NBA Draft 2015 Big Board: A Preview of Next Year's Potential Class
And with the 2014 NBA draft in the books, our scouting for 2015 has officially begun.
Quite frankly, the 2015 class isn't as flashy or deep as the one we just saw drafted. But there are a couple of incoming freshmen, as well as some high-profile returning prospects, who NBA scouting departments will be lining up to evaluate.
You can expect freshmen once again to dominate the top of the board, but don't be surprised to see some familiar faces fill out most of our top 30.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke, 6'11", C, Freshman
The consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation, at 6'11", 272 pounds, Jahlil Okafor has that monster size to match a polished offensive game.
With an enormous 7'5" wingspan, precise footwork, calculated moves and soft touch, he's a big man you can feed the ball to in the post and expect him to create a high-percentage shot.
He's likely to start taking over games for Duke right out of the gates.
The knock on Okafor centers around his athleticism—he's not a high-flier or explosive above-the-rim finisher.
But we're talking about a potential go-to center down low who can face the rim or back his man down and score with either hand.
Okafor should enter the year as the clear-cut favorite to go No. 1 in the 2015 NBA draft.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU, 6'5", PG, Freshman
A point guard with tremendous size and awesome athleticism for the position, Emmanuel Mudiay, an elite recruit, will be showcasing his game to the pros in a Southern Methodist Mustangs jersey under the tutelage of Larry Brown.
Mudiay has a tight handle with the ability to create or break down defenses off the dribble. He's got excellent vision as a passer, and he gets to the rack at will, where he's a nifty finisher in traffic.
Shooting will sit atop his must-improve list moving forward, but Mudiay has all the tools you can possibly ask for in a point guard. His talent and upside should land him in that No. 1 conversation early on next season.
3. Cliff Alexander, Kansas, 6'9", PF/C, Freshman
At 6'9", 254 pounds with a 7'2"wingspan, Cliff Alexander is a power athlete and an interior specialist who finishes, scores down low, controls the glass and protects the rim.
He's absolutely explosive. Sometimes, you get the feeling he's going to bring the basket down. And though he's a bit undersized for a 4 or 5, he still manages to make the rim look small when he rises above it.
Alexander's motor is non-stop, and he's a relentless presence on the boards. He's even showcased some touch as a shooter.
But he has to improve his ball skills in order to become an option to go to one-on-one in the post.
I'm not sure he's got takeover ability right away at the college level, but his long-term NBA potential is enormous.
4. Karl Towns, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Freshman
A true 7-footer with fantastic ball skills, Karl Towns is one of the most unique big men in this projected 2015 draft class.
He's a solid athlete for his size, though he won't blow you away with explosiveness. But in terms of basketball fundamentals, his skill level is phenomenal.
Towns can play in the post and create his own shot, or he can stretch the floor as a shooter and knock down three-pointers with comfort.
He also handles the ball, has terrific passing instincts and he runs the floor like a forward.
With Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee in Kentucky, it's tough to say just how big of an impact Towns will make early on. But it really doesn't take much to spot his eye-opening NBA potential.
5. Mario Hezonja, Croatia, 6'6", SG, 1995
Mario Hezonja has been widely regarded for the last few years as one of the top young talents overseas. And though he hasn't gotten much playing time for Barcelona's senior squad, his performances at the Europeans Championships, the Jordan Brand Classic and Eurocamp, along with his 26-point outburst against La Bruixa d'Or Manresa in the Spanish ACB, has caught the attention of international scouts.
At 6'6", he's a ridiculously smooth athlete who can create his own shot from any spot on the floor. He's dangerous on the perimeter with the pull-up and step-back jumper, and he can score off the dribble and get to the rack.
Off the ball, he's a constant target running off cuts and slashes, whether it's below the rim or above it.
There are questions with regard to his shot selection—he settles for too many tough shots on the perimeter, and the ball tends to stick to his hands when he goes into one-on-one mode.
