With the NBA having entered the second half of the season, it’s becoming clearer what the top of the 2016 NBA Draft will look like. Three players stand out as the most highly regarded prospects in this year’s class.
LSU’s Ben Simmons is the top prize in the draft, having entered this college basketball season as the No.1 ranked recruit and performing up to expectations. Duke freshman Brandon Ingram is looking like the second player that will be drafted, followed by Dragan Bender from Croatia.
The draft order won’t be determined until the NBA Draft lottery is conducted on May 17, but a few teams have the inside track to land a top pick. With just eight wins before the All-Star break, the Philadelphia 76ers have the best chance to win the No.1 overall selection. The Los Angeles Lakers have the league’s second-worst record at 11-44, while the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns are tied with just 14 wins.
Brooklyn’s pick, however, belongs to the Boston Celtics, and they could land a top college basketball player after making a deep playoff run. The Celtics have the No.3 seed in the Eastern Conference with the opportunity to add Simmons or Ingram to an already talented team.
There’s a strong chance that either the Lakers will end up with Simmons, Ingram or Bender, or the 76ers will have two top-five picks. Los Angeles’ first-round selection will go to Philadelphia if the Lakers don’t finish in the top-three in the draft lottery. The condition dates back to the trade that netted L.A. Steve Nash in 2012. The Suns originally owned the Lakers’ pick, but they sent it to Philadelphia in a trade at last year’s deadline.
Whether it’s the 76ers, Lakers, Celtics or any other team that gets the No.1 overall pick, it’s hard to imagine Simmons going anywhere but first. He has incredible athleticism at 6’10, and he’s one of the most highly touted prospects of the last decade. Simmons is already a gifted passer and is exceptional in the open court. In his first season with LSU, Simmons is averaging 19.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game.
The knock on Simmons is his outside shot and his sporadic scoring droughts, but that should improve over time.
Ingram was the No.3 prospect coming out of high school last year, and his upside is one of the highest of any prospect in recent years. The freshman is an excellent catch-and-shoot forward, averaging 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, shooting 41 percent from three-point range at 6’9. Despite a talented supporting cast in Durham, Ingram has had some huge games on both sides of the court.
But Ingram could stand to add more upper-body strength. He also at times plays too casual, while deferring to teammate Grayson Allen.
Most NBA and college basketball fans probably know little about Bender, but NBA teams would love to get the opportunity to draft the 18-year-old. The 7’1 Croatian is drawing comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis, who is a Rookie of the Year candidate. Bender is very fluid with excellent passing and shooting skills, but can also play tough in the paint. He'd be a great fit on just about any lottery team, but is probably ideal for the Lakers or Celtics.
Like Ingram, Bender could benefit from putting on some bulk. While he has shown the athleticism and effort to be a very good defender, Bender will probably need time to mature.