The 2015 NBA draft is a little over two months away and underclassmen are still in the process of declaring their intentions for June’s big event. 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 the draft. Here are my current top 20 players in descending order with last month’s ranking in parentheses:
1 (4) Karl-Anthony Towns-PF/C (Kentucky/Freshman)
-7’0″, 250 pounds
–DraftExpress Rank: No. 1
–ESPN Rank: No. 1
–Stats: 10.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 2.3 BPG. .566/.250/.813.
Towns has officially declared himself eligible for the 2015 NBA draft and it was likely an easy decision for him to make. The talented big man has overtaken Jahlil Okafor as the player projected by most experts to be selected No. 1 overall. This ascent is more about what Towns has shown scouts and executives, and less about what Okafor has not. Towns possesses a much higher upside than Okafor, and his athleticism is far superior as well. The big man’s stats were negatively impacted by Kentucky’s depth and platoon system, but he showed more than enough to make NBA personnel drool at the thought of adding him to their squads.
2 (1) Jahlil Okafor-C (Duke/Freshman)
-6’11”, 272 pounds
–DraftExpress Rank: No. 2
–ESPN Rank: No. 2
–Stats: 17.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. .664/.000/.510.
While Okafor could still easily be the No. 1 overall selection in June, his lack of explosive athleticism and defensive limitations has opened the door for Towns to usurp him as the alpha of the 2015 draft. Okafor is still one of the most offensively polished big men to come along in quite some time, which should make any team that nabs him very happy. The big man is likely to produce earlier in his career than Towns, but he will also likely plateau quicker.
3 (3) D’Angelo Russell-SG/PG (Ohio State/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 4
-ESPN Rank: No. 4
-Stats: 19.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 5.0 APG. .449/.411/.756.
No player has improved his draft stock more than Russell since the beginning of the college season. The lefty didn’t have a great NCAA tournament, and his lack of explosiveness was exposed by fellow draft prospect Rondae Hollis-Jefferson during Ohio State’s loss to Arizona. This quieted the Russell as the possible No. 1 overall pick talks a bit, but the versatile guard is almost assuredly a top four selection. When choosing between him and Emmanuel Mudiay, teams will need to weigh Mudiay’s higher ceiling and superior athletic skills to Russell’s excellent outside shooting and intangibles. I’m rating Russell higher because of his ability to play both guard spots, and him being the better known prospect right now around NBA circles. However, things could change rapidly when individual workouts begin and Mudiay is able to show off his wares. You can check out my expanded profile on Russell here.
4 (4) Emmanuel Mudiay-PG (Guangdong)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 3
-ESPN Rank: No. 3
-Stats: 18.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 6.3 APG. .493/.321/.586
Mudiay, despite barely having played in months due to an ankle injury, is still considered the most physically talented guard in the draft. 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). The young guard also demonstrated great maturity during his time overseas, something not likely lost on NBA executives. Mudiay is almost sure to dazzle in his pre-draft workouts, and he’ll definitely be selected in the top five.
5 (8) Justise Winslow-SF (Duke/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 5
-ESPN Rank: No. 6
-Stats: 12.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.1 APG. .486/.418/.641.
Winslow cemented himself as an early lottery pick with his stellar play during the NCAA tournament. For much of the season there wasn’t much separating the numerous wings slotted to enter June’s draft, but Winslow has finally overtaken all the rest. His physical skills are tantalizing and he appears to have just scratched the surface on his ample talent. Winslow’s a player who could easily sneak into the top three depending on how the draft lottery shakes out. The wing also may just become the jewel of the class of 2015 in a few short seasons.
6 (5) Willie Cauley-Stein-C (Kentucky/Junior)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 6
-ESPN Rank: No. 7
-Stats: 8.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 1.7 BPG. .572/.000/.617.
Cauley-Stein’s decision to return to Kentucky for his junior season has paid 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. While he may be close to his ceiling as a prospect, the big man is easily the most NBA-ready in the entire draft. If the Knicks fall out of the top three selections in the draft I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them nab Cauley-Stein with their pick.
7 (7) Kristaps Porzingis-PF (Baloncesto Sevilla)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 8
-ESPN Rank: No. 5
-Stats: 10.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 0.9 BPG. .560/.328/.750.
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, 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 (6) Stanley Johnson-SF (Arizona/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 9
-ESPN Rank: No. 11
-Stats: 13.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 1.5 SPG. .446/.371/.742.
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. Where the freshman will be selected is still a bit of a puzzle. As far as wings go in this draft: Winslow is more athletic and has a much higher upside; Mario Hezonja’s outside game is more highly regarded; and Kelly Oubre is also rated as a superior outside shooter, with his upside also projected to exceed that of Johnson’s. I still like Johnson’s chances to be a lottery pick, but he’s the most likely of my current top 10 to slide lower in the draft.
9 (9) Kevon Looney-PF (UCLA/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 20
-ESPN Rank: No. 10
-Stats: 11.6 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 0.9 BPG. .470/.415/.626.
Looney’s production tailed off toward the end of the season, though his mediocre NCAA tournament numbers can be attributed to him dealing with the effects of a facial fracture that he suffered during the PAC-12 tournament. The freshman is a bit of a tweener, similar to Aaron Gordon a year ago in that respect, but he has a far more polished offensive game than Gordon did at Arizona last season. Looney’s potential as a player is off-the-charts, but he’ll need to find an NBA position in order to carve out a place in a rotation for himself. He’s a player that could be looked back on as a steal if he slides toward the middle of the draft.