But if we're just talking about physical tools, athleticism and skill, there aren't many who offer a more complete offensive package.
6. Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7'0", PF, 1995
Kristaps Porzingis had generated 2014 lottery buzz before opting to withdraw from this year's draft. That makes him a prospect to watch for in 2015, where his role in the Spanish ACB should be expected to increase.
Scouts love his 7'0" size, effortless athleticism and skill set away from the rim. He's got the measurements of a center, though his ability to attack off the dribble and shoot from outside make him more of a power forward at the NBA level.
He's going to have to add strength in order to bang down low with the big boys, but between his physical tools, above-the-rim presence and sharp skill set, Porzingis has some serious potential as a two-way frontcourt weapon.
7. Caris LeVert, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Junior
Caris LeVert blew up for Michigan as a sophomore, having averaged nearly 13 points and three assists per game on 40.8 percent shooting from deep.
He certainly looks the part of an NBA scoring 2-guard at 6'6" with smooth athleticism and long arms.
Lethal from outside, a threat to attack and a weapon in the open floor, LeVert's offensive game seemingly expanded with each month of last year.
He underwent foot surgery back in May, and it's going to cost him some time this offseason, but if LeVert can return to form, he should be considered a big-time breakout prospect.
Don't be surprised if he puts up close to 18 points a game this year as Michigan's top gun.
8. Justise Winslow, Duke, 6'7", SF, Freshman
Justise Winslow will be an impact freshman right away for Duke.
He's a smooth athlete who really glides down the floor and soars above the rim. And he's got a developed 221-pound frame capable of taking and dishing out contact.
Winslow is one of those energy wings who contributes in a variety of different ways. His scoring attack isn't quite polished, but he's able to get buckets as a driver and slasher, and his passing and rebounding instincts are both above-average for a small forward.
Developing his jumper should be a priority, but he's shown promise. Either way, Winslow is the type of kid who can impact a game without shooting the ball.
9. Stanley Johnson, Arizona, 6'7", SG/SF, Freshman
Fresh off winning MVP honors at the FIBA World Championships, Stanley Johnson will enter his freshman year highlighted on every NBA team's draft board.
At 6'7", 237 pounds, Johnson is a strong, physical wing capable of plowing through traffic on his way to the rim. He's actually more of a power guard than an explosive above-the-rim high-flier.
Johnson is also a fairly good shooter for an incoming freshman, and there's no reason to believe his jumper will be a problem moving forward.
He projects as a top-shelf defender and ball-stopper as well, with the ability to guard positions 1 through 3 on the floor. He might have Kawhi Leonard-like potential on this side of the ball.
My money is on Johnson making an immediate impact at Arizona. He should be in that lottery conversation from the start to the finish of what's likely to be a one-and-done freshman year.
10. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, 6'8", PF, Junior
After a breakout second half of his sophomore season, many expected Montrezl Harrell to bolt for the pros.
Instead, he'll return as a junior and one of the most physically imposing athletes in the country. His game is predicated on power and explosiveness. He finishes around the rim or above it, and though he's still limited working one-on-one in the post, he's improved his ball skills and scoring range in the paint.
Harrell's goal as a junior should be to develop an elbow or mid-range jumper. If he shows any promise as a shooter, he should find himself in that 2015 lottery conversation.
11. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Junior
Willie Cauley-Stein made a somewhat surprising move to return to Kentucky, given how crowded its frontcourt will be in 2014-15.
Though still not much of a threat as a scorer, Cauley-Stein's elite-level athleticism for a 7-footer translated to 2.9 blocks in just 23.8 minutes per game.
He's a guy who can impact a game without the ball in his hands, whether he's finishing above the rim, keeping plays alive on the glass or protecting the paint as a roaming shot-blocker.
Cauley-Stein did suffer from frustrating consistency, a likely result of his struggles as a shot-creator. And he injured his ankle during last year's NCAA tournament, which required surgery after the season.
