The 2015 NBA draft is a few months away, and the NCAA tournament will play a major part in determining the fates of the 20 players whose names appear on the list below, as well as those who haven’t made the cut just yet. Front offices and scouting departments throughout the NBA are hard at work trying to determine which players they will pin the future of their franchises on, and Hoops Rumors will be doing the same all the way up until June’s draft.
Keep in mind that this list includes both underclassmen and players from overseas, neither of whom are guaranteed to declare for the draft. But just like the NBA scouting departments, we’ll need to be prepared for the possibility that all of these players will be available to hear their names called by commissioner Adam Silver in what will be his second opportunity to be on the stage during the first round.
Here are my current top 20 players in descending order with last month’s ranking in parentheses:
1 (1) Jahlil Okafor-C (Duke/Freshman)
-6’11”, 272 pounds
–DraftExpress Rank: No. 1
–ESPN Rank: No. 1
–Stats: 17.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. .668/.000/.524.
Okafor continues to abuse college competition. A true center, he has shown excellent athleticism and remarkable polish on the offensive side of the game. He has an NBA-ready body and will continue to develop into an absolute monster down in the paint. His defense is still a work in progress, which isn’t at all uncommon for a young big. Both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell continue to gain ground on Okafor, but I still believe it would take a pre-draft injury to unseat the big man from the top spot in this year’s NBA draft.
2 (3) D’Angelo Russell-SG/PG (Ohio State/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 3
-ESPN Rank: No. 4
-Stats: 19.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 5.2 APG. .459/.422/.748.
No player has improved his draft stock more than Russell since the beginning of the college season. Though he plays shooting guard at Ohio State, NBA scouts are now viewing Russell as an NBA point guard, which will only serve to increase his draft stock further. The lefty has excellent ball-handling skills, and he’s very effective off the dribble, though he needs to improve upon his ability to finish at the rim if he wants to be an effective pro. “There’s so much to love about his game,” one NBA GM told Chad Ford of ESPN.com about Russell. “Even when he has a bad game, it looks like a good one because every time the ball leaves his [hands], it looks like it’s going in. He plays with such great confidence and has a terrific feel. I think he could be a James Harden-type player at the next level. That’s what kind of scorer and playmaker he could be.”
3 (4) Karl-Anthony Towns-PF/C (Kentucky/Freshman)
-7’0″, 250 pounds
–DraftExpress Rank: No. 2
–ESPN Rank: No. 2
–Stats: 9.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 2.4 BPG. .558/.250/.790.
Towns is a player who cannot be judged on his NCAA numbers, thanks to Kentucky’s ridiculous depth. But the big man is all but guaranteed to blow away scouts in his individual pre-draft workouts. There are a number of scouts and GMs who have speculated that Towns will become a superior player to Okafor in a few years, which could place the freshman in the running for the No. 1 overall pick. “You put Towns on any other team in college basketball, maybe with the exception of Duke, and everyone is talking about him as a legitimate player of the year candidate,” one NBA GM told ESPN’s Chad Ford. “His stats, or lack thereof, aren’t an issue of talent, it’s an issue of so much talent on the floor that he can take a back seat.”
4 (3) Emmanuel Mudiay-PG (Guangdong)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 4
-ESPN Rank: No. 3
-Stats: 18.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 6.3 APG. .493/.321/.586
Mudiay, despite not having played in months due to an ankle injury, is still considered the most talented guard in the draft, though Russell is changing that conversation with every game he dominates. Not playing college ball didn’t hurt Dante Exum prior to the 2014 draft, and Mudiay is a more NBA-ready prospect than he was, and it wouldn’t be a complete shock for him to go No. 1 overall, depending on the team selecting first and its needs (ie: the Sixers). Mudiay is almost sure to dazzle in his pre-draft workouts, and he’ll definitely be selected in the top five.
5 (6) Willie Cauley-Stein-C (Kentucky/Junior)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 7
-ESPN Rank: No. 7
-Stats: 8.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. .588/.000/.579.
Cauley-Stein’s decision to return to Kentucky for his junior season is still paying off handsomely for him. He is an absolute defensive monster, and can step into an NBA rotation immediately. The big man is still limited offensively, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. I project Cauley-Stein to produce similar numbers to Tyson Chandler, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
6 (5) Stanley Johnson-SF (Arizona/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 5
-ESPN Rank: No. 10
-Stats: 13.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 1.5 SPG. .449/.353/.735.
Johnson is an absolute man-child with an NBA-ready body and excellent strength. He reminds me a bit of Larry Johnson (no relation), though he is nowhere near as polished on the offensive end as the elder Johnson was coming out of UNLV. What will continue to make Johnson a question mark is his limited outside game, which to his credit, has been steadily improving as the season wears on. His individual workouts will make or break him as a top 10 pick, but I love his aggressiveness, defense, and rebounding. There isn’t a huge separation between Johnson, Justise Winslow and Kelly Oubre right now. Hopefully their play in the NCAA tournament will provide more clarity for their rankings. I gave Johnson the nod because of his consistency and physical prowess.
