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Very Early Ranking of Top 10 2015 NBA Draft Prospects

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2014

Very Early Ranking of Top 10 2015 NBA Draft Prospects

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    While it might seem too early to take a sneak peek at the 2015 NBA draft, you won't want to sleep on this crop.

    We're not yet sure how it stacks up against the ultra-exciting 2014 class or talented groups from previous years. All we know is these kids are extremely gifted.

    The top layer of prospects from the 2015 batch includes several imposing bigs, a handful of explosive swingmen and a couple of enticing overseas assets. There's no lack of size, athleticism or versatility among these future pros, many of whom are embarking on one-and-done college careers.

    We broke down the prospects based on physical tools, ball skills, intangible impact and noticeable potential. Who cracked our top 10?

     

    Unless otherwise noted, measurements gathered from DraftExpress.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky C (Junior)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Vitals: 20 years old/ 7'0"/ 244 lbs/ 7'2.5" wingspan

    Hometown: Olathe, Kansas

    NBA Role: Starting center, best post defender on team

    The last time we saw Willie Cauley-Stein in action, he was wreaking havoc in the paint before injuring his ankle during Kentucky's Final Four run. In 2014-15, he'll aim to improve his reputation as an elite rim protector and earn more respect as an offensive threat.

    The 7'0" junior covers acres of space in a blink, which is handy during fast breaks and pick-and-roll sequences. When he's not getting putback dunks or filling the lane in transition, Cauley-Stein is on the receiving end of an acrobatic alley-oop.

    That same mobility makes him a unique defensive weapon, as he can block shots from every angle. Cauley-Stein sent back 4.8 shots per 40 minutes in 2013-14, using the nimbleness of a small forward in conjunction with his helicopter body.

    Will he thrive as a scorer and get loads of low-post touches in the NBA? Don't count on it. Rather, look for him to serve as a key role player on a playoff team, an athletic big man who can survive in today's small-ball style. An extra year at Kentucky should solidify or even boost his draft stock, provided he stays healthy and shows progress offensively.

9. Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia PF/C (19 Years Old)

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    MANUEL GOMEZ/Associated Press

    Vitals: 19 years old/ 7'0"/ 220 lbs

    Hometown: Ventspils, Latvia

    NBA Role: Starting stretch 4, inside-out scorer

    Latvian youngster Kristaps Porzingis was on the draft radar last spring and piqued everyone's interest, only to withdraw last minute. Now, he's hoping to upgrade his stock with another year at Sevilla.

    A towering frame and soft shooting touch are his most valuable attributes, as he can score over the crowd in the paint or on the perimeter. He only shot 30 percent from distance in 2013-14, but his outside jumper looks fluid, and he'll undoubtedly improve in pick-and-pop scenarios.

    Porzingis can also attack closeouts and work smoothly with his comrades in the open floor. As an interior defender, his length is bothersome, although he's still learning the fundamentals.

    His only major flaw right now is his slender frame, but UpsideMotor.com's Kevin O'Connor explains that it's not a worrisome issue:

    With very wide shoulders, Porzingis has plenty of room to add muscle to his upper body, and if he works hard enough, his lower body should improve as well. Ironically, the concern most people have with him is the last thing anybody should be talking about, because adding muscle to his frame should be the easiest part of his development.

    Along with his inevitable bulking, Porzingis will become more adept at working in the post with his back to the basket. If he can sharpen his low-block moves to accompany his shooting touch, he'll be an irresistible late-lottery commodity.

8. Caris LeVert, Michigan SG (Junior)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Vitals: 19 years old/ 6'7"/ 200 lbs

    Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio

    NBA Role: Starting shooting guard, third scoring option

    Our top-ranked college upperclassman is coming off a strong sophomore campaign at Michigan. Caris LeVert did a little bit of everything for John Beilein's Wolverines, as he scored 12.9 points and dished 2.9 assists while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.

    He has clearly dedicated himself in the weight room, especially this offseason. The body transformation makes him a legitimate NBA shooting guard prospect rather than a lanky also-ran.

    It might be surprising to see a role player ranked so high, but LeVert's game is on the rise. In addition to his efficient three-point shooting and his improved frame, he has the ability to beat opponents off the bounce and drive to the bucket using his long strides, expansive reach and leaping prowess.

