A look at some underrated small forward prospects for the 2017 NBA Draft

I want to take a look at the 3’s in the NCAA in a process-y upside-y sort of way, as the small forward position has not had so much love outside of the 1st round prospects, as there only seems to be a few real candidates with elite skills (that could easily guard the 4) in Jackson, Tatum, Isaac and Anunoby with ‘potentially shaky-decent defender of 4’ in Bridges but I am inclined to leave him to the 2-3 swingman role rather than this classic 3 that guard up and play up a position rather than down.

The clear mold of this category is classic Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward et al, as all are 3s that guard and play up or have been firmly understood to occupy that role in the majority of their careers. As a nod to those guys and their professionalism, I have gone strongly defense first with these projects and the upside is also attributed to that side of the game in mind…

Small Forwards
If all his tools come together, Justin Jackson can be a solid NBA player.

Justin Jackson – Maryland – Putting him first on this list may surprise some folks as he is struggling to get consistent recognition across the many big boards out there but for me he has all the tools to be the top 2nd round option for defensive upside with a decent inside/out game already, all making him a great project candidate! He has been inconsistent but has not been expensive at25mpg and low usage on a team with a 12-1 record that does not suggest he has a massively detrimental +/- but I had trouble finding it as a stat for him individually. The defensive tools are there, a 7’3 wingspan, but not necessarily an active defender at this stage with some mobility issues but the reason for his number 1 spot on this list is his balance of strength and speed that will not stop his technical development on the defensive end and his maturity, as he IS a freshman, could lead to increase engagement but I will admit this is projective choice, but that is the point.

Devin Robinson – Florida – In the mold of my man Dorian Finney-Smith he has flashes of good to great 3-man ability and like DFS plays up to the level of competition but is a steady contributor and leader across the season for theGators. The reason DFS was taken by the Mavs (let me point out he probably wasn’t ready for the minutes and responsibility thrust upon him so soon after the jump to the NBA) is similar to the reason teams should take these players over specialists due to their combinations of maturity in their game and all around ability lending to that all-important diversity/versatility on the defensive end that wins those crucial minutes to develop confidence and rhythm on the offensive end. I d like to point out he is the leader on a team that is only playing 25minutes a game and averaging 13 and 6 with that smooth stroke contributing to a42% from 3 albeit on low attempts. He also gets to the line more this season which hints to his aggression and assertiveness but what I am encouraged with, are those flashes of lockdown D that I know NBA teams are taking note of and I am sure he will surprise a lot of people like his old captain and make a jump into a rotation pretty early next season after a minute in the gym.

Dedric Lawson – Memphis – Love Dedric slow-mo, Ol’ G leader of the Tigers. For me he is in that top 5 SF list of 2017 but I put him 3rd here just based on potential and likely hood to be chosen by NBA teams in this draft, so he’s in my top 5 SF but maybe a little slow and heavy to guard NBA 3’s, which could limit his versatility to NBA teams, but such a solid overall performer and he might be a safer choice later down the road. More of an inside presence than other guys on this list, 2.5 blocks a game but combined with his almost 4 assists is looking like a bit unicorn-like, who also has to be respected from 3 while dominating the boards with plus 11pg. Just crazy talented and a joy to watch.MAYBE pushing my own categorization here as I could easily put Dedric in the PFconversation over guys like Bryant, Williams, Leaf, Rabb and Tyler Davis but that is more of a complement to his diverse skill set and that obvious NBA range definitely means he won’t get in the way on the offensive end around the perimeter,it’s just whether he can ever guard the Hayward’ or whether you leave it to someone who has a body type more like his brother KJ who also deserves a big shout out for a breakout season and definitely one to keep an eye on either as a3-4 or 2-3 swingman of the future. They’re probably on the bubble in a few months but I can see them winning a game or 2 in the tourney with the Lawson brothers in full flow.

