With the Boston Celtics owning the winless Brooklyn Nets' 2016 first-round draft pick, Celtics fans have their sights set on LSU forward Ben Simmons. But there are plenty of other prospects worth getting excited about.
Here are my top 10 2016 NBA Draft prospects, ranked generally, with some Celtics-specific thoughts included in the text. The order of each player is fluid, because it's early in the draft evaluation process.
1. Dragan Bender: 7'0, Forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Bender is an exciting passer, whether it's outlets, in transition, from the high post, or driving closeouts. At 7-feet, Bender could someday be used as a facilitator in a way like Joakim Noah is, a rare skill for big men. Bender needs to get a lot stronger on defense, but he's shown some ability as a weak side blocker and his lateral quickness allows him to defend the perimeter. He could be paired with any of the Celtics bigs.
Still, Bender must improve as a shooter from three if he'll ever take advantage of his unique playmaking skills, and be more than just a role playing big. But Bender does have solid shooting mechanics and has displayed touch, so it could be only a matter of time before the 17-year-old is draining threes. For the Celtics, Bender is a strong option. They could even stash him until 2018, after the fourth year of his contract with Maccabi when his NBA opt-out clause can be activated.
2. Ben Simmons: 6'10, Point Forward, LSU
At first glance, Simmons looks like a dream come true for Brad Stevens, who values positional versatility and skill elasticity. At 6-foot-10, Simmons has guard skills, with spectacular vision and ball handling. The Celtics already have Isaiah Thomas, but they need a secondary primary ball handling option that can create offense and Simmons could possibly fill that void. With excellent size and speed, Simmons would be a major threat pushing the ball coast-to-coast after grabbing rebounds.
But Simmons does have one major weakness -- his jumper -- which could be a fatal flaw. Simmons especially looks stiff off the catch - he has poor footwork, a slow release, and doesn't follow through. NBA defenders will sag off him, which will only limit his strength attacking the rim. Simmons has other minor weaknesses, like being consistently aggressive, but it's his poor shooting that makes it tremendously difficult to project his upside.
3. Skal Labissiere: 7'0, Big, Kentucky
Labissiere will be 20-years-old when he's drafted and is rough around the edges, but long-term he has the fluidity and skills to be the best player from this class. The native of Haiti has flashed quickness in transition and on the low post. With smooth shooting mechanics, the hope is that Kentucky allows him to develop his shot more than they did with Karl Towns this past season. Labissiere's could develop into a high post, perimeter threat, but that could take years.
In the Nike Hoop Summit, Labissiere appeared to have tunnel vision as a passer, was slow to adjust when pressured, and forced some tough shots. This court awareness also hurts him on defense, but for the most part he does a great job of staying in the right position using proper techniques. In interviews, Labissiere comes off as a driven, intelligent person, so that bodes well for his development.
4. Brandon Ingram: 6'10, Forward, Duke
Ingram, 6-foot-10, has the body of a giraffe, with long, twig legs, and a 7-foot-3 wingspan. But Ingram does have a wide frame, so he should be able to add some muscle. Ingram could develop into a versatile player on both ends of the floor. With his size and athleticism, he's capable of crashing the boards and defending multiple positions. However, it'll be crucial for him to prove he can do it consistently, as he has an extremely laidback personality that sometimes shows on the court.
Ingram needs to improve as a shooter, but he gets his shots off quickly. Adding a dip would likely make him more consistent, but at his age he's capable off the catch and the dribble. Duke might use him as a point forward, which will be fun to watch since he's already shown he's a plus slasher. If his pick-and-roll play and passing progresses, it'll certainly increase his draft stock.
5. Jaylen Brown: 6'7, Wing, California
At 6-foot-7 with a long wingspan and a thick frame, Brown already has the body of an NBA player at just 19-years-old. Brown is a true slasher, capable of using his strength to bully his way to the rim, but he's also deft at weaving his way through the paint to find space inside. With the athleticism to dunk over defenders, Brown could someday draw fouls consistently, both in half court and transition, and live at the free throw line.
Brown has shown flashes as a shooter, but he needs to show he can hit threes from NBA range, and his poor mechanics suggest that might be an issue. He has slow footwork and is very tight in the upper body. He also has subpar court vision, and often misses wide-open teammates, instead forcing up shots. Brown will likely carve out a role as a slasher and versatile defender, but must show he can be more.
