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The 10 best NBA prospects in high school basketball

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Today's top college recruits are tomorrow's best NBA draft prospects. Here are 10 players with great long-term upside currently playing high school basketball.

Kelly Kline / Under Armour

The best young basketball players in the world just don't develop overnight. Long before any player can become a household name as a one-and-done NBA Draft prospect, he's already been scouted for years against the top players in his age group.

While only the most diehard college basketball fans tend to follow recruiting, class rankings generally give us the first look at the NBA's next great talents. There will always be examples of highly touted recruits who don't follow the traditional path to NBA stardom, but for the most part recruiting services by Rivals, ESPN, 247Sports and others do a quality job identifying the best talent at an early age.

In the 2015 NBA Draft, nine of the first 11 American players taken were considered five-star recruits in the high school class of 2014. In the 2014 NBA Draft, the first six American players selected were each ranked among the top 10 prospects in their respective class recruiting rankings by ESPN.

With grassroots (don't call it AAU) season now finished and school about to start back up, it seems like a good time to take stock in the best long-term prospects currently playing high school basketball in the United States. If everything goes according to plan, these will be the players at the top of the 2017 and 2018 NBA drafts.

10. Dennis Smith Jr.

dennis smith

(via adidas)

High school class: 2016

Position: Point guard

Size: 6'2, 175 pounds

This list starts on a bummer note with a player who tore the ACL in his left knee just nine days ago. It's a terrible bit of luck for the Fayetteville, N.C. native, but if Harry Giles (more on him later) can make it back from an even more devastating knee injury, so can Smith.

Smith is currently ranked as the top point guard in the incoming senior class by ESPN and Rivals. He doesn't have elite size like so many point guards taken in the lottery recently, but he makes up for it with great athleticism, an ability to score from every level of the floor and a good feel for the game.

Smith was the leading assist man at three marquee Adidas events this summer while averaging 16.2 points in 11 games on the circuit. He's at his best attacking the rim where he can use his leaping ability to make plays above the rim:

The biggest concern for Smith will come on the defensive end. Is he big enough to match up with the new breed of oversized NBA point guards like Dante Exum, Emmanuel Mudiay and Elfrid Payton? Perhaps Smith's work as a shutdown cornerback on the football field will help out in that regard. He's a great prospect, and his recent knee injury shouldn't change that.

9. Wendell Carter

High school class: 2017

Position: Center

Size: 6'10, 250 pounds

Carter was the breakout player on what might have been the summer's top grassroots team, the Georgia Stars. The Stars were crowned champions of Nike's EYBL circuit at Peach Jam, in no small part because Carter dropped 25 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in the title game on 8-of-10 shooting from the field.

Carter is a traditional center with long arms (7'3 wingspan), plenty of weight to throw around in the post and great touch near the rim. He also doesn't turn 17 years old until April, so he may still have room to grow.

Carter is up to the No. 3 player in the class of 2017 according to Rivals, and his recruitment is shaping up to be another battle between Duke and Kentucky.

8. De'Aaron Fox

High school class: 2016

Position: Point guard

Size: 6'4, 190 pounds

There are a ton of great point guards in the class of 2016, but there's reason to believe Fox has the brightest long-term outlook at the position among current high school players. That's because he potentially projects as a lead guard with great size who can score, distribute and defend at an elite level.

Fox led the EYBL in both steals and assists this year playing for Houston Hoops, while also finishing No. 15 on the circuit in points per game (16.8). His scoring ability was on full display when he dropped 40 points in an EYBL game earlier this spring. For now, he's an ultra-quick attacking guard who needs to refine his three-point shot.

Fox could end up being Shaka Smart's first signature recruit at Texas if he chooses to stay in-state. Kentucky, Kansas and many more are after him, too. Throw a player with Fox's two-way ability in Smart's "Havoc" defense, and NBA scouts will get a good look at what makes him such a unique prospect.

7. Thon Maker


(Kelly Kline / Under Armour)

High school class: 2016

Position: Power forward

Size: 7'1, 210 pounds

No high school player has seen his status fluctuate as wildly as Maker has. He broke onto the national radar in the spring of 2014 off the strength of one of the most impressive mix-tapes you'll ever see, then struggled to live up to the hype for the better part of the next year. That changed this summer when Maker opted to stay in the class of 2016 rather than reclassify to play college ball immediately. Suddenly, he again looked like one of the country's most dominant players.

From a scouting perspective, Maker would seem to have s lot of similarities with Kristaps Porzingis, the No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft. He's outrageously tall, has shooting range out past the three-point line and could eventually develop into a quality shot blocker. He's also drawn rave reviews for playing with a great motor.

Right now, Maker is more comfortable on the perimeter than inside. Given the way the NBA is trending, that isn't a bad thing.

Like Porzingis, Maker's goal will be to add strength while maintaining what makes him so gifted as a outside threat. Indiana, Arizona State, Kentucky and Kansas are each vying for his commitment.

6. Jayson Tatum

High school class: 2016

Position: Small forward

Size: 6'8, 190 pounds

Tatum is the only player on this list who has already committed to a college. He's next in a long line of Duke wings ready to become top-10 draft picks after only one year in college.

You won't find a more polished 17-year-old offensive player than Tatum. He's already a crafty scorer inside the three-point line and projects as a supplemental playmaker on the wing. His shooting stroke is starting to come along nicely too, as he hit 40 percent of the three-pointers he attempted during the USA Basketball's run to the gold medal in the U19 FIBA World Championship.