But you just can't teach this blend of physical tools and athleticism. Unless he gets lost in Kentucky's shuffle, expect to hear Cauley-Stein's name in the lottery conversation all year long.
12. Myles Turner, Texas, 6'11", C, Freshman
A top recruit out of Texas, Myles Turner chose to play home, where he'll have NBA eyes glued to him night after night.
At 6'11", Turner's strengths center around his rim-protection and ability to stretch the floor as a shooter.
He's an exceptional shot-blocker with great instincts and anticipation. Turner isn't exactly light on his feet, but he reacts quickly, and with a near 7'4" wingspan, he blends timeliness with length to patrol the paint.
Turner blocked 18 shots in five games during this year's FIBA World Championships.
Offensively, he's got a soft touch with legitimate shooting range for a center, though he's not much of a threat to generate offense in the post.
Without standout athleticism or a go-to offensive game, his ceiling isn't as high as the other bigs, but Turner's ability to stretch the floor and protect the rim still hold first-round value.
I actually wouldn't be surprised if Turner stayed two years at Texas.
13. Kelly Oubre, Kansas, 6'7", SF, Freshman
Kelly Oubre should get heavy minutes right away, given his scoring prowess as a 6'7" small forward.
He's got good-looking physical tools for a future NBA wing, along with the ability to generate offense in a number of different ways. Oubre is at his best attacking the basket or swooping to the rack in the open floor.
At this point, his jumper isn't very sharp—Oubre's mechanics could use some fine-tuning, as he's vulnerable to bad misses from the perimeter.
But his size, athleticism and offensive instincts should result in significant freshman production and first-round buzz.
14. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona, 6'6", SF, Sophomore
Scouts raved about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's defensive potential and versatility following his freshman year at Arizona. He's got the size, length and quickness to lock down three positions on the floor.
And Hollis-Jefferson has one of those live motors that never seems to fade.
Offensively, his athleticism allows him to finish plays around the rim off cuts, slashes and line-drives to the rack.
This year, he'll have to work on his shooting touch and shot-creating ability.
If Hollis-Jefferson can add to his offensive repertoire, and ultimately become a bigger threat with the ball, his two-way potential should generate plenty of first-round or lottery noise.
15. Wayne Selden, Kansas, 6'5", SG, Sophomore
Playing in a loaded lineup as a freshman, Wayne Selden didn't have the greatest opportunity to showcase his game to the pros.
As a sophomore, he should expect to be one of the more featured options in Kansas' offense.
At 6'5" with a diesel 230-pound frame, Selden has tremendous size and strength for the 2-guard position. He's a threatening shooter from outside, and though not overly explosive or athletic, he's got terrific body control attacking the rim, along with the strength to finish through contact.
He'll have to improve his one-on-one game and become a bigger threat with the ball, but Selden has some solid tools to work with for a projected off-guard and complementary scorer.
16. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Sophomore
Dakari Johnson emerged as an important piece in Kentucky's rotation down the stretch, having given it an option to go to down low for high-percentage looks.
At 7'0", 265 pounds, he's an immoveable object in the paint. Johnson is simply a bully around the rim, where he gets excellent position by using his powerful body.
He combines strength with touch and good footwork to finish around the key, though he's not much of a threat at the high post or facing up.
Look for Johnson's touches in the post to increase as a sophomore, and the draft buzz surrounding him to pick up as the season progresses.
17. Delon Wright, Utah, 6'5", PG, Senior
Delon Wright came out of nowhere at Utah after playing junior college ball in San Francisco, and now he'll enter his senior year as a potential first-round pick.
He put up numbers across the board—Wright averaged 15.5 points, 6.8 boards and 5.3 assists per game. Tall, long and athletic, Wright takes the right steps at the right times, and finds ways to finish on the move and score at awkward angles.
Wright also averaged 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks, finishing No. 4 in the country in defensive win shares, per sports-reference.com.
