Culture of Hoops

2015 NBA Draft Primer

Image courtesy of the NBA.

Image courtesy of the NBA.

You know what’s maddening, yet oh so rewarding about doing your own NBA Mock Draft, and even more so, making draft related predictions? You’re never going to be right. It’s frustrating that no matter how much time you put into it or how tuned in you are to what teams need or how these players will fit in certain situations, you likely aren’t coming out of it looking like someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Nobody has a great track record with this kind of stuff. It’s tough to hit on every prediction you make unless you’re a goddamn clairvoyant. Of course, there are some nitwits who that have no business doing this because they have made claims like Adam Morrison would be the best player in the 2006 NBA Draft, Andre Drummond will be a bust, Michael Kidd Gilchrist will be the 2nd best player on a playoff team, and Jimmer Fredette could make more of an impact than Stephen Curry. Wait a second, I made all of those claims. Shit.

Well, as you go on reading this mock draft/prospect critique, rest assured that this isn’t a total waste of time. I’ve had just as many hits as misses. I’ve called for Kevin Durant over Greg Oden and Dwight Howard over Emeka Okafor, accurately pegged Daniel Orton, Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet as busts, and was sitting in the passenger’s seat on the very first trip of the Hassan Whiteside bandwagon back in 2010.

So let’s get to it: fourteen picks (since the lottery picks are what most people are here for anyway) and sixteen predictions to follow, most of which will be wrong!

1st Pick: Minnesota Timberwolves select Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky)

ESPN‘s Seth Greenberg claims that Towns will be “a 15-year All-Star and maybe one of the best to ever play the game.” That’s hyperbole and I like to stay away from that kind of stuff.

Image Courtesy of Sonny Giuliano

Image Courtesy of Sonny Giuliano

Alright, maybe I partake in hyperbole from time to time. I’m not sure Towns will eventually join Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in NBA history with fifteen or more All-Star appearances, but I do see Towns as a cornerstone piece from the Timberwolves, alongside Andrew Wiggins, moving forward.

2nd Pick: Los Angeles Lakers select Jahlil Okafor (Duke)

This pick could end up in Sacramento’s hands if the Lakers find a way to pry away DeMarcus Cousins. If no move is made, the Lakers will probably go with the center who has the best chance of putting up stats like Cousins does. Okafor is a savant in the post, and not just as a scorer. He saw double-teams frequently at Duke and showed the ability to dribble or pass out of trouble, or score despite the second defender. There’s room for a lot of improvement elsewhere, but with one elite skill he’s worthy of being the 2nd pick.

3rd Pick: Philadelphia 76ers select D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State)

My big board has the Ohio State combo guard right at the top. He gets a check mark in just about every box for a point guard coming into the NBA. He’s got good size and he’s a natural scorer. He’s among the best passers to come into the league and he’s already a pick and roll wizard. He’ll make an easy transition to the NBA.

Rumors have circulated that the Celtics have offered Marcus Smart and the 16th and 28th picks for Nerlens Noel and the 3rd pick, which most likely would turn into Russell, but the Sixers didn’t bite. I can’t help but wonder why the Celts wouldn’t throw in Dallas’ 2016 1st rounder and/or Memphis’ 2017 1st rounder to sweeten the pot? If I’m Danny Ainge it’s definitely a move that I’m considering making.

4th Pick: New York Knicks select Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia)

If Phil Jackson and the Knicks brass feel like this is a three player draft then this pick may be on the move. The common sense pick is Kristaps Porzingis, the Latvian mystery man who probably has more upside than any other player left to be selected in this draft. The question is whether Phil Jackson’s grumpy old-timer opinion on the game of basketball will deter him from taking a shot with a floor-spacing European big man because, according to Phil, jump shooting teams don’t fare so well in the postseason.

How’s that “goink” Phil?

5th Pick: Orlando Magic select Justise Winslow (Duke)

Porzingis would be a nice fit in Orlando, especially if Tobias Harris leaves in free agency. Winslow works well here too. The Magic need a small forward and Winslow, much like his Duke teammate Okafor, is coming into the league with an elite skill: NBA-caliber athleticism. As a prospect, Winslow reminds me of possible Magic teammate Victor Oladipo. If he puts all of the pieces together and continues to evolve as a player, there’s a very high ceiling as to how good he can be.

6th Pick: Sacramento Kings select Mario Hezonja (Croatia)

One of the most revered European wing prospects in quite some time, Hezonja has been playing professionally overseas since he was 14 years old. His climb up the draft boards is a pretty recent development though. Just a few months ago my cousin Gianni, a San Antonio Spurs fan, told me he was hoping his Spurs would have the chance to draft Hezonja in the 20’s. That’s no longer in play. Hezonja is big and athletic and, from the sounds of it, he’s a super-competitive dude who believes he belongs. That’s not something you can be taught.

7th Pick: Denver Nuggets select Emmanuel Mudiay (China)

Mudiay seemed like a cinch to be a top three lottery pick last year at this time. The question remains whether he’s more Dante Exum or more Brandon Jennings. Perhaps a more important question is do you want to draft a guy with the 6th pick if his ceiling is one as high as Brandon Jennings? Mudiay, like fellow lottery point guard DeAngelo Russell, has good size for the position, but then again so did Exum. Mudiay is probably going to be a project unless he’s more ready than we expect to compete against the best talent in the world.