7 (8) Kristaps Porzingis-PF (Baloncesto Sevilla)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 8
-ESPN Rank: No. 5
-Stats: 11.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 1.2 BPG. .538/.424/.730.
Porzingis is a likely top five pick, but I still remain unimpressed with his game. He has excellent athleticism, and is a talented three-point shooter, but Porzingis hasn’t necessarily dominated in European competition yet, which raises all kinds of red flags with me. There have been plenty of European players who have entered the league with high expectations based on their physical skills, only to turn out to be draft busts. Porzingis is a project with an extremely high upside, but I would think twice about taking him in the top five. My first instinct was to rank him outside the top 10, but it’s almost assured that some team will take a gamble on him near the top of the draft. Porzingis is being compared to Nikola Mirotic by some scouts, though I don’t believe he has the same level of polish that the Bulls rookie had at the same age.
8 (7) Justise Winslow-SF (Duke/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 9
-ESPN Rank: No. 12
-Stats: 12.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 2.0 APG. .479/.398/.598.
Winslow has seemingly recovered from his uninspiring run to end November, and is once again putting up solid numbers and displaying his wide range of skills and fantastic athleticism. His three-point shooting has improved, which was a big question mark in his game entering the season. NBA teams have little use for wings who can’t spread the floor, and if Winslow can keep it up he’ll secure a spot in the top 10 selections.
9 (9) Kevon Looney-PF (UCLA/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 13
-ESPN Rank: No. 6
-Stats: 12.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, and 1.0 BPG. .474/.444/.641.
Looney is still rising up the draft boards despite his production tailing off since the first month of the season. The freshman is a bit of a tweener, similar to Aaron Gordon a year ago in that respect, but has a far more polished offensive game than Gordon did at Arizona last season. I’ve continued to be impressed with his ball-handling and passing, and both are skills that will translate well to the pros. Looney probably won’t crack the top five selections, but if that is the case, whichever team he falls to could be getting a steal.
10 (13) Mario Hezonja-SG (Barcelona Regal)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 6
-ESPN Rank: No. 8
-Stats: 8.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 1.3 APG. .484/.414/.762.
Hezonja is a projected lottery pick, but I’m not sold on his long-term future in the NBA. He’s a possible draft-and-stash pick, which could benefit him since he needs quite a bit more development before making the jump to the NBA. Hezonja is very athletic and can light it up from the outside when he’s “on,” but he’s a poor defender, which doesn’t help his value. He also isn’t putting up eye-catching numbers overseas, which doesn’t bode well for his NBA fortunes. There have also been some red flags raised about his attitude, ability to accept coaching, and overall maturity. These concerns could serve to lower Hezonja’s draft stock around the league.
11 (10) Myles Turner-C (Texas/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 10
-ESPN Rank: No. 9
-Stats: 10.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 2.8 BPG. .460/.267/.839.
Turner is a project, but he’s one who could pay dividends for a patient team. He’s a good scorer with range out to the three-point line, but he lacks aggressiveness. Turner is a solid shot blocker, but he needs to improve as a rebounder if he wants to be more than just a rotation player in the NBA. There are also some legitimate concerns regarding his knees due to his odd way of running. Big men tend to break down faster than players at other positions, so long-term health is a definite concern with Turner. The big man’s production has declined steadily since the beginning of the season, but Turner’s upside is too high for him to slide too far down the draft boards.
12 (11) Kelly Oubre-SF (Kansas/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 11
-ESPN Rank: No. 11
-Stats: 9.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 0.8 APG. .451/.373/.683.
Oubre’s draft stock had taken a hit since the beginning of the season when he looked lost during the limited playing time he was receiving. The swingman has shown significant growth since the beginning of the season, averaging 13.3 points over his last four contests. The freshman is still maddeningly inconsistent, and disappears on the floor far too often for my tastes. Oubre needs quite a bit of polish, and would greatly benefit from another year in school, but that scenario is highly unlikely.
13 (12) Devin Booker-SG (Kentucky/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 15
-ESPN Rank: No. 13
-Stats: 10.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 1.3 APG. .477/.436/.817.
Booker has certainly come on since the beginning of the season, and he made a name for himself during conference play for Kentucky. He is by far one of the best shooters in the entire draft, which will certainly raise his stock and draft position should he decide to leave school after just one season. Booker isn’t a freakish athlete though, which makes him more of a one-dimensional threat. But with the NBA placing a premium on players who can stretch the floor, that shouldn’t prevent Booker from possibly sneaking into the lottery. The fact that he’s the Wildcats’ best, and possibly only, reliable deep threat, should make the NCAA tournament a great showcase for the young swingman.
14 (17) Jerian Grant-PG (Notre Dame/Senior)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 14
-ESPN Rank: No. 21
-Stats: 16.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 6.7 APG. .494/.331/.754.