6. Malik Newman: 6'4, Guard, Mississippi State
It's plan and simple -- Newman is a born scorer. With a quick first step and an advanced handle, Newman's able to create space for his pull up jumper, which has deep range. But Newman is also very good at navigating pick-and-rolls, whether it's pulling up over the defense, or snaking to the middle of the floor. He tends to drive looking for contact, but it'd be encouraging if he flashed better touch around the rim, which would improve his efficiency.
Newman has shown flashes as a passer, but he sometimes gets tunnel vision. But any team drafting Newman to be a passer is drafting him for the wrong reasons; Newman is a 6-foot-4 score-first guard like a Monta Ellis or Marcus Thornton. If Newman shows he can score off-ball, especially off screens and spotting up, then he should be able to carve out a career as a spark plug scorer, and maybe more.
7. Henry Ellenson: 6'10, Big, Marquette
Ellenson's potential hinges on his ability to develop as a three-point shooter. He has very good mechanics and touch, so the building blocks are there. As a 6-foot-10 big man, Ellenson will likely find himself on some highlight reels this season thanks to his quick crossover, which he uses effectively to get to the rim. He uses both hands finishing around the rim, and will occasionally dunk over the top.
Ellenson will get compared to a young Kevin Love, because they have similar bodies comparable offensive skill-sets, show high instincts on the boards, and they're weak defenders, but Ellenson doesn't have close to the same feel for the game that Love has as a passer or interior scorer.
8. Kris Dunn: 6'4, Guard, Providence
For every jaw-dropping play Dunn makes, he makes one that makes you face-palm. Dunn will be 22 when he's drafted, making him an old geezer compared to most prospects, but he still has plenty he can improve. With the right coaching, Dunn could develop into a superb defender. The Celtics have a good history in this area, so any of his fundamental shortcomings on defense are less of a concern in Boston.
Dunn, at 6-foot-4, has great size and shifty ball handling skills, able to create space at will and see over the defense, but he often gets out of control or fails to execute "the simple play." This might make him difficult to trust early in his career, but with a player like him one must wonder if NBA spacing will help him be who he really is: an athletic, hungry, score-first guard.
9. Jamal Murray: 6'5, Guard, Kentucky
At 6-foot-5, Murray has great size for a point guard, and he has very good passing vision. Murray's also a knockdown shooter, but his release is low, which could hurt him in the NBA. He also lacks a quick first step and explosiveness, so he could have trouble getting by pro perimeter defenders and finishing insider.
However, Murray can drain shots off the catch, and he's flashed enough potential changing speeds and using a myriad of dribble moves to create space, so he warrants consideration in the top 10. Kentucky has a bunch of young point guards, and all of them may play, but Murray appears to be the best one.
10. Furkan Korkmaz: 6'7, Wing, Anadolu Efes
Korkmaz's teammate Dario Saric will get much of the attention this season for Anadolu Efes, but Korkmaz fits the NBA model of a shooting guard. He's not in the same league as last year's star international two-guard, Mario Hezonja, in terms of athleticism, but he's a similar level shooter, with the ability to drain off the catch or off the dribble.
Korkmaz is also a very good passer, which is a huge plus for his age. Not many American prospects share his valued pro skills at this age, and he could undoubtedly rise up the boards. Korkmaz does need to add a lot of muscle to his frame, and he'd likely be overwhelmed early in his career on defense, but his shooting should be good enough to allow him to stick.
- Chinese big man Zhou Qi would be in my Top 10, but he's unlikely to declare for the draft until he turns 22-years-old.
- Utah center Jakob Poeltl could find himself in the Top 10, but I'd prefer to see how he operates without point guard Delon Wright, who was drafted by Toronto. But with his ability to defend the paint and finish in the pick-and-roll, there's no reason he can't be a rotation big.
- Michigan's Caris LeVert has the skills to be a 3-and-D wing, with his combination of shooting and defensive potential. But as a senior, he's still yet to show he can do it consistently.
- I really like Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson. He's undersized, at 6-foot-1, but it'll be interesting to see how he performs running the point full-time. He has already proven he can play off-ball.
- Kansas' Cheick Diallo is an undersized center, but he's explosive, has great defensive potential and a non-stop motor. He's right outside my top 10, but could rise.
- Expect a lot of Simmons vs. Bender debates this year. Simmons will get a lot more hype, but Bender could be a better prospect because of his touch and shooting mechanics. Simmons is super talented, a worthy No. 1 pick, but it remains to be seen if he's a shooting threat. If Simmons improves in this area, he'll likely move up my board.