2016 NBA draft class superlatives

2016 NBA draft class superlatives #NBASummer

By DeAntae Prince, SI

The NBA summer is all about anticipation for rookies, as players wait to hear their names called in June and then spend four long months on the shelf before making their official debuts.

Sure, there is Summer League and training camp in between to keep prospects busy, but nothing can match the excitement of the actual season. And while players must wade through the depths of summer, so too do rabid fans and media members. We all have to find ways to pass the time, and projecting the future of rookies is a fun way to do that. With that said, here are our 2016 NBA draft yearbook superlatives, where we examine the player most likely to succeed, the best shooter, the best hair and more.

Most likely to succeed: Brandon Ingram, Lakers

While the Kevin Durant comparisons are far fetched, there is no denying Ingram’s potential. His height, athleticism and skillset are reason enough to expect big things from the Lakers newcomer. There might be some growing pains because of his slender build and the current state of the rebuilding Lakers, but Ingram should blossom into a lethal scorer once he puts it all together.

Most likely to win Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons, 76ers

This could be the year when Sam Hinkie’s plan finally pays off—unfortunately, he won’t be around to reap the benefits. Winning the No. 1 pick and selecting Ben Simmons was the culmination of years of the most elaborate—and obvious—tank job in NBA history. Simmons’s jump shot is a real concern, but his ability to play point forward will be vital for a team in need of playmakers. And if his Summer League performance carries over, Simmons should provide plenty of highlights along the way.

Best shooter: Buddy Hield, Pelicans

This selection was never in question. Buddy Hield was clearly the best shooter in college last season, when he pushed Oklahoma to the Final Four with his ability to create space and make shots. Hield has been compared to Steph Curry on occasion because of his ability to drain three-pointers off the dribble, and now that he’s in the NBA, he’ll see more open looks than ever as opponents gameplan for new teammate Anthony Davis. Hield’s game should translate quickly, but don’t bank on him playing like Curry anytime soon.

Late bloomer: Thon Maker, Bucks

Thon Maker’s decision to enter the NBA draft was a shocker to most, but it was even more surprising when the Bucks grabbed the teenager at No. 10. Those feelings on Maker won’t change now that he’s in the NBA. The truth is, he will have a long road ahead as he learns to operate within a system and adjusts to playing above the prep level.

Best handle: Kris Dunn, Timberwolves

Dunn flashed his slick handle at Summer League in Las Vegas, but opted to show the completeness of his game rather than chasing highlights. Still, he had moments worth remembering, and this crossover will endure well beyond the off-season.

Best hair: DeAndre’ Bembry, Hawks

This win was years in the making, as former St. Joseph’s star DeAndre’ Bembry sported a solid afro his entire three-year college career. He’ll bring the same look to the NBA, where he will play in Atlanta and look good in a slasher role behind Kent Bazemore.

Most athletic: Demetrius Jackson, Celtics

Athleticism is usually a prerequisite to being a small guy in the NBA, but Demetrius Jackson is an athlete under any standard. His 43.5” inch vertical leap topped all players at the NBA combine, and his build is more like that of an NFL running back than an NBA point guard. And Jackson is not just a leaper, as he had the speed and agility numbers to match.

Most likely to lead: Denzel Valentine, Bulls

Denzel Valentine made early waves as he pushed the Bulls to the Summer League championship in July. But he’s the pick here because of what he did in college. Valentine was a do-everything player in the mold of Draymond Green, leading Michigan State in points, assists and steals. All that said, Valentine’s best attribute was his ability to lead for a Spartan team that wasn’t nearly as fluid without him.

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Entering the NBA as a top rookie prospect is a cyclonic process. Everything changes. The paycheck is good, but you’re put under an oft-unforgiving microscope. The expectations are greater. The margin for error is smaller. The questions you’re asked get tougher.

On Sunday, with most of this year’s rookie class gathered at the New York Knicks’ training facility for the Panini NBA Rookie Photo Shoot, Bleacher Report asked a few of the league’s best newbies some of these tough questions.

Wearing their new jerseys, Dragan Bender, Jaylen Brown, Marquese Chriss, Kris Dunn, Brandon Ingram and Thon Maker dished on the most important topics possible: greatest-of-all-time selections, NBA 2K wish lists and “Oh my god, I’m in the NBA” moments.

The following questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

 

Bleacher Report: You’re getting photographed in your NBA jersey. You’re getting your Panini rookie card. Is this a “Holy crap, I’ve actually made it to the NBA” moment for you?

Dragan Bender (Phoenix Suns, No. 4 overall): All these moments are. It’s really nice to be here with all these guys and to be able to share these moments with them.

Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics, No. 3 overall): I don’t think I’ve had one of those moments yet. I’ve been imagining, envisioning and working toward this for so long. I kind of feel like when it’s here, I deserve it. It’s been in my mind for so long. So I haven’t even really looked up yet—you know what I mean? I think around the first game of the season is when it will hit me.

Marquese Chriss (Phoenix Suns, No. 8 overall): Yeah, this is kind of crazy. It’s different being around everybody, seeing people you played against in college wearing NBA jerseys and realizing just how fast this all happened. Certain days I’ll wake up and be like, “Man, I’m not going to class. Just going to the gym is my classroom.”

Kris Dunn (Minnesota Timberwolves, No. 5 overall): Yeah, it’s exciting. Finally being here, this is the process of making the dream come true. And when I went back to Providence to celebrate with those guys, they made it feel so real.

Brandon Ingram (Los Angeles Lakers, No. 2 overall): Absolutely. I think just seeing my face on the card and having the Lakers jersey on allows me to reminisce about all my hard work and how I’m finally here. Playing in the summer league and with the USA Select Team had the same effect. Seeing all those guys [while with the Select Team] and playing against some of the greatest players of this basketball league was awesome.

Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks, No. 10 overall): Yeah! It’s starting to hit me right now. I’m getting a chance to really feel comfortable in the jersey. And after doing the signing yesterday, I’m starting to feel really comfortable overall. At the same time, the whole draft thing hasn’t hit me yet. Maybe when the season gets going it will officially hit me, or maybe even after the first year. It’s really tough to say.

 

B/R: Who is the greatest NBA player of all time in your eyes?

Bender: Michael Jordan. But growing up in Croatia, I was always watching Toni Kukoc and trying to model my game after him.

Brown: I say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He’s the all-time leading scorer, and he’s a big man. He couldn’t grab [the ball] off the glass, dribble it up the floor and then shoot a three. And yet, he’s the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. That’s pretty efficient. That’s pretty amazing.

Chriss: LeBron James is a really great player. I think it’s split between him and Michael Jordan.

Dunn: It would probably be Kobe Bryant. Growing up, some people said Michael Jordan, but I never really got to watch Michael Jordan, because that wasn’t my era. He probably was [the greatest of all time]. I’ve seen some highlights of him going crazy. But my era is Kobe Bryant, and you have to respect his greatness.

Ingram: Everybody will say Michael Jordan, and I think that’s my pick, too. He did things that no one else could do. He won six championships. He was an overall great player, so I think it’s Michael Jordan.

Maker: I’ve seen so many videos and clips of guys who have been the most dominant or labeled as the most dominant. It’s really hard to pick one because you can look at it in different ways, through championships or individual dominance. So it’s really tough, but I’ll always have Jordan up there because winning isn’t easy. But it’s crazy to pick just one.

 

B/R: You’re playing NBA 2K. You can be any team throughout NBA history, except your current one. Which squad are you picking?

Bender: Definitely the Chicago Bulls, when they had Kukoc and Jordan and all those other guys.

Brown: I’m a FIFA guy, so I don’t know. My favorite team in NBA history? That’s a good question. I can’t answer that.

Chriss: I don’t have a favorite team.

Dunn: [Aside from the Timberwolves], I don’t know. I really don’t know. The T-Wolves. We’re playing with Karl-Anthony Towns and getting that rock.

Ingram: It would either be the 2008 SuperSonics [Kevin Durant‘s rookie team] or the 2016 [73-win] Warriors.

Maker: Usually, I’ll determine my team based off who my opponent picks. Last year, I consistently played as the [2015-16] Wizards, because I was a Wizards fan from living in Virginia for a while. But most of the time it really depends on who my opponent picks.

 

B/R: If a sarcastic video, Vine, meme, Photoshop or anything like that of you goes viral next season, what will your response be?

Bender: I’ll definitely want to laugh at it. I always want to laugh at those things and try to make jokes with my friends about them.

Brown: I’ll laugh…more than likely.

Chriss: It depends how bad it is. I think a lot of the time I’ll laugh about it. I have a sense of humor; I like to laugh and have fun. Things that are personal, I won’t be laughing. If it’s something about playing, I’ll probably laugh about it. If somebody says something on Twitter that’s super out of line, I’ll favorite it—just to let them know I saw it. Things are said, but it doesn’t matter to me.

Dunn: I’ll laugh at it. It could have been a five-year-old who did it, you never know. That doesn’t bother me. At the end of the day, it’s just people having fun.

Maker: Laugh at it. Every single time. I’ve seen many of other players who are already in the NBA. LeBron James is an obvious one to use a lot, and then there’s Crying Jordan. So I’ll definitely get a chance to see those, but I’ll just laugh at them.

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