The collective exhale that can be faintly heard around the country this week is the sound of college coaches and top high school players finally reaching the finish line of the July evaluation period. This past weekend marked the end of the busiest time on the recruiting calendar, when players are zigzagging across America for high-profile grassroots events and the coaches are right behind them.
Every July brings its own set of storylines and this one was no different. Ben Simmons made an emphatic case that he's the best player in the country with a powerful performance at Peach Jam. Isaiah Briscoe and Antonio Blakeney stockpiled buckets to prove they're among the top scoring guards in the senior class. The packaged deal between Malik Newman and Diamond Stone looks shakier than ever with Stone set to make his decision the first day of signing period while Newman still needs time.
The main storyline of the July evaluation period, however, is something few want to openly discuss but most agree is undeniable. The class of 2015 simply doesn't have as much high-level talent as the high school classes that have come through the ranks in recent years. Don't fear for the future of basketball, though, because the class of 2016 appears to be loaded.
While Simmons is a worthy No. 1 prospect, there isn't much elite depth behind him, at least in terms of players with NBA potential. Newman should tear up the college game, but at 6'3 with a 6'4 wingspan, he doesn't have ideal size or length for a pro shooting guard. Ivan Rabb has the physical tools, but is still learning how to put it all together. Make your way down any class ranking and you'll quickly see there are a number of good prospects bunched up in the middle but not much separation at the top next to Simmons.
In contrast, the class below the incoming seniors appears to be the opposite. A tier of talent is establishing itself at the top of the class of 2016, with at least four or five players looking like big-time NBA prospects down the road.
You can start with Harry Giles, a power forward from North Carolina. Giles was considered by some to be the best prospect in high school basketball by the end of his freshman season, but a devastating knee injury set him back for a year. Giles was competing for Team USA's U16 squad in the FIBA World Championships in Uruguay in June of 2013 when he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. It's the type of injury that would be disastrous for any player, let alone at 15-year-old. Giles made his return to high-level grassroots ball this July, though, and proved he's well on the way to recovery even if he's not 100 percent just yet.
Giles offers the complete package in a 6'10 big man. He's still working his way back to the being the explosive leaper he was before the injury, but he has the skill set to thrive while he's getting there. Giles is a great passer who sees the floor well enough to draw early comparisons to Chris Webber. He already has a nice jump shot and has a lot of potential defensively with a 7'3 wingspan.
Giles is good friends with another major talent in the class of the 2016, St. Louis guard/forward Jayson Tatum. Tatum had a great July, enough to make some think he could be the best high school prospect in the country right now. If there's a trait that ties Giles and Tatum together, it's their advanced feel for the game.
Tatum is a 6'7 wing who might be able to defend four positions when he finishes filling out. He's already playing a lot of point guard at the high school level, and that could end up being his best position long term. Tatum is a gifted and willing passer and a smooth ball handler. His versatility gives him sky-high upside.
For as talented as Giles and Tatum are, they typically aren't the first two names you hear when the class of 2016 is talked about. The two most highly-touted players in the class at the moment are Detroit wing Josh Jackson and 7-footer Thon Maker.
Jackson and Maker have an inherent leg up on the rest of their peers in the class of 2016 in the sense that they're old enough to be incoming seniors. Both players are reportedly considering reclassifying, a choice made by Andrew Wiggins, Andre Drummond, Noah Vonleh and plenty of others to reach the NBA sooner. At the moment, Jackson and Maker haven't hinted at their intentions for reclassifying, but it would be a big boost for the class of 2015 to get either of them.
Forget about college, Jackson still doesn't know where he wants to play high school basketball next year. He'll reportedly transfer from Detroit's Consortium College Prep to a school in California, but no one knows which one yet. Even more interesting are the recent comments from his mother saying no school has been recruiting him yet. That may very well be the case, but you can bet Jackson is talented enough to choose any university he wants.
A strong 6'6 wing, Jackson is a force going to the rim at the high school level. He's known as a freight train in transition and for body-contorting finishes in the paint. He needs to add a consistent jump shot, but he's well on his way to being a great prospect.
More digital ink has been spilled on Maker than any other prospect in high school basketball. The validity of the comps he's received to future Hall of Fame inductees isn't as important as Maker's skill set. He's an advanced shooter for a 7-footer and could be a terrifying all-around scorer as he matures. He might never be able to live up to the Next Kevin Garnett hype, but that tag only comes if a player is clearly an exceptional talent. That's what Maker looks like.
Throw in great July performances from Malik Monk, Dedric Lawson, Dennis Smith and Derryck Thornton, and the class of 2016 looks tremendous at the top. The class of 2015 will still have group of great college players and some under-the-radar NBA talent, but at the moment, this year's incoming juniors look a lot stronger than the incoming seniors.