The 2016 NBA Draft saw only 5 juniors drafted, though it should be noted that all of them have played in the NBA at some point this season. While the crop of juniors potentially eligible for this year’s draft does not really jump off of the page, there are potentially some important role players and those who could carve out respectable careers. Here are the top junior prospects that NBA franchises should be looking to add to the fold.
1. Justin Jackson 6-8 210 SF North Carolina
Seen as a top 10 RCSI high school player, Jackson was a solid two-year contributor who took a star turn as an upperclassmen for the ACC regular season champions. Having always possessed ability as a scorer, the long and wiry wing worked on his long-range shot to become one of the more potent scorers in his conference. While he works well off of the catch, he has also shown an increased ability to create off the bounce, with some added strength that has helped him closer to the basket as well. Now pushing 210 lbs, with a 6’11” wingspan, Jackson has solid size for the wing, though he lacks ideal burst and lateral quickness and continues to lack ideal strength for the 4, much less the 3 position.
Jackson also has really low steal and block rates, as well as showing signs of struggling as a rebounder. His improved shooting is a positive sign and he certainly has some versatility as a scorer, though it ultimately seems like he could have issues defensively that might limit his upside. His ability to fit into an offense without needing the ball and his willingness as a passer are what could make him an appealing pick as a wing on a NBA roster.
2. Johnathan Motley 6-9 230 PF Baylor
Taking on a much larger role with some upperclassmen moving on, Motley has led a team that has been among the top 10 in the nation for a majority of this season. The lone player in the Big-12 to average a double-double over the season, Motley has added considerable strength and applied his extreme length (7’3.5” wingspan, 9’3” standing reach) to become a terror on the glass. He showed a vast increase in efficiency on offensive rebound put backs, while also increasing his efficiency on cuts to the hoop. He still is not incredibly adept as a post scorer and lacks lift, with his strength increase possibly leading to a drop-off in his effectiveness in transition.
While he has flashed some potential as a shooter, his jump shot still is far from consistent and could not be called a strength at this point in time. He shows some effort as a defender, though even with his impressive size, he is not really a reliable rim protector and has averaged more than twice as many fouls than blocks. Motley has shown improvement as a passer, adding efficiency with his higher usage and his physical profile could make him an intriguing option as a 4/5. His increase in strength has made him one of the better post players in the NCAA this season and teams have taken notice.
3. Kyle Kuzma 6-9 220 PF Utah
Kuzma has gained strength while maintaining some solid agility to become one of the better PF’s in the Pac-12 this season. His “stretch” ability is still not necessarily iron clad, as he is an inconsistent jump shooter, though his mechanics are solid and he upped his FT% every season since he has been at college, going from 55.6% as a freshman to 67.2% as a junior. This does not necessarily spell next level shooting success, though it should be viewed as a positive. When focused, he is one of the most talented players in the country.
The major factor Kuzma brings is his ability to run the floor, and make plays on the break, some quickness in getting off of the floor and the acumen he showed as an offensive rebounder. He moves his feet well on defense and while he was not really a rim protector, he has some ability to switch on to other positions at times. He has shown improvement during each season at Utah and was a handful for Pac-12 teams to defend over this past season. An emotional player, he really came into his own this year and there will be some intrigue around him after the season.
4. Grayson Allen 6-5 205 SG Duke
This season has not necessarily been a disaster for Allen, though the public perception would certainly state otherwise. It does absolutely lead one to question whether coming back was the right decision for him as there have been some definite question marks both with his behavior and progression. With Duke set to be a much deeper team than the year previous, his scoring was expected to go down, but what was not expected was it to come at the price of his efficiency. After checking in as one of the most dangerous spot-up shooters in the NCAA as a sophomore, he has fallen off significantly in 2016-17. His FG% went from 46.6% to 38.9%, with his 3PT% going from 41.7% to 34.8%. Not only that, but he has had a more difficult time finishing at the basket and had a major drop off in his potency in transition. He has dealt with a bevy of injuries all year, and apparently he is more comfortable in a more featured role.
Even though people will be quick to point out all of the areas in which Allen has dropped off as a junior, there are a couple of silver linings that should be pointed out as areas of improvement. He became more adept as a passer and a ball handler in the pick-and-roll, both of which Duke desperately needed. Also, even though his jump shooting off of the bounce was already a relative strength, it has become a much more reliable skill and he has doing it a really high level. Defensively, Allen has issues laterally and is not incredibly aware, which have been exposed in his match-ups with quicker guards. He still is someone who will provide effort and his intensity seems to be something appreciated by his teammates and coaches alike. While the tripping incidents and emotional outburts certainly create some concerns, there are still reasons for teams to consider drafting Allen. All in all, it just seems that if he wants to get back to being considered a possible 1st round draft choice, he will have to stick around one more year, hopefully with much less controversy surrounding issues of attitude and sportsmanship.
5. Nigel Williams-Goss 6-3 195 PG Gonzaga
Williams-Goss has always been one of the better cases of how one views skill versus athleticism when it comes to NBA prospects. He lacks the explosive ability and lateral quickness that seem crucial for a point guard’s NBA success, but he makes up for this with adept reads while making very few mistakes. Showing major signs of improvement as a shooter, Williams-Goss is now pretty difficult to argue against in having a possible role in the league. He had two solid seasons at University of Washington, though the move to Gonzaga has really brought out the most in him as a lead guard, as he has excelled in the pick-and-roll and become a dangerous shooter. He has also contributed in terms of leadership, team defense and shown an ability to play the passing lanes.
