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Breaking down the top small forward in the 2017 NBA draft

RALEIGH, N.C. — The top forwards in Thursday’s NBA draft needed only a season in college to secure their position in the lottery.

Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Duke’s Jayson Tatum are one-and-done small forwards with size and athleticism, and they’re almost certain to go in the top five overall picks. The Boston Celtics have the third overall pick after their deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, and Jackson or Tatum could find themselves headed to Boston.

Two other college freshmen — Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac and Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen — round out the headliners in this class of small forwards, who all have the skill and size to play inside or out in small-ball lineup.

Here’s a look at the top prospects:


JOSH JACKSON

Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas ...

Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts against the Michigan State Spartans during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at BOK Center on March 19, 2017 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Kansas star lived up to the hype surround him in his one college season.

STRENGTHS: The 6-foot-8 checks every box when it comes to two-way potential at the 3-spot. He averaged 16.3 points while shooting 51 percent overall and 38 percent on 3-pointers. He attacked the glass (7.4 rebounds), set up teammates (3.0 assists) and proved to be a versatile defender (1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks).

CONCERNS: The glaring problem came at the line, where he made just 57 percent of his free throws — leaving a lot of points on the board considering he got to the line about five times a game. He’ll need to build up his overall offensive game and his frame (207 pounds) for the next level.


JAYSON TATUM

Duke’s latest one-and-done wing has a polished all-around game with room to grow.

STRENGTHS: The 6-8 small forward averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds with the ability to score from outside or use his 6-11 wingspan to attack the rim. He put the total package on display in his most impressive stretch during Duke’s four-games-in-four-days run to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title, averaging 24.5 points while shooting 57 percent. His Hall of Fame coach, Mike Krzyzewski, says Tatum’s game “translates to the NBA maybe as well or better than anybody in the draft.”

CONCERNS: He needs to continue to stretch his shooting range after making just 34 percent of his 3s in college.


JONATHAN ISAAC

Florida State's Jonathan Isaac (1) ...

Robert Franklin, Associated Press file

In this Feb. 11, 2017, file photo, Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac (1) drives during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame, in South Bend, Ind.

The Florida State freshman offers stretch-4 perimeter skills in an athletic 6-10 frame.

STRENGTHS: Isaac — who started his high school career as a guard before a big growth spurt — has fluid perimeter moves and length to help in the paint. He averaged 12 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on a deep Seminoles team, shooting nearly 51 percent overall and 78 percent from the line.

CONCERNS: The 19-year-old weighs just 210 pounds, so he needs to add strength to hold up inside. He also needs to further develop his outside shot after shooting about 35 percent on 3s at FSU.


LAURI MARKKANEN

Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen smiles ...

Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press file

In this March 22, 2017, file photo, Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen smiles during practice in San Jose, Calif.

The Arizona freshman is a true inside-out threat in a 7-foot frame.

STRENGTHS: Markkanen has shown he is a strong shooter, making 49 percent overall, 42 percent from 3-point range and nearly 84 percent at the line. That made him a versatile threat averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds for one of the nation’s top college teams.

CONCERNS: While offense isn’t a problem, Markkanen could get a little stronger (230 pounds) and improve his defense after blocking just 19 shots in 37 games despite his size.


JUSTIN JACKSON

North Carolina's Justin Jackson (44) dunks ...

Gerry Broome, The Associated Press

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson (44) dunks against Duke during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, March 5, 2016.

The junior small forward had a big leap to become an Associated Press all-American and helped North Carolina win a national championship.

STRENGTHS: The 6-8 Jackson shot roughly 30 percent on 3-pointers through his first two seasons, but set UNC’s single-season record for made 3s last year to go with a solid midrange game. He has good size and length (6-11 wingspan) and developed into a solid defender at the college level, likely slotting him as a mid first-rounder.

CONCERNS: Jackson isn’t an explosive athlete and still needs to improve his outside shooting for the longer-range NBA 3. He also will need to get stronger.


OG ANUNOBY

Indiana forward OG Anunoby, left, fights ...

Charlie Neibergall, The Associated Press

Indiana forward OG Anunoby, left, fights for a loose ball with Iowa guard Christian Williams during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa.

The Indiana small forward had a strong sophomore season before suffering an injury and offers plenty of defensive potential as a first-rounder.

STRENGTHS: Anunoby has an NBA build (6-8, 235 pounds, 7-6 wingspan) and athleticism . He thrived as the heart of the Hoosiers’ defense by being active and getting into passing lanes, and also was active on the boards (5.4).

CONCERNS: His offensive game still needs work and he struggled at the line (56 percent) and behind the arc (31 percent). It’s unclear whether he’ll have lingering aftereffects following surgery for a season-ending knee injury.


OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

T.J. LEAF: The 6-10 UCLA freshman has perimeter skills (16.3 points, 47 percent from 3-point range) good enough to earn a first-round selection.

SEMI OJELEYE: The 6-7 junior thrived at SMU (19.0 points) after transferring from Duke and could go late in the first round.

TYLER LYDON: The 6-9 sophomore from Syracuse averaged 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. He could be a late first-rounder.

DILLON BROOKS: The 6-7 junior helped lead Oregon to its first Final Four since 1939. He is a second-round prospect.

Source: denverpost

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