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Starting Five: A personal look at the 2017 NBA Draft class

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With the NBA Draft taking place on Thursday night, we’ll be doing a lot of looking at the top prospects, projecting their futures and discussing how their schools can replace them. In today’s Starting Five, National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi takes a personal look at this year’s draft class.

1. I REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME

Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball (AP Images)

It was almost five years ago that I first saw Lonzo Ball hit the floor. Playing for Team QJZ in a tournament in Anaheim, Calif., in July 2012, he was listed as Alonzo Ball and was a freshman-to-be at Chino Hills (Calif.) High. He was only about 6-foot-2 and playing primarily off the ball. He impressed me as a no-conscience, let-it-fly-from-anywhere jump shooter with a unique looking shot. It’s kind of funny looking back because at no point did he show off the passing skills he’s become so well known for and there were no hints at the media circus that would eventually grow around him.

The next time I got an extended look at Ball was during late December of his sophomore year at the Holiday Classic in Torrey Pines, Calif. Now 6-foot-5 and certainly a point guard, he gave a full preview of the player he now is as he helped Chino Hills to a win. He scored, rebounded, played sneaky defense and best of all he passed the ball with flair and made reads that players his age simply don’t make. I left that event pretty sure he was headed towards big things and I remember noting to myself that he had a rather boisterous cheering section and that while there was a coach on the bench, it seemed to be his father Lavar Ball who did the majority of the coaching, from the crowd.

He finished No. 4 overall in our 2016 rankings so to see all of this happening is no surprise.

2. GO AHEAD AND CALL ME SURPRISED

John Collins
John Collins (AP Images)

When I saw John Collins in high school, I thought to myself that he was a nice player. He was very crafty and skilled around the rim, he had a pretty good motor and when Wake Forest landed him, I thought they had pulled in a really nice four-year player who could develop into a primary scoring option by his senior year.

Needless to say I whiffed on that one. A growth spurt took Collins to 6-foot-10 (he was around 6-foot-8 the last time I evaluated him) and he proved to be much, much better than myself or anybody else could have expected. Had you told me when he graduated in 2015 that he would be an NBA player, I might have rolled my eyes a little but said you never know. Now, had you told me he would be a potential lottery pick after just two years, I would have had some serious questions. As it turns out, that’s exactly where Collins is and he deserves a ton of credit for working to develop and Danny Manning will certainly use what Collins did at Wake when he recruits big men down the road.

3. IT'S HARD NOT TO PULL FOR...

Harry Giles
Harry Giles (AP Images)

As an evaluator and member of the media, I always want to be sure I’m covering the news and keeping an appropriate distance. At the same time, we spend a lot of time around the prospects we cover and their families and it’s impossible not to make some personal connections. For that reason, the class of 2016 will always be one that I pull for a little extra when they play on the next level. I’ve been doing this since 2000 and I can’t remember a group of players and their families that I got to know as well as prospects and as people as I did the 2016 class.

For instance, I’ve been watching Harry Giles battle back from one injury after another with a smile on his face while trying to reach his dream. How can I not root for that kid to make it at this point? Terrance Ferguson and his entire family welcomed myself and Krysten Peek into their house for a day on a video shoot and their hospitality is something I won’t forget. Josh Jackson, Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum are just a few more of the 2016 players that I got to know a bit beyond the typical “Who are your top five, what’s your recruiting timeline?” type stuff and it will be fun to watch them live out their dreams on Thursday night.

4. THE GUY I MOST WANT TO SEE OUTPLAY PROJECTIONS

Ivan Rabb
Ivan Rabb (AP Images)

I look at this year’s draft and I keep locking in on Ivan Rabb as somebody I really want to see exceed expectations. A five-star prospect from the class of 2015, Rabb was one of the more thoughtful and respectful kids that I’ve ever covered and I always had an appreciation for the maturity he showed on and off the court.

There are lots of nice hard working kids, though, so what stands out about Rabb? Well, the current system is one that basically penalizes kids for coming back to school as they get picked apart. I want there to be more examples of kids who were self-aware enough to look in a mirror and say “I’m not ready and money isn’t all that matters to me.”

For the top draft picks, there are financial benefits, but I’ve always wondered about how much of an impact the sacrifice of a “normal” life between the ages of 16-21 has on these guys down the road. So, when I see guys like Rabb who embrace college and want to wait until they feel they are fully ready for the NBA - mentally and physically - I want to see it work out for them on the next level.

5. MY TOP FIVE

Markelle Fultz
Markelle Fultz (AP Images)

Aright, I know there is no way that they are going to go in this order. But here’s a brief look at my top five prospects for this year’s draft.

1. Josh Jackson, Kansas - I believe you win with elite wings in the NBA and he’s the best in this class. I think he could be a new-age Scottie Pippen.

2. Markelle Fultz, Washington - The likely No. 1 pick, he’s a lead guard who can play on or off the ball and has huge upside. Remember, this guy just turned 19.

3. Lonzo Ball - I think he’s going to be everything that Shaun Livingston - who has ended up a solid pro - was going to be if not for a devastating knee injury. Probably the best passer I have ever scouted as a high schooler.

4. Jayson Tatum - There’s probably not another player more ready for the off-the-court and business side of NBA basketball. He’s carried himself like a pro for years, works his tail off and is a skilled combo forward scorer.

5. De’Aaron Fox - Fastest player in the draft with the ball in his hands. His jumper needs improvement but his game changing speed and elastic body could make him a star.