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:
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.