If there's a knock on Tatum, it's that he prefers to do his scoring from midrange (granted, he's excellent at it) and doesn't have Andrew Wiggins-level athleticism. With that being said, he still provided the U19 tournament with its single best dunk, as you can see above.

5. Marvin Bagley

High school class: 2018

Position: Power forward

Size: 6'10, 210 pounds

Bagley is the only class of 2018 player on this list, which means he hasn't even started his sophomore year of high school yet. This is obviously a big projection for such a young player, but those who have seen Bagley up close are enamored with his long-term potential. Duke, Kentucky and plenty of others have already seen enough to offer him a scholarship.

The early scouting report on Bagley makes him seem like the total package for a big man. He's super athletic, feels comfortable shooting from three-point range and has major defensive potential as a shot blocker. It's a safe bet that he's going to blow up in the summer of 2016 when he gets a chance to compete with the big boys on the grassroots circuit as an incoming junior.

4. Michael Porter

High school class: 2017

Position: Small forward

Size: 6'10, 195 pounds

Porter is the textbook definition of a matchup nightmare. He measured at 6'10 at the Nike Skills Academy this summer and is as athletic as any player in the country. He's already comfortable shooting off the dribble or out of the mid-post, and hit 38.3 percent of three-pointers he attempted on the EYBL this season.

Good luck to the poor high school kids who have to try and defend him for the next two years. Life isn't always fair.

Porter isn't blessed with a huge wingspan, but it's important to remember Steph Curry, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love have proportional arms, too. That means he's probably better off spending most of his time on the wing and only logging spare minutes at the four. Like many tall young perimeter players, the first order of business for Porter will be tightening his handle and working on his ability to get others involved.

Every talented high school wing says they want to play like Kevin Durant, but Porter is the rare prospect with the right blend of size, athleticism and shooting to actually make you consider it. He's down to 10 schools, with Kentucky, Duke and his hometown Missouri (where his father is an assistant coach on the women's team for which two of his sisters play) looking like the early front-runners.

3. Harry Giles

High school class: 2016

Position: Center/power forward

Size: 6'10, 230 pounds

Giles was already considered the top player in the class of 2016 heading into this summer, but his performance with USA Basketball at the U19 tournament in Greece cemented his status as a can't-miss prospect. Playing against competition two years older, Giles tied for the team lead in scoring at 14 points per game and finishing second in the tournament in rebounding by grabbing 10.6 boards per game.

The performance signaled the completion of Giles' two-year journey back from a gruesome knee injury suffered while playing for USA Basketball in Uruguay after his freshman year. Giles tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus, but has worked his way back into a ferocious two-way big with great size, length (7'3 wingspan) and athleticism. He also might play harder than any top recruit in the country.

The goal for Giles now is developing his skill level. His touch around the rim is still a work in progress, as is his face-up jump shot. He's already so good for a 17-year-old, and still has plenty of room for improvement.

2. Josh Jackson

josh jackson

(Kelly Kline / Under Armour)

High school class: 2016

Position: Wing

Size: 6'8, 205 pounds

The NBA is dominated by huge, hyper-athletic wings, and Jackson projects to be exactly that type of player. Jerry Meyer of 247 Sports called him the best shooting guard prospect he's ever scouted, and some talent evaluators are already conceding there isn't much separating Jackson from where Andrew Wiggins was at coming out of high school.

Jackson's size, athleticism, motor and feel for the game were each immediately evident while watching USA Basketball's U19 team this summer. He looks like a potential lockdown wing defender, an improving shooter and a gifted passer. He ended the tournament averaging 12.1 points, seven rebounds and two assists per game while shooting 50 percent from three-point range.

Jackson has vaulted Giles in recruiting rankings by Rivals and 247 Sports to become the top prospect in the class of 2016. His recruitment currently seems wide open, with Arizona, Kansas, UCLA and Michigan State all in the mix.

1. DeAndre Ayton


(Kelly Kline / Under Armour)

High school class: 2017

Position: Center

Size: 7'0, 235 pounds

Because he goes to a prep school (Balboa City in San Diego) that doesn't play a full schedule against other teams in California and has already battle through injuries (like a broken patella in his right leg) early in his career, Ayton is something of a mystery man entering his junior season. If he stays healthy and keeps on his current trajectory, it won't be that way for long.

Ayton rose to national prominence last summer when he put up 17 points and 18 rebounds in an exhibition game against a huge North Carolina front line as an incoming high school sophomore. With a 7'4 wingspan, great athleticism and a developing face-up shot, Ayton projects as the ideal NBA big man. If he reaches his potential, he could be like Dwight Howard with a jumper.

There will be some growing pains. Ayton grew up as a soccer player in the Bahamas and still doesn't have all that much experience on the basketball court compared to everyone else on this list. He was thoroughly outplayed by Thon Maker in a marquee matchup earlier this summer. That's going to happen. The important thing is that he has the size, athleticism and skill set to become a special player down the road. Just pray he stays healthy.

Honorable mention: G Malik Monk, class of 2016; C Mohamed Bamba, class of 2017; PG Trevon Duval, class of 2017; PG Troy Brown, class of 2017, G Markelle Fultz, class of 2016, SG Terrance Ferguson, class of 2016; PF Silvio De Souza, class of 2018.


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