Small ball success is driving NBA teams to find more shooting in the NBA draft and a prime area of focus is finding a power forward who can stretch the floor, in the current vernacular, a stretch-four. Ideally, teams would like a player that can guard a traditional big man in the post, cover the perimeter and then drag their opponent out to the three-point line at the other end of the court.
The top stretch-four prospects in the 2016 NBA draft are:
Brandon Ingram, Duke, 18 years old
Expected to be drafted second overall, the 6’9.5 freshman is projected as a small forward because the teenager is still under 200 lbs, but in today’s small ball NBA, it isn’t hard to envision him playing both forward positions, especially as he fills out that long lanky frame.
Ingram averaged 41 percent from three on over 5 three-point attempts per game with Duke. His athleticism means he should be so much more than just a shooter in the pros when he grows into his body and figures out the NBA game, but his shooting should let him stretch the floor from day one.
Marquese Chriss, Washington, 18 years old
A projected top 10 pick who is rocketing up draft boards everywhere, this freak athlete is blessed with the ability to shoot beyond the three-point line. In other words, he’s just the prospect your team needs.
Good hands, quick, plays above the rim on offense, defends the rim on defense and hit on 35 percent of his three-point attempts as a college freshman. The 6’10 233 lb Chriss is the current version of an ideal power forward prospect.
Henry Ellenson, Marquette, 19 years old
A true mismatch in terms of size, the 6’11.5 Henry Ellenson has a mature 240 lb body for his age and he was a big-time efficient scorer in college. Physical tools, skills and a ability to play thru contact, he showed enough on his 3.2 three-point attempts per game to believe he can develop into a stretch-four at the NBA level. His downside may come on the defensive end of the court where he might not be quick enough to keep up with other big men that can play on the perimeter.
Thought to be a lottery pick early in the draft process, he may fall to the middle of the first round unless he can impress a team like the Toronto Raptors who are specifically looking to add a stretch-four with the 9th pick.
“I’ve always grown up playing on the perimeter,” Ellenson said after his predraft workout in Toronto. “I played point guard all the way up to 8th grade. Being 6’11 and being able to shoot out on the perimeter, it helps me at this position. The way the game is going having a versatile four is huge.”
Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga, 20 years old
Sabonis pretty much didn’t even attempt a three-point shot when playing for Malaga in Spain or as a freshman with Gonzaga and the 6’10 230 lb power forward was a double-double machine for Lithuania at U20 Eurobasket last summer and for Gonzaga as a sophomore. The aggressive big man can play in the paint.
As with all college players falling outside of the draft lottery there are concerns about his ability to translate college and international success to the next level, but he showed nice strides as a perimeter shooter last year and that’s a skill every NBA coach is looking for in their next big man. Sabonis hit 5 of 14 three-point attempts as a sophomore, if he can wow NBA teams in the predraft workouts with his shooting stroke, he’ll move up the draft boards.
Juan Hernangomez, Estudiantis, Spain, 20 years old
Hernangomez played almost 24 minutes per game in the highly competitive Spanish league last season as a face-up power forward that knocked down 35.8 percent of his three-point attempts. Considered a versatile, skilled athlete and solid spot-up shooter, he could prove to be a real find at the back end of the first round in the draft.
Petr Cornelie, Le Mans, France, 20 years old
Cornelie played 49 games between the French League and EuroCup play and knocked down about 40 percent of his two three-point attempts per game last year. The 220 lb 7-footer has in the words of Draft Express, “a beautiful jump shot.”
Another very interesting international prospect.
The NBA has long been focused on size, strength and athleticism in the draft, but with the success of small ball, shooting is coming at a premium. If your bigs can’t stretch the floor, they are probably clogging up the driving lanes for your guards and wings and just aren’t as effective if they can’t be used both in the post and on the perimeter.