Tomase: 2017 NBA draft redo a reminder of how smart C's were to land Jayson Tatum

John Tomase
April 09, 2018 - 2:00 pm
Jayson Tatum

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

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Let's stop pretending NBA picks outside the top five are worthless. While landing in the high lottery greatly increases the chances of acquiring a stud, it guarantees nothing. Just consider the 2017 NBA draft.

With the playoffs practically upon us, it's fair to re-evaluate what has turned out to be a deep class. The Washington Post recently re-drafted the top 10, and it's a useful exercise. Knowing what we know now, how differently would those top 10 picks shake out? Very differently, it just so happens, if you ask me. Here's my new top 10, with actual draft position in parentheses.

10. John Collins (19)

The Hawks big man has opened eyes by holding up on both sides of the floor at age 20. He's averaging 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. While he does most of his scoring in the pick and roll at the rim, he's also capable of stepping out and making a 15-footer. Among his highlights: a 13-point, 16-rebound, 4-block game against the Raptors. He's getting major minutes for the woeful Hawks.

9. De'Aaron Fox

Were we basing this solely on numbers, Fox wouldn't make the cut. His range isn't yet NBA-worthy, and his true-shooting percentage -- a combination of 2-point, 3-point, and free throw shooting that measures scoring efficiency -- ranks next-to-last in the NBA among full-time players (between fellow lottery picks Josh Jackson and Dennis Smith). But Fox entered the NBA at 19 and plays with an energy and excitement that suggest he could be a building block in Sacramento.

8. Markelle Fultz (1)

Huh? The guy who shot with the grace of a collapsing construction crane while spending 80 percent of the season on the sidelines? I'm not giving up on Fultz that easily. The Sixers haven't lost since he returned, and even though he'll be nothing more than a complementary piece this season, the flashes of ability are there. When Fultz spins on the wing to lose a defender and then explodes to the rim, he covers 20 feet in about two steps. There's too much potential to drop him any lower.

7. Bam Adebayo (14)

Adebayo was the last of three Kentucky Wildcats taken in the first round (after Fox and Malik Monk, who went 11th), but he has made the biggest impact. Playing regular minutes for the playoff-bound Heat, Adebayo has emerged as the kind of dirt dog every good team requires. He rebounds, defends, screens and can jump out of the gym. His 7-foot-3 wingspan and lateral quickness make him the ideal switching big man on the perimeter, and he has held up against the likes of LeBron James and even Steph Curry.

6. Lauri Markkanen (7)

The sweet-shooting Finn is a more complete offensive player than expected. Drafted out of Arizona as an upgraded Brad Lohaus type, Markkanen has turned out to be more than just a 3-point shooting 7-footer. It turns out he can actually put the ball on the floor and finish with authority. Put him on the Celtics in Tatum's role and his .360 3-point percentage probably increases from the extra open looks created by playing with Kyrie Irving. He'll likely be a first-team All-Rookie selection.

5. Lonzo Ball (3)

Injuries have turned his rookie campaign into a slog, but the Son of LaVar has proven he belongs in the league. The (sling) shot remains a work in progress and his shooting numbers are a mess (.305 on 3-pointers, .451 on free throws), but Ball's vision and passing skills are exactly as advertised. He and Philly's Ben Simmons could make for an exciting bi-coastal battle of big point guards with nightly triple-double potential -- provided his dad doesn't mess it up and hasten his departure from L.A. to make room for LeBron.

4. Dennis Smith (9)

Smith's shooting numbers are actually worse than Fox's, but his athleticism is insane even by NBA standards. Blessed with a 48-inch vertical leap and the fearlessness to use it, Smith attacks the rim like Allen Iverson. The only problem is his game currently lacks the finesse required to finish when a dunk isn't in the picture ("Never," Draymond Green memorably told him after one encounter). The league learned very quickly that he's virtually incapable of scoring with his left hand, and he needs to add a floater to his repertoire. But at only 20 years old, he's brash enough to lead and he's only going to improve.

3. Kyle Kuzma (27)

This is why Danny Ainge didn't want to give away a late first-rounder for Tyreke Evans. You never know who'll blossom in this section of the draft. Kuzma started lighting up opponents during the summer league and never stopped. He benefited from three years of college ball at Utah, for sure, but he was also overlooked for a featuring a game that's hard to pigeonhole. He didn't shoot the three well in college, but he's over 36 percent in the pros. His old-school running hook shots seemingly had no place in today's NBA, but he has made them work to the tune of 16.1 points a night. It wouldn't be a surprise if he outlasts Lonzo in Hollywood.

2. Donovan Mitchell (13)

Mitchell vs. Tatum is not an easy call, but you don't have to be a Celtics homer to lean Tatum, who has made a bigger impact defensively and is a potential star at a position that has become the most important on the floor. That said, what Mitchell has done after being drafted out of Louisville is astounding. Playing for a club reeling from the free agent departure of Gordon Hayward, Mitchell put the Jazz on his back and carried it not only to the playoffs, but the fourth seed in the loaded West. He's averaging 20.5 a game and is more than just a ferocious dunker.

1. Jayson Tatum (3)

Take another bow, Danny Ainge. After trading the No. 1 overall pick to the Sixers, the Celtics boss told us he suspected the player he wanted would be there at 3, and he was right. What not even he foresaw, however, was Tatum's immediate impact. Pressed into bigger minutes following Hayward's broken leg, Tatum responded with dead-eye 3-point shooting (.431), a decent isolation game, and the confidence to sink money shots. He's unexpectedly strong defensively and has the potential to be an elite two-way player. Home. Run.

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