The 2015 NBA draft is still a long way away, and the remaining four months of NCAA action 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. Still, front offices and scouting departments throughout the NBA are already 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 the current top 20 players in descending order:
1 Jahlil Okafor-C (Duke/Freshman)
-6’11”, 272 pounds
–DraftExpress Rank: No. 1
–ESPN Rank: No. 1
–Stats: 17.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 1.5 BPG. .646/.000/.520.
Okafor has certainly lived up to the hype that surrounded him before he set foot on Duke’s campus. A true center, he has excellent athleticism and is remarkably polished on offense for a freshman big man. He has an NBA-ready body and should continue to develop into an absolute monster down in the paint. His defense will need work when he gets to the pros, which isn’t uncommon, but his potential is off the charts. It will take quite a bit to knock him out of the top slot in the upcoming draft.
2 Karl-Anthony Towns-PF/C (Kentucky/Freshman)
-7’0″, 250 pounds
–DraftExpress Rank: No. 3
–ESPN Rank: No. 3
–Stats: 9.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 2.8 BPG. .538/.200/.714.
Towns may end up being better in the long run than Okafor, but for now, he is still a project on the offensive end. He can get by in college using his superior athleticism, but he’ll need to develop his post game if he wants to become a star in the NBA. Towns will be fun to watch on the fast break, but in half-court sets he’ll be reduced to alley-oops and putbacks during his rookie campaign. He’s already an intimidating defender, which will translate nicely to the next level, although Towns will need to become more disciplined, or else he’ll be foul-prone, and end up spending more time on the bench than on the hardwood.
3 Emmanuel Mudiay-PG (Guangdong)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 2
-ESPN Rank: No. 2
-Stats: 18.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 6.3 APG. .493/.321/.586
Mudiay took the less conventional route when he passed up a chance to attend SMU and signed with Guangdong of the Chinese Basketball Association instead. Mudiay is easily the most talented guard in the draft, and his size and speed are NBA-ready. The injury to his ankle may shut him down for the rest of the CBA season, since his family has hinted that Mudiay might leave China early to prepare himself for the NBA draft as well as to avoid any further injuries that could damage his draft stock. The 18-year-old could easily become the top pick in the draft, depending on how the ping-pong balls drop when determining the lottery order.
4 Justise Winslow-SF (Duke/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 4
-ESPN Rank: No. 6
-Stats: 12.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 2.1 APG. .456/.385/.600.
Winslow is a fast riser on many draft boards thanks to his fantastic athleticism. He’s not a great perimeter scorer, which is a negative for a wing player, though he’s shown the ability to knock down three-pointers thus far this season. Winslow has a solid frame, and he projects as a potentially elite defender. Couple that with his maturity and leadership abilities, and it’s easy to see why so many scouts are so high on this freshman.
5 Stanley Johnson-SF (Arizona/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 6
-ESPN Rank: No. 9
-Stats: 13.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 1.7 SPG. .468/.385/.714.
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 Johnson was coming out of UNLV. The biggest knock on Stanley Johnson is his severely limited outside game. There isn’t much call in the league these days for wings who can’t stretch the floor, so Johnson will need to show significant improvement as the season wears on, or he’ll risk dropping out of the top 10. But I love his aggressiveness, defense, and rebounding.
6 Kristaps Porzingis-PF (Baloncesto Sevilla)
-7’0″, 220 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 9
-ESPN Rank: No. 4
-Stats: 9.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.3 BPG. .472/.436/.737.
I have only seen limited film on Porzingis, but all the scouting reports that I have read laud the 19-year-old’s offensive skills. I’ve grown to be immediately skeptical of European big men who are projected as lottery picks, due to the large number of draft busts among their ranks, and that holds true for Porzingis. He has an excellent three-point stroke and is surprisingly athletic. He projects as a stretch four who can also play small forward, but Porzingis will struggle mightily on the defensive end. He’s not even close to being strong enough to hold his ground in the post, and he isn’t quick enough to stay with faster wings on the perimeter. 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 judging by the buzz around him, Porzingis will likely be selected much higher than that.
7 Kevon Looney-PF (UCLA/Freshman)
-6’9″, 220 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 8
-ESPN Rank: No. 5
-Stats: 13.9 PPG, 11.2 RPG, and 1.8 BPG. .473/.154/.662.
Looney is rising swiftly up the draft boards thanks to his athleticism and strong early season production. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the draft. Looney’s a bit of a tweener, similar to Aaron Gordon a year ago in that respect. Looney has decent outside range, which I think will improve with practice and coaching. He’s also an excellent rebounder and a plus defender at either forward position, though he’ll need to add some bulk to guard NBA power forwards. I’ve also been impressed with his ball-handling and passing, and both are skills that will translate well to the pros. Looney might not crack the top five selections, but if that is the case, whichever team he falls to could be getting a steal.
8 Myles Turner-C (Texas/Freshman)
-6’11”, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 12
-ESPN Rank: No. 7
-Stats: 11.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 2.9 BPG. .509/.308/.853.
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. But his upside is too good for him to go outside the top 10.
9 Cliff Alexander-PF/C (Kansas/Freshman)
-6’9″, 254 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 15
-ESPN Rank: No. 13
-Stats: 9.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. .550/.000/.702.
Alexander is a bit undersized for his position, but he makes up for it with his 7’3″ wingspan. He possesses a tantalizing mixture of strength and athleticism, and he’s a rampaging beast in the paint. Alexander lacks a mid-range game, and he also doesn’t have a great grasp of nuances yet, which will slow his learning curve down a bit. But he has a ceiling similar to that of Lakers rookie Julius Randle, without the concerns on the defensive end that followed the Kentucky product into the NBA prior to his season-ending injury. Look for Alexander to continue to rise in the draft projections as the season progresses.
