Who will be among the top five players drafted of this year’s 2015 NBA draft? This close to Draft night, there are normally several viable prediction of who the top five players to be drafted might be. This writer believes that the top five picks will consist of Karl Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay, but perhaps not in the same order. After those first five picks, however, the next selections are seemingly completely up in the air with many quality players still remain. Therefore, this NBA Draft preview will look at each of the top five player’s strengths and weaknesses, the guys that could become stars who will be taken later, some sleepers and this report will look at some teams who could potentially change their fortunes in the long and short-term.
Three of the previously stated top five players, Towns, Okafor, and Russell all seemingly possess the skills to immediately perform spectacularly at the level of NBA play. However, that is not to say that Mudiay and Porzingis are not also being discussed among scouts and general managers as potential franchise cornerstones. Towns has been singled out as the most likely to go number one overall to the Timberwolves, but the next four picks have been widely debated, as both potential pick’s skill levels are very comparable and the teams drafting in those 2-5 spots have needs at nearly every position on the floor.
Karl Anthony Towns is a great rim protector, with the size to bang with any big man currently in the NBA. At only 19, he will also put on muscle and become stronger to improve his defense and rebounding, which are already elite for someone his age. He showed down the stretch of Kentucky’s season that he has a diverse offensive game allowing him to spread the floor with a good midrange jumper, and the ability to finish around the rim with both hands.
His strongest attribute may be the fact that he has no real weakness; the only criticisms one can make about his game are that he is not an elite athlete, but he is still quite athletic. His offensive game is not perfect but it has the potential to be dominant. He may not be a star in the early months of his NBA career, but given a few years of good NBA experience, he could be a dominant big man in a league that is searching for just that.
Jahlil Okafor is probably the most NBA ready prospect in this years Draft. He has incredible size and an offensive game that is more developed. In addition, he is only 19-years-old which would make him the youngest big men currently in the NBA. His post moves are incredible, and he has good vision to pass out of double teams. Most scouts with agree that he is underrated as a rebounder. His size may suggest that he is “not very athletic,” but people will perhaps be surprised with how well he can move.
His defense definitely needs to improve as he is not the rim protector that Towns is at this point, but he has the determination and work ethic to become a great defender in time. He is likely to have the earliest success of this class, as he can probably average 18-20 point per game if given the chance as a rookie. He may be the most talented player in this draft class, but will have to prove he can defend at the NBA level and work on staying in great shape year round if he wants to be a true superstar in the league.
D’Angelo Russell is an all around point guard with a great feel for the game. His playmaking and leadership on the court are perfect for a point guard to lead a team. While he may not be the most athletic guard or the best shooter his intangibles are fit for the point guard position and just like most of the other players at the top of this draft he is only 19 and has a lot of room to improve. He can come right into the league and start for a team in need of a floor leader, his statistical output may not be great at first but he will likely develop into a great leader for a team he can grow with.
Emmanuel Mudiay is an athletic freak who is a good slasher lacking a great jumper as of right now. Playing in China instead of at an American college may have hurt his draft stock because many scouts have not seen him play. But in workouts and what we have seen of him in China he has all the right parts to become a star. His athleticism will help him early on as he still needs time to develop his offensive identity. Like Towns he may need a few years to meet his true potential, but he may have the highest upside of anyone in this draft.
Kristaps Porzingis is a Latvian born player who has played in Spain up until now and has taken the NBA scouting world by storm. He is 7’2 and can shoot the ball and move around the court like a small forward. He still needs to develop his body to play in the NBA because he is very slight of build. His athleticism is not elite, but it is also impressive for his massive size. Learning as he goes will be his biggest obstacle considering he will have to transition to a different style of play but also living in a new country. His potential is enormous, and that is why he has risen from the 5-10 range to the 1-5 range in mock drafts in only the few weeks since the NBA season ended.
While those top five players will get the most hype, there are also some players that have potential to be great from the start and last in the league because of their skill sets that will likely last until the back-end of the lottery. Justise Winslow showed his ability in the NCAA Tournament and if can improve his shooting he could be a star. He has an NBA ready body and can score around the basket and guard multiple positions right away. Kentucky Teammates Devin Booker and Trey Lyles both have some NBA ready attributes with Lyles’ size and versatility and Booker’s shooting. Stanley Johnson has great size for a wing and has athleticism to match but needs to improve his offensive game, his defense and transition play can translate to the league immediately.