He's a unique player with exceptional physical tools and two-way potential at the point guard position. Expect to hear Wright's name emerge as an early sleeper candidate—similar to the way Elfrid Payton hit the radar at Louisiana-Lafayette.
18. Jarell Martin, LSU, 6'8", PF, Sophomore
Jarell Martin flashed some legitimate NBA potential between his 6'9", 241-pound frame and inside-outside skill set.
He reminds me a lot of Tobias Harris—a combo forward with broad shoulders who can bully his way for buckets down low, attack in line drives off the dribble or occasionally hit the mid-to-long-range jumper.
After a year of seasoning, I'm expecting Martin to return with a little more confidence and offensive polish, both as a shooter and post scorer.
19. Marcus Lee, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Sophomore
Marcus Lee didn't get much action at Kentucky last season, but he opened eyes against Michigan in the NCAA tournament, when he went for 10 points, eight boards and two blocks in just 15 minutes.
Lee's game is all about athleticism, energy and activity. He's not a guy you feed the ball to and ask to get you a bucket. He's a guy who makes plays off the ball as a finisher, put-back machine, rebounder and shot-blocker.
A top-notch athlete with great length and mobility, Lee's high-octane presence around the rim is what ultimately drives his NBA appeal.
20. Tyus Jones, Duke, 6'2", PG, Freshman
Tyus Jones has that natural feel for the point guard position, where he'll share time with senior Quinn Cook in Duke's backcourt.
Jones has that strong command of the ball and offense. He's got a terrific floor game, with the ability to run the pick-and-roll, drive-and-dish, navigate through traffic and create for teammates.
His jumper is also above average for an incoming freshman.
The big knock on Jones is tied to his lack of strength and athleticism. At 6'1", Jones plays mostly under the rim, which limits him as a defender and finisher.
And that essentially limits his upside at first glance, though few 18-year-old ball-handlers are as mature, poised and polished as Jones.
21. Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6'9", PF, Junior
Shawn Long averaged an 18.6-point, 10.4-rebound double-double as a sophomore, thanks to that 6'9", 245-pound frame and inside-outside skill set.
He's a beast on the low block and a threat from outside where he nailed a scorching 42.3 percent of his three-point attempts.
Long even blocked 2.7 shots a game—he's strong, long and aggressive at the defensive end.
In big games last year, he went for 25 points against Louisville, 16 points and eight boards against Baylor and 15 points and seven boards against Creighton in the NCAA tournament.
Long has to improve his post game, but he's got the size, muscle and offensive touch, along with some promising shot-blocking tools and instincts, to make a major leap up 2015 boards.
22. Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona, 7'0", Junior
The stats haven't been there, but the efficiency in terms of production per touch has. At 7'0", Kaleb Tarczewski is a handful to deal with down low, where he can score with his back to the rim or drop-step into power layups.
He shot 58.4 percent from the floor last year, doing just about all of his damage in the paint.
Tarczewski isn't the greatest athlete, and he only averaged 6.3 boards and a block playing 28.3 minutes per game, but his size, touch and presence inside is his selling point to NBA teams.
23. Bobby Portis, Arkansas, 6'10", PF, Sophomore
Bobby Portis had a strong freshman campaign that might have slid slightly under the radar. He averaged 12.3 points, 6.5 boards, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 assists in 27 minutes, giving Arkansas some versatility up front, along with a physical, 6'10", 242-body body.
Portis runs the floor well, and often finds himself in position to finish high-percentage looks around the rim.
As a scorer, he's shown he can square up and knock down jumpers or put the ball on the deck and finish on the move.
He'll have to expand his post game—Portis tends to drift a bit on the perimeter. But he's got a promising inside-outside skill set to match an NBA power forward's frame.
24. Chris Walker, Florida, 6'10", PF, Sophomore
Chris Walker missed most of his freshman season after being ruled academically ineligible, but he should be expected to play a significant role for Florida as a sophomore.
