With four Duke players expected to be taken in Thursday's NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in New York after leaving school early, three of The Chronicle's men's basketball beat writers debate their NBA futures.
Jayson Tatum and Kansas’ Josh Jackson are athletic wings that are both likely to be on the board for the Boston Celtics at No. 3. Are there any major differences between those players that makes one a more appealing NBA prospect?
Sameer Pandhare: Although Tatum and Jackson are compared frequently, their success in the NBA really seems dependent on the pieces around them and the system they find themselves in. At this stage, Tatum has a much more developed offensive repertoire and is capable of scoring in isolation against NBA defenders. The former Blue Devil has a more advanced feel for the game, but lacks the high-flying athleticism that makes Jackson a highly-touted prospect in his own regard.
Jackson proved to be a much better defender than Tatum in college and most analysts believe that will continue at the next level. All in all, the Kansas freshman is a better fit for a team that is willing to live through the forward’s shooting pains and play for the future. Jackson and Tatum’s ability to hit perimeter jump shots may turn out to be the deciding factor in who has a better NBA future.
Mitchell Gladstone: The fact that there are two players likely to be available at the third slot who both have massive NBA potential is a huge luxury for Boston. For all the big names who have gone at No. 3 in years past (Kevin McHale, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden), there have also been a decent number of busts (Adam Morrison and Darius Miles, with Jahlil Okafor on his way to joining the group). Tatum and Jackson line up almost identically in terms of measurables and stats, so it’s not like either one jumps off the page as being markedly better than the other.
But like Sameer mentioned, Tatum is—in my eyes—the more NBA-ready prospect right now. All you have to do is go back and watch Duke’s four games in the ACC tournament in New York.
I understand why Jackson’s athleticism, defense and developing shot make him the guy with more upside. He probably makes sense for Boston, but I’d still lean toward Tatum. The St. Louis native’s defensive numbers are actually better than people realize, and concerns that I had about his shot back in January have faded away.
Hank Tucker: Jackson and Tatum had nearly identical numbers this season, but they got their 16 or 17 points per game in different ways. Tatum attempted a lot more 3-pointers and was also a much better free-throw shooter, finishing at 84.9 percent from the line with Jackson struggling to a 56.6 percent clip.
It is easier to learn how to shoot than how to jump, though, so if Jackson can polish up his perimeter shot, his athleticism will probably give him the long-term edge. Whether the Celtics want to deal with his immaturity—he was charged with a damaging a Kansas women’s basketball player’s car and allegedly threatened her last December—and give him time develop on a team that is already a contender is a different matter.
Excluding Tatum, which Duke player expected to be drafted is most likely to be an NBA All-Star?
SP: By default, my answer would be Kennard, but truly my answer would be none. To me, the shooting guard is more of a specialist that can provide a scoring lift off the bench or carry his team with a hot shooting stretch. But with longer and more athletic defenders at the next level, Kennard will struggle to create his own offense despite his exquisite footwork. Not to mention, I have a hard time believing Kennard will stay on the floor late in games due to his putrid defense and lack of measurables at the guard position.
Neither Frank Jackson nor Harry Giles seem to warrant much consideration as an All-Star. It’s actually pretty hard to be an All-Star these days. Just ask Damian Lillard.
MG: This might be a surprising choice, but I’m going to go with Frank Jackson here. Everything that Sameer mentioned with Kennard is accurate, and although the comparison might be overused, he projects to wind up very much like JJ Redick—a solid, role-playing shooter for a contending but not elite team. And Giles’ injuries are too much for me to overlook.
So this brings me to Jackson. Yes, I think he should have stayed in school for another season, but with the NBA getting younger and younger, I don’t necessarily think it was a bad choice. Interestingly enough, I compare him to a guy who stayed for a second season at UCLA before jumping to the pros, Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook (as a sophomore): 33.8 minutes, 12.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 46.5 percent from the field and 33.8 percent beyond the arc
Jackson (as a freshman): 24.9 minutes, 10.9 points, 1.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 47.3 percent from the field and 39.2 percent beyond the arc
I know I’m not the best with comparisons and it’s probably crazy for me to think that a 19-year-old kid who has yet to develop fully can wind up like a player who will probably be named NBA MVP in a couple of days. But Jackson’s knack for getting to the hole and an explosive first step along with an above-average jump shot make him Westbrook Lite. It all depends where Jackson lands, but if it’s a spot where he can learn for a couple of years first, his ceiling is incredibly high.
HT: Giles is the most likely to be out of the league in five years if he suffers another devastating knee injury, but he is also the most likely to turn into an All-Star. As Sameer points out, it is hard to be an All-Star in today’s NBA, especially for guards. But in Giles’ best-case scenario, I could easily see him shining in the league’s big-man desert and taking someone like Paul Millsap’s All-Star spot.