Nigel Hayes – Wisconsin – Also had a huge game-crush on Hayes for years. An easy choice for someone with a need for another SF as you know what you’re going to get. There is a sense that he has hit his ceiling but I think the leadership and ‘take over game’ maturity and mentality has come a long way and when he is on the court you can tangibly see their +/- increase like Joel Embiid for theSixers. The wingspan to disrupt everybody on the court from getting things done. The 3pt shot being back over the 35% again, thank god. His TO’s back to respectable levels again. Ability to be effective away from the play and in it.Just a great all around talent who would fit in well with any NBA dressing room as a conscientious, engaged guy on and off the court who can still improve with the challenge of guarding the stars of the league every other night to take his game to the next level, as well as ironing out any of those concentration issues, as the NCAA just looks too easy for him sometimes.

Obi Enechionyia – Temple – I’ve got to add him to the SF conversation. as he could probably and should probably play the 4 in the NBA, but again I think his skillset lends itself to a perimeter player with a red flag attached to his handles, which I do agree with the criticism of in the past, but like to point out that increased usage has only resulted in 1.5 TO’s a game. He is playing well below average recently on both ends of the floor so he has slipped down the list with only 3 blocked shots in his last 4 games, what’s wrong with Obi!?Maybe the confident start of the season and tourney upset tags going to his head got a firm dose of reality for the Temple captain after the Nova rivalry game where he struggled and didn’t get to the line once! He doesn’t get to the line a lot in general but when his shot was not falling you would hope he finds other ways to be aggressive and have an impact as he is such a smart player.Love his overall game though and hope, like Niang, he can get picked up by somebody in the 2nd round and his overall game can be as effective as I think it can be at the next level due to that savvy and feel for the game. He is my biggest question mark defensively as a pure 3 in this top 5 which is why he is so low but again a favorite in terms of style of play and diversity of contribution. I expect a strong end to the season from him.

Honorable Mention

Justin Jackson – North Carolina – I am a little reluctant to put him on this list, but it is more of an acknowledgement of his continued improvement (although I thought he could’ve been like this his freshman year as he has still not developed an inside game and could have done a lot of this as a freshman) but it is hard to add someone into a defense first potential list with someone who hasZERO blocks this season with close to a 7ft wingspan in college!?!? I don know but I like his added aggression in his game and that drive might translate to defense in the NBA if someone wants to take a risk on in the 2nd round. If he leaves his offensive game on the back burner and throws his defensive game to the flames to get a bit more confidence in that department, he might be able to guard a Paul George someday, but right now he would get backed down in a minute and get blown by on the perimeter with a lot to ask of his frontcourt for his lack of rim protection. Like VJ Beacham – ND –  I can see where he might be attractive to teams in need of wing scoring but I judge a rookie’s defensive contribution higher than their scoring ability at this position and point in their career based on what has demanded 20M a year deals from the all-stars I mentioned at the top.

Also worth talking about:

Bonzie Colson – Notre Dame – I mentioned Colson in my 2 guard swingman value pick sleepers I would prefer him guarding down from the 3 rather than up but can totally understand an entry into this category.

Deng Adel – Louisville – Deng blew up in a pressure cooker environment in theKentucky bluegrass rivalry recently that has done no harm to his stock, and although I had noticed his progression from last year, as it was hard not to on30mpg on an 11-1 team, his overall game has come along significantly and I am sure a few NBA scouts made a few extra upgrades to their notes in the columns on current and potential ability. Slightly undersized for this category in theNBA but despite his age as a 21-year-old sophomore he is new to basketball as he started late and is improving at an incredible rate, he could do anything!

I know a lot of these guys do show up on mocks so nothing too new or novel but I do think there is a safety in these picks that lessens the chance of your team wasting their 2nd round pick altogether.

In addition, and in closing, these guys do actually figure into a mock I am putting together in surprising positions based on the lack of versatility and defensive potential of a lot of projected first rounders that I just can’t agree with. I would like to put some attention into the bigs that also have been overlooked due to the lottery power and PG hype but appreciate any comments and additional guys, I have missed at SF because like I said I know these guys are quite well known in the top 60 guys and like to know more who fall into this mold that I have overlooked.


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