2017 NBA Draft: 11 first-round options for the Miami Heat

TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins goes up with the ball against Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats in the first half during the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 24, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

With the Miami Heat in position to select near the middle of the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft, it’s time to take a look toward the future.

The 2017 draft class is considered one of the deeper groups in recent NBA history, featuring a batch of talented, young prospects who will look to parlay short stints in college into long NBA careers. Here’s a look at some of the top players projected to be available when the Heat pick:

Frank Ntilikina, France

The 2017 draft’s mystery man, France’s Frank Ntilikina is an intriguing guard likely to be selected near the top of the class. The 18-year-old exploded onto the scene during the 2016 FIBA U18 European Championships, averaging 15.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists.  The 6’5” point guard shot 50 percent for the tournament, knocking down 58.6 percent from 3-point range. Though it remains to be seen how he will transition to the NBA, if Ntilikina can post stat lines similar to the 23-point, nine-assist, four-rebound performance against Italy in 2016, he will be highly coveted. His relative anonymity compared to college prospects could land him in the Heat’s range, granted Miami has a fortuitous draft lottery.

Malik Monk, Kentucky

A pure scorer, Monk is a high-volume shooter who can fill it up as well as anyone in the country. Buoyed by an insane 47-point performance in 38 minutes against eventual national champion North Carolina, Monk averaged 19.8 points per game for the Kentucky Wildcats. The 6’3” guard had four 30-point games as a freshman and eclipsed the 20-point mark in 10 of the first 18 games he played last season. On the other hand, Monk grabbed more than six rebounds only once and his assist total topped out at seven in a game. He will be considered a high-upside player for a team looking for immediate scoring help.

Harry Giles, Duke

After missing the first 11 games of his freshman season due to injury, Giles put up modest numbers in limited minutes after debuting in December. In what was his best performance for the Blue Devils, Giles posted a double-double, grabbing 12 boards and scoring 10 points in 17 minutes against Georgia Tech. Though the 6’10” forward has shown the ability to rebound, without an expanded role and opportunity to showcase his skills, Giles will likely fall down draft boards.

TJ Leaf, UCLA

An intriguing, under-the-radar prospect, former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American TJ Leaf put together an impressive freshman season for the Bruins. Not only did the 6’10” forward average 16.3 points to go along with 8.2 rebounds, but he also shot 61.7 percent from the field. In today’s NBA, the ability to space the floor as a big man is essential, and Leaf has the tools to fit into an evolving game. Though he only attempted 58 threes last season, he connected on 27. Leaf scored in double figures in all but three games and showed promise as a rim protector with 39 blocked shots. His size and skill should place him among the more coveted big men in the draft.

Ivan Rabb, California

The 6’11” sophomore forward from Cal may be considered the old man among a young group of prospects, but at 19, Rabb has plenty of room to grow on the court. The Oakland native improved his scoring, rebounding and passing since his freshman season and averaged a double-double with 14 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Rabb’s 17-point, 20-rebound outing against Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and UCLA on Jan. 5 is an example of why he may go in the top half of the first round.

Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Kentucky

Yet another Kentucky freshman, Adebayo was one of the Wildcats’ driving forces down low, averaging 13 points and eight rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game. After starting the season with three double-doubles in his first eight games, the 6’10” forward tapered off, failing to reach double-digit rebound totals for over two months. Following that dry spell, though, Adebayo grabbed double-digit boards in six of his last 13 games, including a 15-point, 18-rebound night against Northern Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. He may need more seasoning before making the jump to the league, but that won’t stop an NBA franchise from taking a chance on the talented youngster.

Dwayne Bacon, Florida State

The 21-year-old sophomore guard showcased his ability to score in his two seasons at FSU, averaging 15.8 then 17.2 points a game. In addition to raising his scoring average, Bacon also increased his field-goal and 3-point percentages to 45.2 and 33.3 percent, respectively. He scored in double figures in every game but one and recorded two steals in a game 11 times this season. Bacon helped lead the Seminoles to a 26-9 record and could be a viable draft option later in the lottery.

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

The only seven-footer on this list, Markkanen’s size and scoring ability makes him an intriguing option. The Finnish forward averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds this season as a key component in Arizona’s 32-5 squad. Markkanen displayed his ability to stretch the floor, making 69-of-163 threes and shooting 49.2 percent overall from the field. He also shot 83.5 percent from the free-throw line. While his game lacks the expected benefits of his size, Markkanen has a unique skill set that, much like TJ Leaf’s, should translate well to an evolving NBA. With only 19 blocks this season and a relatively low rebounding total, Markkanen still has room to grow.

John Collins, Wake Forest

The Cardinal Newman alum skyrocketed up NBA draft boards after making a huge leap in his sophomore season at Wake Forest, exploding for 19.2 points (on 62.2 percent shooting) and 9.8 rebounds in 26.6 minutes per game. The 6’10”, 235-pound forward plays exclusively inside the arc, and his 52 blocks and 21 steals last year also signify a defensive intensity that could fit well with the Heat’s young core of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson.

OG Anunoby, Indiana

After two years and sizable improvement at Indiana, Anunoby has decided to make the jump to the NBA. The 6’8” forward is one of the more intriguing projected mid-to-late first-round picks, possessing an athletic ability and long wingspan that translates well toward him becoming a defensive stopper. His length, speed and relentless pursuit of the ball on defense seems like a natural fit with Erik Spoelstra’s system. Offensively, Anunoby’s game has room to grow. He shot 31.1 percent from three on 45 attempts and only 56.3 percent from the line in his sophomore season. He also comes with a history of injury problems, having missed the final two months of the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee.

Jonathan Isaac, Florida State

The second Florida State prospect who may be on the board for the Heat, Isaac was one and done after an impressive freshman campaign in Tallahassee. The IMG Academy alum made a name for himself on the defensive end, averaging 2.3 blocks and 1.8 steals per 40 minutes in his lone college season. At 6’10”, Isaac’s size, athleticism and ability to run the floor gives him the tools to play alongside the athletic big men at the pro level. He also demonstrated an ability to knock down shots beyond the arc, connecting on 34.8 percent of his 3-point attempts.

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