Grant is having himself a heck of a season, and may just be the best point guard in college basketball right now. His age may work against him a bit in the draft, such is the NBA world we live in nowadays. But his combination of size, skill, and leadership makes him a solid mid first round selection. Grant needs to improve on his jump shot consistency, and despite his 16.8 PPG average, is more of a pass-first point man at heart. He’ll definitely need to bulk up to be able to guard NBA guards, but whichever team nabs him in June will be getting a very solid player.
15 (15) Bobby Portis-PF (Arkansas/Sophomore)
-6’11″, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 16
-ESPN Rank: No. 14
-Stats: 17.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 1.5 BPG. .563/.423/.748.
Portis has emerged as a potential mid first round pick since the beginning of the season. He’s really been pouring it on lately, having averaged 20.5 PPG over his last four appearances. The big man isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s good enough to have a solid NBA career if he improves his defense and footwork in the post. Portis prefers to launch jump shots rather than mix-it-up in the paint, but with the NBA falling in love with stretch fours, this isn’t necessarily the negative it used to be when profiling big men. I’ve become more enamored with him as a player lately, and as a mid first-rounder he’ll be a good value pick, though he’ll need D-League seasoning before he’ll be ready to step into an NBA rotation.
16 (14) Montrezl Harrell-PF (Louisville/Junior)
-6’8″, 243 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 17
-ESPN Rank: No. 19
-Stats: 15.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, and 1.3 APG. .573/.243/.585.
It was surprising to see Harrell return to Louisville for his junior season, but the move will likely reward him with a higher draft selection than he would have garnered in 2014. There’s a lot to like about Harrell’s game, but he bears the dreaded tweener tag. He’s neither a true power forward nor a classic small forward. He can score from almost anywhere on the floor and has a high motor. He’s also a very good rebounder and a physical defender. But Harrell lacks a defined NBA position (ie: Derrick Williams and Thomas Robinson), which could end up lowering his draft stock as well as his ceiling as a player.
17 (19) Frank Kaminsky-C (Wisconsin/Senior)
-7’0″, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 12
-ESPN Rank: No. 15
-Stats: 18.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. .559/.410/.752.
Kaminsky isn’t likely to become a star in the NBA, nor even an effective starter. But he’ll be able to contribute on the offensive end immediately for whichever team selects him. Kaminsky reminds me quite a bit of the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk offensively, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Unfortunately, he also shares Olynyk’s weaknesses as a rebounder and defender. As a mid first-rounder, Kaminsky will be a solid pick, though he will have a limited ceiling thanks to his athletic shortcomings. The big man has really been pouring it on lately, logging 23.5 points per game over his last five appearances.
18 (16) Jakob Poeltl-C (Utah/Freshman)
-7’0″, 230 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 19
-ESPN Rank: No. 20
-Stats: 8.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 1.8 BPG. .689/.000/.417.
Poeltl has cooled off a bit after a strong start to the season, though he did drop 18 points on Washington last Saturday. The Austrian is a good defender, can rebound very well, and has a fluid and effective mid range game. His stats aren’t eye-popping, but bigs with his combination of size, skill, and athleticism will always have a place in the NBA. Poeltl definitely needs to hit the weight room if he hopes to survive in the NBA paint area, but that could be said of the majority of big men turning pro. His post game also needs quite a bit of work, but don’t be surprised if he ends up becoming a top 20 pick. However, teams may need to wait another season before getting a chance to draft Poeltl. Ford previously noted that Poeltl was leaning towards returning to school for his sophomore season, but the lure of the NBA can be a strong deterrent toward continuing one’s collegiate career.
19 (18) R.J. Hunter-SG (Georgia State/Junior)
-6’5″, 185 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 27
-ESPN Rank: No. 18
-Stats: 19.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 3.8 APG. .396/.305/.872.
Hunter has cooled off a bit, but I’m not ready to give up on him just yet. I really like Hunter’s game and his potential, and he strikes me as a player who will make a better pro than college player. Hunter’s not an elite athlete, which could limit his potential somewhat. He’s a very good passer, but his ball-handling needs work for him to be an effective pro. Hunter will also have difficulty guarding the quicker twos in the NBA, but he has the ability to be a valuable contributor as a sixth man. Hunter is one of the players most likely to surprise on draft night with how high he is taken.
20 (20) Tyus Jones-PG (Duke/Freshman)
-6’1″, 184 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 26
-ESPN Rank: No. 25
-Stats: 11.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 5.7 APG. .424/.400/.882.
The 18-year-old Jones has shown remarkable poise as a freshman, and he reminds me quite a bit of Tyler Ennis, another player I was extremely high on heading into the 2014 draft. Jones lacks elite athleticism, needs to work on his outside shot, and won’t be ready to play significant minutes his rookie season. But his court vision and basketball IQ will make him a valuable rotation piece in a couple of seasons. Jones’ turnover rate has increased significantly since conference play began, but he has still displayed remarkable on court leadership for a freshman. Jones is the type of player whose value doesn’t always show up in the box score, and he is overshadowed by Okafor and Winslow on a talented Duke squad. But this kid has the potential to be an effective pro, and a mid first round gem for a patient team.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.