There is nothing better than the unfounded, delusional power of hope. The fate of your favorite sports team can be turned by the correct selection of one, singular, talent. God bless professional sports drafts!
The crown jewel of them all has become the NBA Draft, where college freshmen are the hottest commodity in a sport where how you project is more important than how you have played. The youth movement has been established in professional basketball for a while. In golf? We are just getting started.
To celebrate that youth movement, for the third year, I offer up my own NBA Lottery comparison to professional golf. The rules:
- You must be a golfer under the age of 30
- Tour status is not a factor. We want potential here!
- This is not meant to be a 1-14 ranking of young golfers right now, but a comparison to those young guns in basketball
No. 1 Markelle Fultz is Justin Thomas – With other names more accomplished or hyped, the potential and skill set put both at the top of the list. Like Fultz, unknown in a lost season at Washington with no NCAA tournament berth, Thomas’ professional wins have all come outside of the continental United States. Certainly Thomas is more accomplished, but there is unfinished business here, with the reward of the top pick being worth the risk.
No. 2 Lonzo Ball is Rickie Fowler – This was the hardest comparison to make because no golfer’s family deserves to be linked to LaVar. However, the way Lonzo has carried himself within the circus his father has created is admirable. In many ways, it mirrors how Rickie carries himself in his bright orange marketing storm. Each exists in an almost impossible world of lofty expectations. Greatness is possible, but feels necessary given the hype and branding.
No. 3 Jason Tatum is Rory McIlroy – The eye test doesn’t lead you wrong with either of these guys. They can carry you to titles and look dominant in doing it. How on Earth aren’t they the top overall pick? The answer is ‘ceiling.’ Tatum doesn’t flash the explosiveness of the guys drafted in front of him. McIlroy’s building roster of injuries and recent Majors “drought” have his tremendous upside potential stunted a bit.
No. 4 Josh Jackson is Hideki Matsuyama – Why aren’t either the top pick? It’s a good question. Some scouts say Jackson might end up as the best NBA player of this draft class. Matsuyama supporters say he will win multiple majors soon. But, for the same reason teams saw more potential in other players, Matsuyama’s shakiness on the greens provides some pause. Both have the potential to silence the doubters eventually.
No. 5 De’Aaron Fox is Jordan Spieth – Both stepped into big roles at a young age and thrived. Fox in the cauldron of Kentucky hoops and Spieth backing up his amateur hype as a professional winner. Yet, somehow, each is viewed as a lesser long-term prospect than some peers. Fox doesn’t have the court vision of Ball, or the explosiveness of Fultz. Spieth lacks the big time power of others in his generation. Watch both play, however, and you’re convinced they should be No. 1.
No. 6 Jonathan Isaac is Thomas Pieters - Both of these guys fall a bit on the draft board, but offer the most intrigue. What Pieters flashed at the Ryder Cup and then on U.S. soil in 2017 seems to offer proof that the future is very bright. Like Isaac, he’s not on the tip of our tongues because of relative lack of exposure. Florida State isn’t a household name in college hoops. Pieters has teed it up just three times since the beginning of April. Could be a steal here.
No. 7 Lauri Markkanen is Si Woo Kim – Hop on the potential train and ride it to the next stop. Markkanen goes this high because he offers the skill set that the NBA covets right now: He is a 4 that can stretch and shoot, perfect in the pick-and-pop of NBA offenses. But can he guard and keep up with the super athletes in the league? For Kim, he’s proven he belongs, but his MIA stretch of golf between wins is a huge head scratcher of inconsistency. You believe both will give you the goods, or do you?
No. 8 Frank Ntilikina is Tyrell Hatton – 2017’s European import is a head above everybody else in his age bracket overseas, or is it just the hype of the unknown? Hatton rolled off four top 10 finishes to begin the year, and was a quick learner in PGA Tour events. Since then? No top 20’s and two MCs in majors. You can be forgotten quickly. Ntilikina is the 4th point guard taken in the draft. Forgotten?
No. 9 Dennis Smith Jr. is Patrick Reed – Smith overcame a lot (knee injury) to be a dynamic player in one year at N.C. State, where he was a fixture in highlight reels. There are flaws, though, which is why he was the 5th point guard taken. Reed has overcome plenty from his prep days to become a fixture of USA highlight reels, but there are flaws too. He won’t be the best of his class, but you love the fight and desire.
No. 10 Zach Collins is Daniel Berger – Is he really this good? That’s the question of both. Collins was an under-recruited player out of high school, didn’t start at Gonzaga, and wasn’t even the most talked about big man on his team. Berger was under-valued in his loaded high school class and certainly gets less chatter. Successfully defending in Memphis was huge. Both guys are gamers and fighters. They will just keeping hanging around.
No. 11 Malik Monk is Jon Rahm – A year ago, before either was really a professional, they each headlined the crop of young players as the best; The Next. Nothing they have done in the past year has erased doubts. Monk was lethal at Kentucky. Rahm won quickly and raced up the rankings. But, where does Monk play on the court in the NBA? How does Rahm conquer his emotions? Both are fighting questions at this juncture. Are they unfounded?[Note: I thought Monk would go way higher, and so would Rahm in any young golfer draft; probably in the 5-7 range]
No. 12 Luke Kennard is Brooks Koepka – Surging up draft boards because of recent workouts and performances, both of these guys are white hot right now. Kennard flashed athleticism and consistency that scouts didn’t know he had at Duke. Koepka flashed putting, calm and superhuman length at the U.S. Open that many only dreamt he may one day have. You will hear both of their names for years, but maybe not in the headlines each week.
No. 13 Donovan Mitchell is Tommy Fleetwood – Two guys with hype at a young age that have shown a different dimension to get to the top. Mitchell made himself an elite defender in college to compliment his offensive skills. Fleetwood went back to his old coach to reclaim his prodigy form and rise inside the top 30 in the world. Sometimes, the grind is totally worth it.
No. 14 Bam Adebayo is Cameron Champ – BAM! Adebayo broke rims and souls with a physical presence that was unmatched in college. No player, amateur or professional, could match the speed of Champ’s driver. These two were made for each other.
Okay, I’ll admit, I was not expecting Adebayo to sneak into the lottery, and I needed somebody to throw at him, so I went with the 15 minutes of fame for Champ. I was really hoping one of the following would sneak into those picks…
No. 20 Harry Giles is Bryson DeChambeau – We loved both before they ever became pros. Giles was a man child and versatile big who projected as the best of his class, and is now hurt and average. The quirks and uniqueness of DeChambeau just haven’t translated the way many hoped. There is still hope, but not worth mortgaging the future for.
No. 23 OG Anunoby is Jason Day – A year ago, both projected as, perhaps, the top guy in the draft. Then, their bodies started to betray them. OG blew out his knee his sophomore year and the rehab may keep him out an entire NBA season. Day’s body saw him shut it down to end last year and he’s been wildly inconsistent since. The talent and skill is there to be the best, but will the health cooperate.