8th Pick: Detroit Pistons select Stanley Johnson (Arizona)

Not built like your typical college freshman, Johnson is built like a damn tank and he plays older than someone who turned 19 years old less than a month ago. Johnson is a polished scorer around the basket. In transition, or when he has a path to the rim in the half-court, Johnson impossible to stop and he’s even developed a nice floater to deal with some issues scoring over size. Johnson does a lot of the little things well, things that teams trying to get into the playoff picture should be looking for. I don’t know how Stanley Johnson isn’t a going higher in this draft. It must be a sign of a better draft than most people are expecting. I do know there will be three or four teams that pass on Johnson that will regret it somewhere down the line.

9th Pick: Charlotte Hornets select Cameron Payne (Murray State)

Just like the jury is still out on Mudiay, it’s still not a sure thing that Payne, a mid-major point guard who hasn’t yet faced elite competition, will be more Damian Lillard than C.J. McCollum. His ascent into the lottery has been more surprising than any other player in this year’s draft. The 20-year-old Payne is coming into the NBA two years younger than Lillard or McCollum did, and he spearheaded a more successful college team than either of the aforementioned Blazers did. Payne plays hard and he’s able to create offense for himself and teammates. I’m still skeptical though. Personally, I like at least five point guards more than Payne.

10th Pick: Miami Heat select Devin Booker (Kentucky)

This one seems pretty simple to me: the Heat desperately need some Dwyane Wade insurance (and that’s not just in case he packs up his talents and leaves South Beach) and unless Stanley Johnson or Hezonja are still on the board, Booker’s the guy the Heat should go with if available. He’s built like a prototypical NBA two-guard and he’ll come into the league as a top-tier long-range shooter. Outside of Towns, Booker is probably the Wildcat whose most likely a sure thing in the NBA.

11th Pick: Indiana Pacers select Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)

WCS still has a long way to go before he’s any sort of difference maker offensively, but he is arguably the consensus best defensive player in the 2015 Draft. Paul George should be back and healthy for the 2015-16 season and that means the majority of the major pieces that went to back-to-back Conference Finals will be in place. Adding Cauley-Stein to that defensive-minded mix would be a easy transition for the third Wildcat off the board.

12th Pick: Utah Jazz select Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) 

The Jazz played playoff-caliber ball for the entire second half of the regular season, but there are still plenty of holes to be filled: The starting point guard spot hasn’t been totally secured by either Trey Burke or Dante Exum, Gordon Hayward needs someone else to ease some of the perimeter scoring burden, and after Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert there isn’t much depth in the frontcourt. Adding Kaminsky to the mix gives the Jazz a floor spacer and another big body. Kaminsky coming off of the bench and playing alongside Favors or Gobert is theoretically a nice fit.

13th Pick: Phoenix Suns select Myles Turner (Texas)

The odds on favorite to be the subject of Jay Bilas’ longest and most elaborate session of length-related gushing. The Longhorns freshman was young for his class and has already shown a good amount of polish to his offensive game. The Alex Len experiment seems to be one that probably shouldn’t go on much longer, and Turner is a suitable replacement. Over time Turner has a chance to develop into one of the better pick and pop big men in the league, so long as some lower body injury concerns don’t rear their ugly head.

14th Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder select Trey Lyles (Kentucky)

Lyles is cut from the same cloth as Myles Turner. A long, offensive-minded big who over time can turn into a reliable scorer from a variety of spots on the floor. Lyles played more 3 than 4 at Kentucky this year and that certainly didn’t do any favors for his draft stock. He’s not going to be quick enough to stay in front of quicker small forwards, and he still needs to put on some muscle before he can consistently bang bodies with bigs in the paint.

Prediction #1: Tyus Jones and Travis Trice, two smaller point guards who played exceptionally well in the NCAA Tournament, will both have successful NBA careers as either starting point guards or legitimate back-ups.

Prediction #2: Let’s assume Vegas had odds on which 2015 draftee will be considered the best player ten years from now. And let’s assume I brought $100 to Vegas and was told I had to put $40, $30, $20 and $10 on four different players. If that were the case I’d put $40 on DeAngelo Russell, $30 on Karl-Anthony Towns, $20 on Stanley Johnson and $10 on Jerian Grant.

Prediction #3: The Cleveland Cavaliers will trade their 1st Round pick … and Brendan Haywood.

Prediction #4: Kevon Looney will be drafted by the Toronto Raptors, because why wouldn’t a dude named Looney play in Canada?

Prediction #6: The Boston Celtics will be very active on draft night.

Prediction #7: The Philadelphia 76ers will turn their five 2nd Round picks into ten 2nd Round picks in the drafts to come.

Prediction #8: Sacramento won’t trade DeMarcus Cousins on draft night.

Prediction #9: Ben Simmons will be the 1st overall selection next year.  

Prediction #10: Wisconsin small forward Sam Dekker will prove to be a lottery worthy talent.

Prediction #11: Kansas small forward Kelly Oubre will not.

Prediction #12: Syracuse’s pair of power forwards (Chris McCullough and Rakeem Christmas) will out-perform their draft position.

Prediction #13: At least one team in the top ten will trade out of the lottery.

Prediction #14: At least three teams drafting in the lottery will make the Playoffs next year.

Prediction #15: The San Antonio Spurs won’t take a foreigner with their 1st Round pick. My guess: Arizona small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is a consistent corner three-pointer away from becoming Bruce Bowen.

Prediction #16: The Golden State Warriors will take foreigner with their first round pick. My guess: Guillermo Hernangomez, a big Spainard who will be stashed away for a few years before finding a role in the Warriors rotation. Wouldn’t that be awfully Spursy of the new age Spurs?

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