If Giles can rediscover the athleticism that made him the top recruit in the 2016 class and drew comparisons to five-time All-Star Chris Webber or 15-time All-Star Kevin Garnett, he could be a versatile star at the power forward position. He’ll have to stay healthy, which has proven to be the main obstacle in his career thus far, but his ceiling is much higher than that of Kennard or Jackson.
Ten years from now, will we think of Harry Giles as a steal or a bust in this draft?
SP: I was high on Giles all season, but it’s looking more and more likely that the forward will settle into a role position on his future NBA team. Giles has a ways to go on both sides of the floor before returning to his high-school level of dominance and it remains to be seen whether the former Blue Devil can stay on the court for an extended period of time.
I don’t think Giles can be viewed as a bust because I don’t think he’ll go high enough on Thursday to warrant that consideration. Selecting Giles in the mid-teens or early 20s of the first round is appropriate for a team looking to hit on a high-risk pick. Almost every year, a pick in this range falls flat in the NBA, but it’s been well established that picking outside the lottery in the NBA Draft can be a crapshoot. Personally, I would simply like Giles to have an NBA career free of injury problems.
MG: I’m very much with Sameer on this one. I have Giles projected at No. 20 to the Blazers, and once you get out of the lottery, it’s incredibly hit or miss. I trust Giles’ talent significantly more than that of the other big men who will likely still be available in that range (Bam Adebayo, Ike Anigbogu or D.J. Wilson), but recurring knee injuries and big men don’t go well together—see Oden, Greg.
So can he be a steal? Absolutely. Will he be? I’m going to lean no. Giles could very well have a couple of above average seasons but I don’t think he ultimately lasts long enough to be a true “steal” in my mind. If, however, he winds up on a team like Portland, Indiana or Toronto where he can work his way in as the backup to a proven big man, there’s a chance to prolong his pro career.
HT: Giles is a classic high-risk, high-reward case in the draft, and I’m taking the optimistic point of view and thinking Giles will have a very good NBA career for whichever team stumbles into him. There isn’t much precedent for a player tearing two ACLs before age 20 and turning into a serviceable NBA player, but there also isn’t precedent for somebody in that situation to play well enough while he was healthy in high school to become one of the most hyped recruits of the decade.
Reports coming out of pre-Draft workouts suggest that Giles is looking a lot more explosive than he ever did at Duke. Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said repeatedly last season that Giles would not get to where he was before his second ACL tear while he was at Duke, but that he would get close to that point eventually. Two years ago, many thought Giles would be the No. 1 pick when he was eligible for the draft, and that potential is still there waiting to be fulfilled, even if it comes with a lot more question marks than an NBA team would like.
Frank Jackson is projected to slip to the second round in most mock drafts. What is his ceiling in the NBA?
SP: I’ll continue to say that Jackson should’ve stayed in school and I truly believe that the former Blue Devil would have improved greatly with more control of the offense. Jackson’s success in the NBA will be dependent on where he lands, but I’m having a hard time seeing him as anything other than a backup point guard. Jackson can hit perimeter jumpers and is tenacious enough on defense to warrant a look by many NBA teams.
But the guard’s explosive first step won’t look as explosive against NBA defenders and Jackson has strides to make in his decision-making and basketball IQ before he can start at the most important position in the game.
MG: I’ll keep this short because my thoughts on Jackson have already been mostly made. The Alpine, Utah, native’s ceiling is incredibly high if he continues on the development track that he would have been on as a sophomore at Duke. In his last nine games for the Blue Devils, he averaged nearly 15 points a night—scoring double-figure points in all but two contests—and shot 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.
He is on the smaller side, though, and needs to work his ball-handling if he wants to stick in the league as a true point guard rather than the off-ball role he did a lot of at Duke. Remember, Russell Westbrook was the fourth overall pick in 2008, and I don’t think that even a strong second collegiate season could have vaulted Jackson that high.
HT: I’ll go a step further than Sameer but a step short of Mitchell and say Jackson has the potential to be an average starting point guard in the NBA. His ability to finish at the rim won’t disappear completely, though there will be a learning curve before he starts blowing by defenders like he could at the college level, and he can shoot well enough to space the floor like an NBA guard needs to. I also think he’ll play enough defense to stay on the court.
Of course, it’s also possible Jackson could turn into the next Nolan Smith, whose playmaking abilities never translated to the NBA before a torn ACL doomed his short playing career. But since we’re speculating, I definitely think there’s a chance Jackson could make a solid 15-year career for himself.