blocking machine who’s already polished up some post moves with a mid-range jumper to boot.
The sky’s the limit for Labissiere as long as he can add some size to his 210-pound frame. He’ll no doubt start and excel under Calipari next season and contend deep into the NCAA tournament with the country’s best recruiting class. It's important to note that last year at this time Jahlil Okafor was the resounding choice to go No. 1, but he saw Towns usurp that spot after an excellent freshman season.
3.Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke
Measuring at 6-foot-9 in shoes, Ingram actually has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, which certainly helps what’s been called a smooth jump shot. He’s a scoring wing capable of guarding bigger players in college given his length, and under head coach Mike Krzyzewski he should take over the role of now former Blue Devil Justise Winslow as an all-around star.
But he’s not nearly as built as Winslow when he first graced Durham, with Ingram sporting a much thinner frame. Should he fill out between now and the draft, he’s certainly a lock for the top five with his speed, skill set, and athleticism. There is plenty of upside for Ingram, but he needs to refine his game.
4.Malik Newman, SG, Mississippi State
Spurning offers from elite programs like Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio State, the Jackson, Mississippi native elected to stay close to home and play for the Bulldogs. At 6-foot-4, size won’t be a problem for this combo guard in college as his talent level is far superior to most incoming freshman. Newman can shoot the lights out and attack the rim, and he might be the best all-around scorer in 2015-2016.
But in the NBA, he’ll probably have to play more point guard. If he can improve his defense and playmaking skills, (only 4.3 assists per game in his senior season according to MaxPreps), Newman could move be the first guard off the board.
5.Ivan Rabb, PF, California
Like Newman, Rabb said no to the Wildcats, Jayhawks, UCLA, and Arizona, to remain close to his Oakland home and play for the Golden Bears. Due to his slight 6-foot-11, 210-pound body, Rabb is not considered a powerful presence inside but with long arms and loads of athleticism he’s an incredible shot blocker and rebounder. And his moves on the offensive end are developing. He’ll join fellow top prospect and small forward Jaylen Brown at Cal, and both have the potential to be selected by No. 3.