10 (11) Myles Turner-C (Texas/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 12
-ESPN Rank: No. 9
-Stats: 10.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.6 BPG. .455/.274/.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 isn’t as talented as Okafor and Towns, nor is he as polished as Cauley-Stein, but if a team is looking for a potential late lottery steal whose upside compares with LaMarcus Aldridge, then Turner could fit the bill. Patience will be required with the 19-year-old, and some serious D-League time will be needed during his rookie season. You can check out my expanded profile on Turner here.
11 (10) Mario Hezonja-SG (Barcelona Regal)
-6’7″, 200 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 7
-ESPN Rank: No. 8
-Stats: 8.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 1.1 APG. .475/.406/.739.
Hezonja is a projected lottery selection, 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.
12 (12) Kelly Oubre-SF (Kansas/Freshman)
-6’6″, 204 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 13
-ESPN Rank: No. 12
-Stats: 9.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 0.8 APG. .444/.358/.718.
Oubre’s draft stock has taken a hit since the beginning of the season when he was a projected top 5 pick in this year’s draft. The swingman has shown growth since the beginning of the campaign, but he’s still far too inconsistent a player for my liking. Oubre would benefit immensely from another year in school, and he’d likely work his way into the top seven picks in 2016 if he did return to Kansas. But with Oubre declaring his intent to enter this year’s draft, that is now a moot point. Oubre needs quite a bit of polish, but he is a talented defender who can nail three-pointers quite well. Players like that can usually find consistent work in the NBA, which makes Oubre worth the gamble toward the end of the lottery. You can check out my expanded profile on Oubre here.
13 (-) Sam Dekker-SF (Wisconsin/Junior)
-6’9″, 230 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 15
-ESPN Rank: No. 15
-Stats: 13.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 1.2 APG. .525/.331/.708.
Dekker’s play during the NCAA tournament boosted his draft stock mightily. Prior to March’s big dance, the 20-year-old was a projected mid-to-late first-rounder, and now he’s a potential lottery pick. The forward brings a lot of versatility to the court, and could be valuable as a stretch four off of the bench in the NBA. I’m taking his late season excellence as an outlier, and expect Dekker’s NBA performance to be more in line with the player who only shot 32% from deep the last two seasons. Dekker also carries the dreaded tweener tag, and will likely struggle on defense no matter which forward spot he mans. As a mid first-round pick I like Dekker, but don’t be blinded by a few excellent performances in March as to his true ability level.
14 (18) Jakob Poeltl-C (Utah/Freshman)
-7’0″, 230 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 11
-ESPN Rank: No. 14
-Stats: 9.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 1.9 BPG. .681/.000/.4.
Poeltl’s play cooled off after a strong start to the season, but he did impress with his play against Okafor in the NCAA tournament. There were, and perhaps still are, concerns about Poeltl being able to hold his ground in the post against bigger, more athletic players. But the freshman gave Okafor fits, and in the process cemented himself as a mid first-rounder. Poeltl hasn’t declared for the draft yet, and is reportedly considering returning to Utah for another season. The seven-footer could definitely use more polish, so another year in college would be a wise move for his long-term development. The Austrian could be a lottery pick next season if he resists the lure of NBA money this year.
15 (17) Frank Kaminsky-C (Wisconsin/Senior)
-7’0″, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 10
-ESPN Rank: No. 13
-Stats: 18.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 1.5 BPG. .547/.416/.780.
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 would be a solid pick, though he will have a limited ceiling thanks to his athletic shortcomings.
16 (13) Devin Booker-SG (Kentucky/Freshman)
-6’6″, 195 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 17
-ESPN Rank: No. 18
-Stats: 10.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 1.1 APG. .470/.411/.828.
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 3-point shooters in the entire draft, and he has remarkable shot selection for a player his age. 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 could aid Booker and possibly sneak him into being a lottery pick.
17 (15) Bobby Portis-PF (Arkansas/Sophomore)
-6’11″, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 18
-ESPN Rank: No. 16
-Stats: 17.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. .536/.467/.737.
Portis emerged as a potential mid first round pick since the beginning of the season. 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.
18 (20) Tyus Jones-PG (Duke/Freshman)
-6’1″, 184 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 21
-ESPN Rank: No. 23
-Stats: 11.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 5.6 APG. .417/.379/.889.
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 campaign. But his court vision and basketball IQ will make him a valuable rotation piece in a couple of seasons. Jones’ turnover rate had increased significantly since conference play began, but he 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.
19 (14) Jerian Grant-PG (Notre Dame/Senior)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 16
-ESPN Rank: No. 21
-Stats: 16.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 6.7 APG. .478/.316/.780.
Grant had himself a heck of a season, and may just be the best all-around point guard in the draft. His age (22) may work against him a bit, 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 defend NBA guards, but whichever team nabs him in June will be getting a very solid player. A veteran team in need of a solid backup would do well to snag Grant. The Bulls perhaps…..
20 (16) Montrezl Harrell-PF (Louisville/Junior)
-6’8″, 243 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 23
-ESPN Rank: No. 24
-Stats: 15.7 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 1.4 APG. .566/.243/.597.
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’s another of those tweeners. He’s neither a true power forward nor a classic small forward, but Harrell 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.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.