The hype for the class of 2016 quietly started one year ago, when a group of incoming juniors appeared both more productive in the moment and better fitted with long-term potential than the senior class they were playing with on the grassroots circuit.
At this point, it really isn't up for debate: The class of 2016 is considered to be incredibly strong, with some believing it's the deepest recruiting class since Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, James Harden and Blake Griffin were playing in the class of 2007.
Most of the attention in the class of 2016 has been focused on its consensus top three players: big man Harry Giles and wings Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum. While those three players might already have pro teams jockeying for position in the 2017 NBA Draft, what really separates this crop of incoming seniors from past classes is its depth. And right now, no position looks deeper than point guard.
Who's the best point guard in the class of 2016? Ask five people and you might get five different answers. Best of all, each of them plays a distinct style. The class of 2016 has you covered if you like fast, score-first guards, guards with deep three-point shooting ability, big guards who prefer to distribute or guards who live off attacking the rim.
There's really no wrong answer here. Scott Phillips from NBC Sports joined me to talk about the class, and there's more information about each of the top five players below:
Smith is the top-ranked point guard in the class according to ESPN and Rivals, where he ranks No. 4 overall in both sets of rankings. The Fayetteville, N.C., native has had a big summer playing for Team Loaded N.C. on the Adidas tour, teaming with another five-star recruit, big man Bam Adebayo, to form one of the best tandems in grassroots ball.
Of all the point guards in the class of 2016, you can make the case that Smith is the most explosive scorer who still retains pure point guard instincts. He led the the Adidas circuit in assists this spring with 6.9 per game, while also averaging 16.2 points. This past weekend in Las Vegas, against elite competition including Frank Jackson and Lonzo Ball, Smith averaged 18 points to go with 38 assists to 14 turnovers. He's ability to avoid turnovers sets him apart from his peers.
Smith is a streaky but capable three-point shooter at this stage of his career, but projects as a solid outside threat long term. Where Smith really excels is going to the hole, where he's liable to dunk on anyone who gets in his way:
Smith recently announced his final six of Duke, Kentucky, N.C. State, North Carolina, Louisville and Wake Forest. That is, for those keeping count, four schools in his home state of North Carolina, five schools in the ACC and two schools sponsored by Adidas.
The only program that checks all three boxes? N.C. State, which is currently considered the front runner for both Smith and Adebayo.
Few players have improved their stock this summer as much as Fox. The Houston native led the EYBL in assists (5.4 per game) this season while averaging 16.8 points per game. He put on a show in a five-game stretch at Peach Jam, solidifying his place in the discussion for the best point guard in the class.
There's a lot to like about Fox: At 6'4 with elite quickness and good instincts both scoring and facilitating, he likely projects as the best two-way point guard in the class. He grabbed 48 steals in 17 EYBL games (2.8 per game), leading the circuit in that category. It's no wonder that Shaka Smart and Texas are all over him -- this is the perfect point guard to the play the type of pressure defense by which Smart's teams have always been defined.
Offensively, there's not many point guards in the country who can match up with Fox when he's feeling it. This was epitomized when he dropped 40 points -- including 17 straight -- at an EYBL stop in Houston earlier this year:
Fox told me he compares his game to Russell Westbrook. Someone like Jrue Holiday or Reggie Jackson might be a better fit. Either way, Fox has great long-term upside and should be an impact player from day one at the college level. It wouldn't be a surprise to see NBA scouts fall in love with him quickly due to his combination of size, quickness and two-way ability.
(Kelly Kline / adidas)
There's one word that comes to mind for Simmons' game: aggression. This manifests itself positively when he gets his own offense going, but can also be detrimental when he fails to get teammates involved and turns the ball over too frequently.
Simmons showed both sides of the coin this weekend in Las Vegas. The Atlanta native averaged 20.4 points across seven games, but also only had nine assists to 23 turnovers.
It begs the question: Is Simmons really a point guard? Fortunately for him, his 6'5 frame gives him the versatility to play the off-guard spot as well.
Kentucky is widely considered the favorite for Simmons, but John Calipari is making a late push for De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith as well. North Carolina, Ohio State and Kansas are also expected to make a push for Simmons should he go anywhere other than Lexington.
(Kelly Kline / adidas)
(Kelly Kline / adidas)
SB Nation presents: You have to see this dunk to believe it