Increasingly more experts consider the class of 2016 to be a strong contender for best basketball class of modern times. Take it from Jerry Meyer, the Director of Basketball Scouting for 247Sports: “This is an unbelievable class. In the time that I’ve been doing this, which is since 2004, I would have to say this is the best class I’ve scouted. Now, we’ll see how it all pans out. The 2004 and 2007 classes* have always stood out to me as strong classes, but I think I would take this one over them.”
In the frontcourt are studs like Harry Giles, Thon Maker and Josh Jackson, but it is through the backcourt that this class could truly separate itself from the pack. The class features every conceivable kind of guard, from pass-first (e.g. Lonzo Ball) to score-first (Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons [with a first name like that, what do you expect?]) to those who have been doing both with equal aplomb (Dennis Smith and De’Aaron Fox). No matter the skill set, though, the top c/o ’16 guards are almost all blessed with the kind of good size and athleticism which translates well to the next levels.
Unsurprisingly, Kentucky is after many of these guys. More surprisingly, Arkansas fans should care.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has extended 23 scholarship offers to ’16 players, which is three more than what UK offers on average, per 247Sports. In its crosshairs are Kobi Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith, De’Aron Fultz and, of course, Malik Monk – the Arkansas native and hands-down most important Razorback basketball recruit of the 21st century.
I recently wrote a 6,000 word SB Nation Longform piece about Malik’s recruitment. In it, I discuss why he and his brother are at the cutting edge of the way today’s rising stars increasingly brand themselves as a way control their own assets and platforms. As Jerry Meyer sees it, this kind of business savvy, combined with a refined basketball IQ on the whole, is a major reason this class appears so special. “These guys are very aware – or more aware than players in the past – of what it takes to be an NBA player… there is more of a professional approach to the game with these guys.”
I also write about why and how Malik Monk is considered the most exciting and athletic of the bunch. One high major assistant coach told me what separates him from the other athletic ’16 guards is that he has the physical build of a sprinter or long jumper. That is, if Malik Monk wanted to, he could train to be an Olympic track star. “He’s very gifted. He’s retardedly athletic. ” class of 2016 super recruit player Harry Giles told me. “When you’re that gifted and you can score, it’s not hard” to be great.
Most recruiting outlets rank Monk as the fourth or fifth-best player in the class of 2016. Wherever he goes after his planned announcement in spring 2016, he will of course expect to play. A lot. As he should. But the other guards in his class are also very competitive.
This sets up an interesting scenario.
If some of the other ’16 super-guards announce they are going to Kentucky this fall/winter or sign during the early signing period, it could set up a very crowded projected backcourt at the UK for 2016-17, one with a minimum of three or four four-star or five-star guards returning for 2016-17 or signed. Could that be a factor in Monk saying “no” to Kentucky (something Razorback fans obviously want)?
I threw questions along these lines out to Ben Roberts of The Lexington-Herald-Leader, who has about as good as insight into UK recruiting dynamics than any recruiting reporter. The first question was who and how many of the UK guards he thought would commit first:
@evindemirel Fultz and Simmons seem the most likely to commit first, though UK has room for more than just one out of that group.
— Ben Roberts (@NextCats) July 28, 2015
Aside from the class of 2016 recruits, we also discussed the likelihood of currently enrolled UK top guards like Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray returning for 2016-17.
@evindemirel Think Murray is 1&done, and think Briscoe will be, too, if he’s projected as 1st round. If had to guess, would say Ulis returns — Ben Roberts (@NextCats) July 28, 2015
And there is one more player listed as four-star guard who would be a sophomore in 2016-17:
@evindemirel He’ll definitely be on the court, but I can see him playing some minutes at the 3, depending on what the roster looks like.
— Ben Roberts (@NextCats) July 28, 2015
Additionally, Kentucky has yet another four-star guard in shooter Mychal Mulder – a junior college All-American – who would be a senior in 2016-17. A projected backcourt of Ulis, Simmons, Fultz, Mulder and sometimes Matthews would be pretty loaded, and would likely become downright top-heavy were one of the c/o 2015 guards not go pro.
Sure, as Roberts points out, Calipari would make space for Monk if he waited till April to announce he was joining the Big Blue party. And many believe Monk would get more playing time than most if not all these players. But the question is how much playing time he could possibly get on a backcourt which would be more talented and deep than most NBA teams’.
Monk’s head coach at Bentonville High School, Jason McMahan, told me that many of the players in the class of 2016 were not fond of the idea of playing in the “platoon system” Calipari unleashed at the start of the 2014-15. A unprecedentedly loaded UK backcourt in 2016-17 would necessitate a platoon system to the extreme, because there is practically 0% chance any of these first-round NBA Draft aspirants are going to be cool with playing less than 12 minutes a game.
We’ll have to wait until spring 2016 to see exactly how loaded Kentucky’s 2016-17 backcourt will be, and how big of a factor that could play in Monk’s final decision.
* “The 2004 class had players like Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Josh Smith and J.R. Smith.
The 2007 group featured Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan. ” [Source: 247Sports.com]