His three-point shooting certainly is still not coming at high volumes, but his 91% FT and fantastic 63.2% True Shooting percentage are both very positive indicators that he has a shot teams can work with. While it is hard to deny that some of these changes may be the fact that he has working with vastly increased space and better teammates, Williams-Goss really took initiative and was the driving force behind a likely #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even if his lack of burst limits him from being an ideal NBA starter, there are enough things to like about him that could carve out a NBA niche.
6. Jordan Bell 6-8 225 PF Oregon
Having knowledge of one’s strengths and role are crucial in a team concept, and Bell fits his to an absolute tee. Bell has fantastic timing as a shot blocker and an athletic burst that makes up for his lack of ideal size. He has gained considerable strength at his time at Oregon to not only guard bigger players, but while maintaining the athleticism to switch on to other players and have relative success as well. He is truly a defensive Swiss army knife and has improved as a rebounder this season as well, even if he can certainly improve in terms of awareness of boxing out.
Bell also has done a great job this year creating steals and other turnovers with his physicality and energy. He excels in the open floor as far as scoring, though has been much more comfortable with the ball close to the basket and making proper reads as a passer. He has also cut down his fouling while also upping his FT% to a respectable 70% after shooting around 50% the two seasons prior. The current NBA landscape seems to have a position for Bell, as he brings rim protection along with defensive versatility along with signs of improvement on the offensive end. He is someone who will push players in practice and his energy is contagious.
7. Melo Trimble 6-2 190 PG Maryland
It is safe to say that nobody on this list has had the ball in their hands more than Melo Trimble during their time in college, which is saying something in terms of raw experience. He has been key to a NCAA tournament team that never will have lost double-digit games in a season, all while being the driving offensive force since he stepped on campus. He has run a lot of pick-and-rolls with solid success showing the ability to shoot off of screens. He also is a creative finisher at the basket, can score pretty well in the open floor and has the ability to get into the paint off of the bounce. While his turnover numbers have always been high, he has also been a willing passer and displayed decent vision to get his teammates involved.
With all of the positives, there are some absolute concerns on his role moving to the next level. While he has shot an impressive 84.5% FT in his three seasons at Maryland, his outside shooting has been wildly inconsistent. His all-around shooting does not make up for it, with a questionable shot selection that overall has him shooting at a below ideal clip. While he measures out over 6’2”, he has short arms and is not an incredibly adept defender. He has an ability to get to and finish at the basket, plus he does get to the foul line at a solid rate. Translating this moving forward will be tough due to his lack of lift and size. Melo can score, but there are a lot of question marks surrounding the other things he provides as a next level point guard that will have to be addressed.
8. Dillon Brooks 6-6 225 SF Oregon
Sidelined with a broken foot to start the year, it definitely took Brooks a while to get back into the flow. However, once Pac-12 season started, we saw the Dillon Brooks everyone was expecting as a pre-season All-American. He has been a crucial element to the Oregon offense, as both a creator and a facilitator. Even with his FT% down to 71.3% after being over 80% the previous two years, he has been a much more consistent outside shooter, while also excelling in isolation. Part of his dominance at this level comes from him playing a lot of time at the 4, though he is able to use his size against smaller wings as well. His ability to shoot off the dribble and score from all three levels has been really impressive, as he has scored at a really high volume while only playing 23.7 mpg.
Even though his stats have dropped, he has really been at or well beyond his previous years efficiency across the board. He lacks ideal length as a SF, plus is not elite laterally and can struggle with defensive awareness. That being said, he has really improved his effort on that end and has very respectable steal and block percentages. Even if he does not look like an elite athlete, he is strong and has had some spectacular finishes at the rim. Brooks is a hard worker, though he has had some questionable plays that have come with his intensity on the floor. The NBA seemed to say no to him last year during his attempt as an early entry, though he has addressed a number of those concerns with his play this season.
9. Semi Ojeleye 6-7 235 SF/PF SMU
Suffering from injuries and being low on the depth chart at Duke, Ojeleye relocated to Southern Methodist for a renaissance of a junior season. Displaying a number of ways to score, he shot 43% 3PT on slightly over 2 3PM per game. Possessing grown man strength, he was great on dives to the hoop, taking advantage of smaller defenders in the post and ability to finish through contact. He is a solid jumper off of two feet and finished some plays above the rim and was able to abuse college 4’s with his ability to space the floor and cut to the basket.
Moving forward, it does seem that finding his position at the NBA could be a challenge. He struggles on close outs and is not incredibly quick side to side, while he lacks ideal length and rebounding ability for a transition to next level 4 to come easily. While he was able to excel in the isolation this season at SMU, he does lack ideal ball skills and was not one to look to create much for his teammates. His ability to stretch the floor was definitely eye opening and the versatility he showed on the offensive end has him on the radar. It will just be about where he plays and who he defends, but he may get a chance to answer that on an opening day roster pretty soon.
10. Devonte Graham 6-2 195 PG Kansas
A smaller guard who has spent a vast majority of his time at Kansas playing next to another smaller guard, Graham and Frank Mason have still been the NCAA elite guard duo the last two seasons. At close to 6’2”, with a 6’5.5” wingspan, Graham’s size is not necessarily a complete hindrance, even if he has spent a lot of time playing off of the ball. What makes this part of the case is his shooting, which has been dangerous since he hit a college court. He is a 41.3% 3PT shooter during his college career and even while his percentage is down to 38.7% as a junior he is still making a high volume 2.5 triples per game.
When he does have the ball in his hands, he makes some very solid reads and has a very strong 2.39:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is also a definite threat in the open floor, with some under-the-radar athleticism, even if he is not necessarily explosive by lead guard standards. His defense has also been key for Kansas, as he has solid awareness and effort on that end of the floor. He has not necessarily excelled in the pick-and-roll, which might be something to look into when moving forward. Even still, his shooting, vision and his care with the ball in his hands are all sought after qualities at the next level.