10 Willie Cauley-Stein-C (Kentucky/Junior)
-7’0″, 244 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 10
-ESPN Rank: No. 16
-Stats: 10.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. .618/.000/.633.
Cauley-Stein surprised many when he elected to return to Kentucky for his junior season, especially with the influx of talent the university had arriving this season. But the move should pay off for the 7-footer who reminds me quite a bit of a young Tyson Chandler. Cauley-Stein is very limited on the offensive end, mostly relying on putbacks to score his points. He isn’t as good a rebounder as he should be, though I suspect he’ll improve over time. A team needing a rim protector could do a lot worse than plugging Cauley-Stein into its rotation next season.
11 D’Angelo Russell-SG (Ohio State/Freshman)
-6’5″, 176 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 11
-ESPN Rank: No. 10
-Stats: 18.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 5.4 APG. .482/.442/.750.
Russell is already a polished scorer with a lethal outside touch. 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. Russell also has the ability to play the point for stretches, which will serve to increase his value as a rotation piece at the NBA level. The two main knocks against Russell are that he needs to get stronger and that he has a tendency to disappear for long stretches during games and coast. He has a nice upside and should turn into a solid NBA player in a few seasons.
12 Mario Hezonja-SG (Barcelona Regal)
-6’7″, 200 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 5
-ESPN Rank: No. 8
-Stats: 4.7 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 1.2 APG. .483/.357/.692.
Here’s another foreign player whom I have seen limited tape on. 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 more development before making the jump to the NBA. Hezonja is very athletic and can light it up from the outside, but he’s a poor defender. 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.
13 Montrezl Harrell-PF (Louisville/Junior)
-6’8″, 243 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 17
-ESPN Rank: No. 15
-Stats: 16.8 PPG, 9.6 RPG, and 1.3 APG. .614/.214/.574.
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, which could end up lowering his draft stock as well as his ceiling as a player.
14 Chris McCullough-PF (Syracuse/Freshman)
-6’9″, 200 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 24
-ESPN Rank: No. 11
-Stats: 14.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG, and 2.4 BPG. .563/1.000/.545.
McCullough is another player shooting up the draft boards after arriving at Syracuse with minimal fanfare and hype. He is extremely athletic, boasts a 7’3″ wingspan, and can jump out of the gym. He’s also a very strong rebounder and should become a defensive force as he matures. I like McCullough a lot, and expect him to finish the year much higher on this list.
15 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-SF (Arizona/Sophomore)
-6’6″, 212 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 19
-ESPN Rank: No. 22
-Stats: 12.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 1.9 APG. .585/.300/.745.
There’s a lot to like about Hollis-Jefferson’s game and draft potential. As a player, he reminds me of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and not just because of the hyphenated last name. Hollis-Jefferson is extremely athletic, exciting in transition, a good rebounder for his size, and a good defender. But he does come with limitations similar to Kidd-Gilchrist’s, mainly in his lack of a reliable outside game. While he boasts a decent mid-range jump shot, he makes his living attacking the basket, an aspect that doesn’t always translate to the NBA, thanks to the far superior athleticism college players face when making the jump to the pros.
16 Frank Kaminsky-C (Wisconsin/Senior)
-7’0″, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 14
-ESPN Rank: No. 18
-Stats: 16.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 2.1 BPG. .539/.424/.683.
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.
17 Caris LeVert-SG (Michigan/Junior)
-6’7″, 200 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 13
-ESPN Rank: No. 17
-Stats: 17.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 4.1 APG. .453/.489/.833.
LeVert is reaping the benefits of Nik Stauskas having departed Michigan for the NBA, and he has the potential to rise up the draft rankings rather quickly if he continues to improve as the season wears on. LeVert is an excellent athlete, has a solid outside game, and can play either wing position. His defense will definitely need some work, and he’ll need to get stronger if he hopes to be able to survive and thrive in the NBA. Still, I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if LeVert sneaks into the lottery when all is said and done.
18 Dakari Johnson-C (Kentucky/Sophomore)
-6’11”, 263 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 25
-ESPN Rank: No. 25
-Stats: 9.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 1.0 BPG. .646/.000/.542.
Johnson’s draft stock will suffer because of Kentucky’s ridiculous depth the last two seasons, but he’s a player who could help quite a few NBA teams in the long run. Johnson isn’t afraid to mix it up in the post area, and he’s an excellent and ferocious rebounder. His post defense is decent enough, though he’s not a great shot-blocker. Johnson is competent around the rim on offense, but he has a very limited array of post moves. He’ll be a serviceable backup in the NBA, but he’ll require significant time in the D-League during his rookie season in order to develop.
19 Kelly Oubre-SF (Kansas/Freshman)
-6’6″, 204 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 7
-ESPN Rank: No. 12
-Stats: 2.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 0.5 APG. .333/.286/.800.
Oubre’s draft stock has taken a hit since the beginning of the season. He hasn’t gained Kansas coach Bill Self’s confidence yet and is only seeing limited minutes. Oubre has looked every bit like a freshman when he has played, and he’s often appeared lost on the court. But he’s a tremendous athletic talent who I believe will figure things out by the end of the season, and he should end up a top-10 pick when all is said and done. Oubre simply has too much talent to slide too far in the draft, though he’s a player who would benefit greatly from another year in school, however unlikely that scenario is.
20 Tyus Jones-PG (Duke/Freshman)
-6’1″, 184 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 21
-ESPN Rank: No. 29
-Stats: 10.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 5.8 APG. .462/.360/.844.
Jones creeps into the top 20 thanks to his fantastic six-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio and the lack of quality point guards at the top of this draft class, aside from Mudiay. 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 potential lottery sleeper pick.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.