"He’s not going to be in the same situation he was last year," coach Billy Donovan told Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel. "He is going to be thrust into a playing situation and he’s going to have to be responsible, reliable and accountable, and I thought last year that was a hard part for him."
At 6'10", Walker has serious bounce and length for a big man. He poses as a target above the rim for lobs and under it for finishes.
Defensively, his athleticism translates to blocks and boards, but he'll need to add strength to his 220-pound frame.
At this point, Walker isn't much of a scorer—adding post moves and some jump hooks should be a priority. But as an interior specialist, his ability to finish, blocks shots and rebound holds NBA value.
25. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, 6'6", PG, Sophomore
Andrew Harrison didn't have the freshman year many were expecting him to have, but he did catch on late in the season, and you can't argue with his run to the national title game.
Decision-making will be key for Harrison this year. Some scouts even questioned whether or not point guard is his natural position.
Harrison isn't overly quick off the dribble—he struggles to separate, which limits his ability to create for others and finish in traffic.
Still, between his size, handle and refined skills for the position, Harrison's upside remains intact.
He made a lot of mistakes last year, but most of them are correctable. This will be a critical season for Harrison and his NBA draft outlook.
26. Marcus Paige, North Carolina, 6'1", PG, Junior
Marcus Paige was an offensive machine for North Carolina as a sophomore, having averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game.
Paige is one gutsy guard—a fearless playmaker who can take over games.
He shot a respectable 44 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from downtown, thanks to a money touch with the pull-up, floater and long ball as a shooter.
Paige isn't the quickest or most athletic, and at 6'1", 175 pounds, his two-way upside is limited. He's undersized for a 2, so it's important he showcases his floor game as a point guard.
Still, his ability to make things happen off the dribble and put pressure on the defense as a shooter should attract NBA attention.
27. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky, 6'6", SG, Sophomore
Last year's NCAA tournament hero, Aaron Harrison flashed signs of NBA potential throughout his freshman season, but not enough to cement himself into the first-round conversation.
He's got the size and offensive game—the goal for Harrison will be tapping into that offensive game on a consistent basis.
At this point, between driving, slashing and shooting, he's good in a number areas but not great in any.
Harrison shot 35.6 percent from downtown, averaged 1.9 assists and scored 13.7 points a game—stats he'll need to improve in 2014-15.
28. Brice Johnson, North Carolina, 6'9", PF/C, Sophomore
He's tall, athletic and long, and in only 19.4 minutes a game, Brice Johnson managed to average 10.3 points, 6.1 boards and 1.3 blocks.
Johnson is active—he runs the floor and makes plays around the rim as a finisher and offensive rebounder.
However, he's only 210 pounds, has a limited post game and not much of a jumper. Johnson has the size and bounce, but he'll need to add strength and polish over the next 12 months.
29. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, 7'0", C, Senior
Consistency held Frank Kaminsky from sustaining the buzz, but there were times last year when he looked like a first-round talent.
Kaminsky erupted for 43 points earlier in the season against North Dakota. Later in the year, he dropped 25 points in a win over Michigan and 28 in a loss to Michigan State before putting up 28 in a huge win over No. 1 seed Arizona in the NCAA tournament.
Though not very slick athletically, Kaminsky has good footwork, legitimate post moves and the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter (37.8 percent from downtown).
Consistency could ultimately be the difference between the first and second round for Kaminsky in 2015.
30. A.J. Hammons, Purdue, 7'0", C, Junior
After averaging 10.8 points, 7.4 boards and 3.1 blocks, some scouts were expecting A.J. Hammons to declare in 2014.
Instead, he made the wise decision to return to Purdue, where he'll have the chance to boost his draft stock into first-round territory.
Hammons isn't the smoothest athlete, but he's got a good feel for the game inside, and he's got that massive 278-pound frame and 7'3" wingspan. He scores down low, protects the rim and takes up space in the paint.
This year, look for Hammons to improve his conditioning, his touch away from the rim and his post-scoring repertoire.