Lower in the draft there is still really good value with some players who have the potential to really help a team. Both Willey Cauley-Stein and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are already great defenders who can lock down multiple positions, Jefferson from the wing and Stein in the post. They both possess elite athleticism for their positions but both really need to improve their offensive game. Stein needs to improve his post scoring as most of his points come from put backs and transition buckets, while Jefferson needs to add a consistent jump shot to his repertoire of inside finishing and transition scoring. Tyus Jones won a National championship with Duke and showed his clutch abilities along with great leadership and playmaking. He is not an elite athlete, but his intelligence and feel for the game should help him become a very good NBA Point guard. Even later on at the back-end of the first round or in the second Louisville teammates Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell along with Pat Connaughton and Delon Wright all have the skills to become key pieces on NBA teams.
That is enough about the players in this NBA Draft preview and time to move onto the teams. Specifically which NBA teams need to really draft well to get on the right track and which teams could potentially improve dramatically with the right pick in this year’s draft.
The top four teams in this draft the Timberwolves, Lakers, 76ers and Knicks all need to find franchise pieces in order to flip their existing narrative as a franchise. They all could use a player to build around it just comes down to which player each team believes that is and if there are enough franchise players in this draft to satisfy their need. All of these franchises need a shot in the arm with this draft, and they all share the commonality of being a few years from winning at a high level.
The 76ers have accumulated some talent and draft picks, but have shown no desire to really put everything together enough to win consistently by resting players like Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. If their players pan out and become what they want them to, they are probably still 5 years away from winning. The Knicks have basically no talent on their roster other than Carmelo Anthony and just need NBA bodies at this point, but because of their location will have an easier time luring free agents and will look to build quicker that way along with their 4th pick in this years draft. The Lakers have a lot of holes to fill and need their number 2 pick to add to a young core of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Through the last years of the Kobe era those two, as well as whomever they draft, will need to grow together to return the Lakers to former glory. Much like the Knicks, the Lakers have a great brand to lure free agents; however, at this moment even the Lakers are having a hard time luring the very top-level free agents, so they may need to build through the draft much more efficiently than they ever have before.
Strangely enough it is the Timberwolves with their number 1 pick and a good young core look to be the closest to getting out of the lottery. Last seasons trade for Andrew Wiggins added to some other good young pieces like Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine make Minnesota look like a real threat in a few season. With the likely pick of Towns Minnesota will have good pillars to build around and may have a similar ascent to the one OKC had with Durant Harden and Westbrook if they can all stay healthy and work towards becoming great.
Once outside of the top four of this draft, there are some teams that could drastically improve with only this draft, because they have positioned themselves well to do so. The Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks all have good young starting lineups and with some added depth and the right development of their players could be strong playoff teams just next season. The Miami Heat are also primed to return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings with their existing talent, the 10th picks and the return of Chris Bosh from a heart condition poise Miami to climb back to the top of the weak East.
Milwaukee already made the playoffs last year even with the season ending injury to their number two 2014 draft pick Jabari Parker. Jason Kidd did a great job of coaching this inexperienced team last season, and he will have even more talent to work with this season getting Parker back and adding some talent with the 17th pick. Orlando has the 5th pick and a new coach, so they have good reason to be optimistic. Although it did not show up in the wins column last season, their young core really developed nicely and if they can hit with their 5th pick and resign Tobias Harris this could be another dangerous up and coming team in the East. Utah has quietly built a very strong team with no real holes in the starting lineup, and they really played well down the stretch of last season. With the 12th pick the Jazz really only need to worry about depth so they are free to not over-think and just take the best player available. If that player can make an immediate impact, this Utah team is poised to jump into the playoff mix in the very competitive West.
This and other NBA Draft previews can predict all they want, but when it really comes down to it on June 25 no one truly knows what will happen. That is what is so fun about the NBA draft all the teams plotting how they can return to greatness and all the teams thinking of trades and other ways to try to land the player they desire.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
ESPN – Grade A Mock Draft
CBS Sports – Five Potential Sleepers
Grantland – Mind-mapping, Sleepers, and Rim Protection
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License