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November 13, 2015

The preseason top five NBA Draft prospects in college basketball

If recent history is any indication, this post is likely missing someone important. D’Angelo Russell wouldn’t have been here last November. Ditto for Joel Embiid and Victor Oladipo the two previous years. The draft riser is a very real phenomenon, but we of course don’t know who it will be in any given year. Wild card.

Truthfully, I don’t know much more than the bare bones about any of these players, either. But they are generally considered the top-five pro prospects in college hoops, which means we will start with them.

When thinking in terms of the Sixers’ draft this season, it’s important to stretch your focus at the top. We detailed the Lakers’ woes the other day, and they figure to remain a very bad basketball team. While the threat of Los Angeles holding onto their pick for another year remains a very real possibility, so does the Sixers landing a top-five selection. Can #FourOrBust become the new #OneSixEleven? Only time will tell.

Ben Simmons, SF/PF, LSU (6’10”, 239)

First game (all are tonight): vs. McNeese State (9:00 p.m., ESPNU)

Unlike fellow Aussie Dante Exum, we will have a chance to get a real feel for Simmons’ game before he enters the league. From what he’s being billed as, this sounds like it should be fun. Some scouts are torn between whether Simmons projects as a 3 or 4, but he truly plays the game like a point guard. A shaky perimeter jumper will need to be refined if he is to reach his potential.

I like that Simmons is playing at a non-power program (LSU), as well. Like Kevin Durant, this will be his team and his team alone starting tonight. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ nonconference schedule is pretty awful. At least until January, expect him to navigate up and down the court easily like he did in the exhibition game against Southwest Baptist.

Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky (7’0”, 216)

First game: vs. Albany (7:00 p.m., SEC Network)

There was speculation that the Haitian-born Labissiere (I’m just going to call him Skal until we get more of a handle on that last name) would be academically ineligible, but he will play for the Wildcats as John Calipari again reloads rather than rebuilds. Unlike Simmons, it looks like Labissiere is already able to knock down jumpers among other things on the offensive end of the floor.

For me, the major question is the most obvious one: How will he stack up with such a skinny frame?

Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke (6’9”, 219)

First game: vs. Siena (7:00 p.m., ESPNU)

Coach K has become just as adept as Cal at landing impact one-and-done freshmen. Ingram is just the latest, and I imagine we’ll see him in a role somewhat similar to the one that Jabari Parker thrived in a couple of years ago. Ingram is rail thin, but the combination of size and skill on the offensive end (including a pretty jump shot) is intriguing.

Jaylen Brown, SF, California (6’7”, 222)

First game: vs. Rice (11:30 p.m., PAC-12 Network)

Cuonzo Martin landed a great recruiting class at Cal, and Brown is the best of the bunch. A physical wing with an NBA body, Draft Express is already touting his “limited bustability.” Elite two-way wings get paid a lot of money just because there are so few of them, and we’ll see if Brown can improve his jumper to the point where he can become one. Highly touted forward Ivan Rabb is another freshman to watch on the Golden Bears.

Jamal Murray, PG, Kentucky (6’5”, 201)

Point guard is an area of need for the Sixers, and maybe Murray could be the answer. There is a lot to like. The Canadian has good size for the position, is a creative passer, and he shoots the ball all the way out to the three-point line. He’ll have to answer some athleticism concerns and deal with an awkward positional fit with Tyler Ulis (who was awesome as a freshman) returning for Calipari at the point.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann