The 2015 NBA draft is still a long way away, and the remaining three 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 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: 18.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. .681/.000/.566.
Okafor continues to live up to the hype that surrounded him before he set foot on Duke’s campus. 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. His potential is off the charts, and only a significant pre-draft injury, or a team falling in love with Emmanuel Mudiay, will prevent him from being the first name called on draft night.
2 (2) Karl-Anthony Towns-PF/C (Kentucky/Freshman)
-7’0″, 250 pounds
–DraftExpress Rank: No. 3
–ESPN Rank: No. 3
–Stats: 8.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 2.2 BPG. .518/.333/.714.
Towns could end up being a better player in the long run than Okafor, but with the way Okafor is dominating competition it’s unlikely he’ll be selected over the Duke big man. I wrestled with placing him or Mudiay in this slot, and depending on how the ping-pong balls drop in the draft lottery, Towns could slip to the third overall pick. I place more value on a big who has the athleticism of Towns, since guards with Mudiay’s talents are more common, which is why I placed Towns at number 2. His college stats aren’t that impressive, but that’s because of Kentucky’s ridiculous depth this season. “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.”
3 (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, despite not having played in over a month due to an ankle injury, is by far the most talented guard in the draft, and his size and speed are NBA-ready. 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 go in the first three picks.
4 (4) Justise Winslow-SF (Duke/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 6
-ESPN Rank: No. 6
-Stats: 12.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 2.3 APG. .462/.388/.627.
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 seven picks. Numerous scouts and draft projections have Kristaps Porzingis going ahead of him, but I haven’t drunk the Latvian’s Kool-Aid just yet, and would select the surer thing in Winslow at this slot.
5 (5) Stanley Johnson-SF (Arizona/Freshman)
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 8
-ESPN Rank: No. 11
-Stats: 14.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 1.8 SPG. .482/.425/.684.
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. Out of my top five ranked players, Johnson is the likeliest to slide lower on the list as the season progresses.
6 (10) Willie Cauley-Stein-C (Kentucky/Junior)
-7’0″, 244 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 4
-ESPN Rank: No. 7
-Stats: 9.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 1.9 BPG. .588/.000/.571.
Few players are rising up the draft boards this season quicker than Cauley-Stein, whose decision to return to Kentucky for his junior season is paying off handsomely for him. He is an absolute defensive monster, and can step into an NBA rotation immediately. He 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. Some mock drafts have him in the top five, which I think is a bit high for such a one-dimensional player. But he’ll almost certainly be a top 10 selection, and should pay immediate dividends for a franchise looking for a rim protector.
7 (6) Kristaps Porzingis-PF (Baloncesto Sevilla)
-7’0″, 220 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 5
-ESPN Rank: No. 4
-Stats: 8.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.1 BPG. .435/.371/.750.
Porzingis is a likely top five pick, but I 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.
8 (7) Kevon Looney-PF (UCLA/Freshman)
-6’9″, 220 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 11
-ESPN Rank: No. 5
-Stats: 12.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. .444/.273/.644.
Looney is still rising swiftly up the draft boards despite a brutal four game stretch where he averaged only 6.8 PPG, all Bruins losses. But he did have a monster 27 point, 19 rebound showing Thursday night against Stanford that will hopefully get him back on track. Looney’s 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 might not crack the top five selections, but if that is the case, whichever team he falls to could be getting a steal.
9 (11) D’Angelo Russell-SG/PG (Ohio State/Freshman)
-6’5″, 176 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 10
-ESPN Rank: No. 12
-Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 5.2 APG. .470/.458/.786.
Though he plays shooting guard at Ohio State, NBA scouts are now viewing Russell as a potential NBA point guard, which will only serve to increase his draft stock. 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. 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 short seasons.
10 (19) Kelly Oubre-SF (Kansas/Freshman)
-6’6″, 204 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 9
-ESPN Rank: No. 9
-Stats: 7.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 0.7 APG. .440/.438/.643.
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. But the freshman recently notched 23 points against Lafayette and 20 versus Kent State, which showed what kind of potential this tremendously athletic player has. But he tempered the excitement those outings generated with a 3 point outing against Baylor where he only hit one of his seven shots. Oubre needs quite a bit of polish, and would greatly benefit from another year in school, but that scenario is highly unlikely. He’ll likely figure things out a bit better by season’s end, and if he stars in the tournament and his pre-draft workouts, Oubre should end up being taken in the top 10 come June.
11 (8) Myles Turner-C (Texas/Freshman)
-6’11”, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 12
-ESPN Rank: No. 8
-Stats: 11.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 2.7 BPG. .487/.364/.893.
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. His production has tailed off in recent weeks, but his upside is too high for him to slide too far down the draft boards.
12 (12) Mario Hezonja-SG (Barcelona Regal)
-6’7″, 200 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 7
-ESPN Rank: No. 10
-Stats: 4.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 1.3 APG. .464/.290/.500.
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.
13 (13) Montrezl Harrell-PF (Louisville/Junior)
-6’8″, 243 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 15
-ESPN Rank: No. 15
-Stats: 15.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 1.1 APG. .597/.240/.592.
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.
14 (9) Cliff Alexander-PF/C (Kansas/Freshman)
-6’9″, 254 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 17
-ESPN Rank: No. 25
-Stats: 8.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. .529/.000/.727.
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 can be a rampaging beast in the paint. Alexander lacks a mid-range game, and he also doesn’t have a great grasp of the game’s 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. Alexander’s stock has taken a bit of a dip thanks to a decided lack of production over Kansas’ last six contests, where has only logged 5.8 PPG and 4.0 RPG. He still has time to figure things out, but Alexander is in danger of slipping out of lottery consideration.
15 (-) R.J. Hunter-SG (Georgia State/Junior)
-6’5″, 185 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 24
-ESPN Rank: No. 13
-Stats: 20.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 3.7 APG. .405/.302/.804.
Hunter is shooting up the draft boards quite rapidly, and could become a possible lottery pick by season’s end. He’s not an elite athlete, which could limit his potential. But this kid can flat out shoot, both off-the-dribble and spotting up, and is deadly from long range. He’s also a very good passer, but his ball-handling needs work for him to be an effective pro. Hunter will have difficulty guarding the quicker twos in the NBA, but he has the potential 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.
16 (15) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-SF (Arizona/Sophomore)
-6’6″, 212 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 19
-ESPN Rank: No. 27
-Stats: 11.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 1.7 APG. .545/.267/.690.
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 solid 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. His stock is beginning to slip, mainly due to Stanley Johnson becoming the focus of Arizona’s offensive attack.
17 (-) Jakob Poeltl-C (Utah/Freshman)
-7’0″, 230 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 18
-ESPN Rank: No. 14
-Stats: 9.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 2.1 BPG. .652/.000/.443.
Poeltl is another freshman who is playing his way up the draft boards. The Austrian is an excellent 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, skills, and athleticism will always have a place in the NBA. His post game needs quite a bit of work, and Poeltl will need to bulk up to be effective in the NBA paint, but don’t be surprised if he ends up becoming a top 20 pick.
18 (16) Frank Kaminsky-C (Wisconsin/Senior)
-7’0″, 242 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 14
-ESPN Rank: No. 17
-Stats: 16.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 1.9 BPG. .529/.364/.747.
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.
19 (17) Caris LeVert-SG (Michigan/Junior)
-6’7″, 200 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 13
-ESPN Rank: No. 29
-Stats: 14.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 3.8 APG. .430/.418/.800.
LeVert has tailed off after an excellent start to the season, and he has only managed to score in double figures in two of Michigan’s last six contests. LeVert reaped the benefits of Nik Stauskas having departed Michigan for the NBA in 2014, having a green light to fire away, but that only helps if he’s nailing his shots. If he doesn’t turn things around, and soon, LeVert is looking more and more like he’ll be taken in the mid to late 20s.
20 (20) Tyus Jones-PG (Duke/Freshman)
-6’1″, 184 pounds
-DraftExpress Rank: No. 22
-ESPN Rank: No. 23
-Stats: 10.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 5.2 APG. .434/.395/.855.
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 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.