Before the 2017 draft class even stepped on the floor as professionals, they came across as an extraordinary group of players. Headlined by names like Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, it has actually been the guys selected after them that have shown the signs of being future superstars. Nonetheless, the class as a whole has confirmed the assumption surrounding them. When all is said and done, there will be All-Stars, champions and future Hall of Famers, but only one of them can hold the title of the best player in their draft class.
Who is it?
Of course, this list can change significantly over the years. There will be some late bloomers while others crash and burn. However, there is already a group of six players that have stood out above the rest, and the best part is they come from all over the first-round.
The Bulls were able to take Markanen with the seventh overall pick in the draft because of the deal that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. I’d say things worked out pretty well for the Bulls, considering Butler is now in Philadelphia, and Markenen appears to be one of those unicorns that can do it all while being 7-feet tall.
As a rookie, he averaged 15.2 points on 43.4% from the field and 36.2% from three while hauling in 7.5 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, Markanen suffered a high-grade elbow sprain, forcing to miss a chunk of the beginning of this season, or he might be even higher on this list. The promising news is that the injury has not affected his shooting touch. In 25 games this year, he is averaging more points and shooting the ball better from three-point range.
Kuzma is the wild-card of this group. He was drafted 27th overall but quickly became a rookie sensation during Summer League where he won the MVP. He followed that up with a spectacular campaign, becoming a starter midway through the season and averaging over 16 points per contest.
Year two in Los Angeles was going to be a lot different with Lebron James coming to town, but if Kuzma has done anything, he’s improved since the arrival of the King. He’s currently the second best scorer on the Lakers and could be a reliable sidekick to James for the foreseeable future. His offensive game is the most well-versed of all the candidates on this list, but he has plenty of room to improve in areas outside of scoring.
Yes, I was as impressed with Tatum’s rookie season as everyone else. His game is silky smooth with a jump shot he can pull from anywhere. He plays good defense, doesn’t turn the ball over, and most impressively, went toe-to-toe with Lebron James in a playoff series.
He should be higher on this list, right?
Wrong. This draft class is loaded with studs, and so far, Tatum is just another one of them. He’s averaging close to 17 points a night on an efficient rate from the field and three-point range. However, he lacks some of the stand out attributes that the three players in front of him have showcased thus far. Tatum isn’t going to fill it up for fifty or even thirty on any given night, he’s not a walking double-double, and he is not much of a playmaker.
The Rookie of the Year award had to go to Ben Simmons last year, but Mitchell was without a doubt the best player from the 2017 draft class. His playing style is eerily similar to Dwayne Wade’s, but he can be a much better shooter than Wade ever was. Watching him light up All-Stars like Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the playoffs tells you all you need to know about the ceiling this man has.
That ceiling might be the highest among all the players on this list. He has jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism, plays high-quality defense and can score in a number of different ways. This is the guy that can give his team fifty points when they need it. Although, he’s battled through some growing pains in his second season and needs to work on becoming a more efficient scorer.
Fox has been a player crush of mine since his days in Kentucky, and after a rollercoaster ride of a rookie campaign, he’s become a borderline top-10 point guard in year two. We all know about his speed and athleticism. Fox very well may be the fastest player in the NBA and can finish around the rim with authority.
What has been a pleasant surprise is the development of his three-point shot and his improved passing. In year two, he’s shooting a respectable 36.9% from behind the arc on nearly four times the number of attempts from his rookie year. He’s also bumped his assists numbers up to 7.3 per contest, almost three more per game than last year, while preventing turnovers. Fox will be an elite point guard in the Association and has the most potential of any of the players on this list.
Initially, I put Collins at number two on this list in an attempt to seem more objective. However, when taking a look at the numbers for all these players. It really is not even close. John Collins is the best player in this draft class as of now.
A walking double-double, Collins is averaging 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds while shooting 59.1% from the field! He’s also expanded his game to improve his three-point shot and is already knocking them down at a 37.4% clip, which is one percentage point away from being the best on this entire list.
The crazy part is this is that Collins is just beginning to find confidence in his game. He was not a starter for the Hawks last year and came into this season with an ankle injury that cost him significant time. That time missed may cost him a chance at appearing in the All-Star Game, but as of now, he is the only deserving All-Star player from the 2017 draft class.