Why freshmen may dominate the draft more than they did the college season

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Robert Williams.

The 2017 NBA draft is likely to be the league’s most freshman-dominant selection, well, ever. Since the one-and-done rule was enacted over a decade ago, the record for most freshmen taken as lottery picks is eight.

That occurred just two years ago in 2015. Sing along with me: Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles, and Devin Booker.

However this freshman class we currently have before us looks like it’s going to beat that record with ease. Right now on the mock draft boards, one of the few people on earth who’s not currently a college freshman but who stands an excellent chance of being taken in the lottery is Belgium’s own Frank Ntilikina. Another potential gate-crasher here could be Cal sophomore Ivan Rabb.

Other than those guys and their ilk, however, the top of the draft may be thick with freshmen, to wit:

Markell Fultz
Lonzo Ball
Josh Jackson
Dennis Smith
Jonathan Isaac
Jayson Tatum
Malik Monk
Lauri Markkanen
De’Aaron Fox
Miles Bridges
Justin Patton
Robert Williams
T.J. Leaf

That’s 13 lottery-plausible freshmen without even breaking a sweat. There’s some question as to where Harry Giles will fit into this discussion and maybe there’s room for a Bam Adebayo or a Jarrett Allen, but you get the idea. Purely in NBA draft terms, this freshman class stands a good chance to be historic.

Will it have also been historic in college basketball terms? The definitive answer there will have to wait until April. Put it this way, if Jackson hits the game-winner for Kansas that Monday night in Phoenix over the outstretched hand of Zach Collins or Markkanen or Adebayo, then that will factor into the discussion, sure.

What we can say in February, though, is that the footprint of this stellar group so far has been orthogonal to and not necessarily synonymous with what is most extreme and impressive in the college game as a whole. Jackson, for example, is outstanding, and he may well team with old geezer Frank Mason III to lead his team to a No. 1 seed. (The 13th consecutive league title can already be considered as safely in the bag. Bill Self is good at what he does. Who knew.)

Then again elsewhere on the top line, Villanova’s still doing things the old-fashioned mostly non-freshman way, no Baylor freshman is currently seeing double-digit minutes, and (o, the irony!) Gonzaga’s spectacular freshman is, at 17 minutes per game, far and away the most underrated and under-discussed player on his roster.

Strictly in terms of college footprint, for every Jackson there’s a Robert Williams, and for every season-transorming Lonzo Ball there is, of course, that equally talented point guard marooned 1300 miles north in Seattle. The NBA potential of all of the above is equal or similar. Their college impacts have been all over the map.

If even the historically mighty 2017 freshman class can’t translate manifest talent and pro promise more faithfully into tangible Division I results, it is likely no future freshman class will. Our default mode of talking about freshmen in the preseason is based largely or perhaps even solely on NBA potential. In future preseasons we should take this a step further and talk about these extraordinary talents in the specific context of their likely college impact. Perhaps we’ll find that these two modes of speaking about incoming freshmen are, to borrow a well-turned phrase from my colleague Fran Fraschilla, like Spanish and Portuguese.

A reminder that one-and-dones are rare and can be listed in a relatively small space. It appears that the Big Ten’s remarkable streak of no CBA-era (drafts from 2007 on) freshman first-round picks from any programs not named “Ohio State” or “Indiana” is finally going to end. Miles Bridges will see to that. Well done, sir.

                                       Draft    Pick
Greg Oden               Ohio State      2007      1
Kevin Durant            Texas           2007      2
Mike Conley             Ohio State      2007      4
Brandan Wright          North Carolina  2007      8
Spencer Hawes           Washington      2007     10
Thaddeus Young          Georgia Tech    2007     12
Javaris Crittenton      Georgia Tech    2007     19
Daequan Cook            Ohio State      2007     21
Derrick Rose            Memphis         2008      1
Michael Beasley         Kansas State    2008      2
O.J. Mayo               USC             2008      3
Kevin Love              UCLA            2008      5
Eric Gordon             Indiana         2008      7
Jerryd Bayless          Arizona         2008     11
Anthony Randolph        LSU             2008     14
J.J. Hickson            NC State        2008     19
Kosta Koufos            Ohio State      2008     23
Donte Greene            Syracuse        2008     28
Tyreke Evans            Memphis         2009      4
DeMar DeRozan           USC             2009      9
Jrue Holiday            UCLA            2009     17
Byron Mullens           Ohio State      2009     24
John Wall               Kentucky        2010      1
Derrick Favors          Georgia Tech    2010      3
DeMarcus Cousins        Kentucky        2010      5
Xavier Henry            Kansas          2010     12
Eric Bledsoe            Kentucky        2010     18
Avery Bradley           Texas           2010     19
Daniel Orton            Kentucky        2010     29
Kyrie Irving            Duke            2011      1
Tristan Thompson        Texas           2011      4
Brandon Knight          Kentucky        2011      8
Tobias Harris           Tennessee       2011     19
Cory Joseph             Texas           2011     29
Anthony Davis           Kentucky        2012      1
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist  Kentucky        2012      2
Bradley Beal            Florida         2012      3
Andre Drummond          Connecticut     2012      9
Austin Rivers           Duke            2012     10
Maurice Harkless        St. John's      2012     15
Tony Wroten             Washington      2012     25
Marquis Teague          Kentucky        2012     29
Anthony Bennett         UNLV            2013      1
Nerlens Noel            Kentucky        2013      6
Ben McLemore            Kansas          2013      7
Steven Adams            Pitt            2013     12
Shabazz Muhammed        UCLA            2013     14
Archie Goodwin          Kentucky        2013     29
Andrew Wiggins          Kansas          2014      1
Jabari Parker           Duke            2014      2
Joel Embiid             Kansas          2014      3
Aaron Gordon            Arizona         2014      4
Julius Randle           Kentucky        2014      7
Noah Vonleh             Indiana         2014      9
Zach LaVine             UCLA            2014     13
James Young             Kentucky        2014     17
Tyler Ennis             Syracuse        2014     18
Karl-Anthony Towns      Kentucky        2015      1
D'Angelo Russell        Ohio State      2015      2
Jahlil Okafor           Duke            2015      3
Stanley Johnson         Arizona         2015      8
Justise Winslow         Duke            2015	 10
Myles Turner            Texas           2015     11
Trey Lyles              Kentucky        2015     12
Devin Booker            Kentucky        2015     13
Kelly Oubre             Kansas          2015     15
Rashad Vaughn           UNLV            2015     17
Tyus Jones              Duke            2015     24
Chris McCullough        Syracuse        2015     29
Kevon Looney            UCLA            2015     30
Ben Simmons             LSU             2016      1
Brandon Ingram          Duke            2016      2
Jaylen Brown            Cal             2016      3
Jamal Murray            Kentucky        2016      7
Marquese Chriss         Washington      2016      8
Henry Ellenson          Marquette       2016     18
Malik Beasley           Florida State   2016     19
Malachi Richardson      Syracuse        2016     22
Skal Labissiere         Kentucky        2016     28
Dejounte Murray         Washington      2016     29

Don’t forget the second-round one-and-dones. DeAndre Jordan, Bill Walker, Hassan Whiteside, Lance Stephenson, Tiny Gallon, Josh Selby, Quincy Miller, Grant Jerrett, Deyonta Davis, Cheick Diallo, Diamond Stone, and Stephen Zimmerman, I salute you.