Word has gotten around among basketball fans that the 2017 NBA draft is going to be exceptionally loaded. This past December we heard league general managers calling it the strongest draft in a decade, and there are those who believe it could rival 2003—you know, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade were among the top five picks.

That kind of language might be a bit hyperbolic at this stage, but the talent doesn’t lie. There are a lot of potentially elite players at the top of this draft class, and that means that the 2017-18 NBA season could be impacted more than usual by newcomers. It’s been said in market overviews that keeping an eye on the NCAA is a great strategy given that it provides some insight into how the league will change in the coming year. That’s true where fantasy is concerned as well. It can pay off to know which rookies are poised to put up stats right away.

To some extent statistical output depends on team fit, and that’s something we can’t quite project. There’s also no telling which of the top prospects will actually leave school early, given that the majority of them are underclassmen. But as we head into the home stretch of NCAA basketball, here are seven players to take a look at that are poised to make their mark on the NBA and potentially start as rookies.NBA

Markelle Fultz – Washington

It’s saying something that in a draft this stacked with talent, any one player can emerge as the consensus top pick, but that’s just what’s happened with Fultz. He looks like the most impressive point guard prospect since Kyrie Irving, and it seems increasingly likely he’ll go first overall. The intrigue may be with fit. Fultz will produce wherever he lands, but right now the Celtics are in line for the top pick (via Brooklyn), and Brad Stevens’ club is already crowded at the guard positions.

Lonzo Ball – UCLA

Ball is distinguishing himself as the likely second pick, and might just be the ideal point guard for the modern NBA. At roughly 6’6’’ and capable of putting up near-triple-double numbers on any given night, he’s going to be a problem for opposing defenses. You could compare him to something like what Shaun Livingston would have been had he never injured himself. Ball will likely head to a team with an established point guard as well (Phoenix and LA are likely), but he’ll find his way to get minutes.

Josh Jackson – Kansas

Jackson is the latest in a long line of athletically gifted kids with superior defensive abilities. He’s the 2017 version of, say, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Justise Winslow, or Jaylen Brown. The question will be whether or not he can keep scoring at the next level—but given that he’s already improved his offense in his short time at Kansas, he’s a pretty good bet to be a high impact rookie.

Dennis Smith Jr. – NC State

If he were playing at a top program, Smith might be in the conversation for a top three pick. His turnover numbers can creep up on occasion and he’s not as big as Fultz or Ball, but he’s an electric scorer and skilled passer. The way Smith lit up Duke, he appears to be ready to play against top-level competition.

Malik Monk – Kentucky

Monk is unquestionably the best scorer in this draft. He’s elite above the rim and awfully impressive (if somewhat streaky) shooting from deep. He seems to have wide range in mock drafts, potentially going anywhere from 3rd to 10th. He also might be the prospect least reliant on a good fit. Monk will score, period

Jayson Tatum – Duke

Tatum’s ceiling will be all about how much he can engage. He has some selfish tendencies and can lapse on defense. Despite this he’s got an NBA body, an incredible array of offensive moves, and excellent timing as a rebounder. If he puts it all together, he’s capable of being this class’s top talent.

De’Aaron Fox – Kentucky

More highly touted than Monk coming into Kentucky, Fox is a speed demon that reminds some scouts of John Wall. He’s not quite as talented, but he may be more under control than Wall at this age, and his ability to pressure opposing defenses will allow him to find court time as a rookie.

 

 

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