    Furthermore, he has a great nose for the ball and a sense of where to be in relation to his teammates. That's what fueled his 3.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds per 40 minutes in 2013-14, and it's what makes him an intriguing defensive prospect.

    With a more prominent role this upcoming season, he should produce big numbers and pad his prospect resume. 

     

    Height and weight via UMHoops.com.

7. Mario Hezonja, Croatia SG (19 Years Old)

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    Getty Images

    Vitals: 19 years old/ 6'8"/ 200 lbs

    Hometown: Dubrovnik, Croatia

    NBA Role: Starting shooting guard, second or third scoring option

    Although he only plays sparing minutes for ACB club Barcelona, Croatian slasher Mario Hezonja gives us magnificent glimpses of his NBA potential.

    The long, rangy swingman deserves the top ranking among international prospects, as he can connect from long range or slash athletically to the hoop. He has eye-popping playmaking ability when given the opportunity.

    His only real adversary is himself, as he sometimes suffers lapses in awareness or fails to stay fully engaged.

    When he's dialed in, his production is worth the price of admission (Exhibit A: his 26-point effort against La Bruixa d'Or). Against 2013-14 Spanish league competition, he shot 40 percent from three and scored 17.7 points per 40 minutes.

    Hezonja has shown he can create outside jumpers, maneuver his way to the tin or score emphatically in transition. He's also a solid passer, something that will be increasingly evident once his decision-making improves.

    On both ends of the floor, he's blessed with tremendous gifts. Had he not withdrawn from the 2014 draft, he would have been a mid- to late first-round pick. Now, he has his sights on the mid-lottery neighborhood.

6. Stanley Johnson, Arizona SF (Freshman)

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Vitals: 18 years old/ 6'7"/ 237 lbs/ 6'10.5" wingspan

    Hometown: Fullerton, California

    NBA Role: Starting small forward, second scoring option, featured wing defender, potential All-Star

    Incoming Arizona small forward Stanley Johnson might be the best two-way wing in the 2015 draft. In addition to his ideal size and proclivity to attack, the Mater Dei product shows the intangibles to make a versatile impact.

    His combination of size and mobility will allow him to guard three positions during his NBA prime, and he could be an elite stopper of shooting guards and small forwards. At Adidas Nations, he went head-to-head with Denver Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo and held his own, per Yannis Koutroupis of Basketball Insiders.

    On the offensive side, he's not a completely polished prospect. NBADraft.net scout Rick Fois notes that Johnson's jumper leaves something to be desired: "The problem is that right now his shot is very flat and the release point is in front of the face which doesn’t allow him to be consistent, particular when tired or under pressure."

    The rest of his game is first-rate, though, and he's working to improve his shot. He can get to the rim, score through traffic, handle the ball and work within a team concept. He simply gets the job done, and four California state titles speak to that more than a scouting report does. 

5. Cliff Alexander, Kansas PF (Freshman)

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Vitals: 18 years old/ 6'9"/ 254 lbs/ 7'2" wingspan

    Hometown: Chicago

    NBA Role: Starting power forward, double-double average, potential All-Star

    Cliff Alexander's playing style and greatest attributes are unmistakable. He's an absolute force around the basket, a strong forward who thrives on power and explosiveness. The 6'9", 250-pound freight train has a penchant for gobbling up rebounds and finishing over or through people.

    He's mobile, too. Alexander is the type of player who will swat a shot on one end and then lope downcourt to finish the secondary break thunderously.

    From a finesse and footwork standpoint, he's still developing. The good news is that his shooting form looks workable and he can establish position deep on the block. Even in a worst-case scenario, Alexander is going to be a high-level pick-and-roll player who rebounds on both ends.

    "He resembles a young Amar'e Stoudemire," said B/R's Jonathan Wasserman. "At this point, he doesn't have the offensive polish of Stoudemire, and that post game is something he'll be working on. But at just 18 years old, he's already a man amongst boys."

    Kansas will reap the benefits of his interior presence for one year but no more. It's not worth it for him to keep his NBA-ready body in college any longer than necessary.

4. Karl Towns, Kentucky PF/C (Freshman)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Vitals: 18 years old/ 7'0"/ 248 lbs/ 7'3.5" wingspan

    Hometown: Metuchen, New Jersey

    NBA Role: All-Star stretch 4, primary or secondary scoring option

    There are a bunch of reasons Karl Towns was named the 2014 Gatorade Athlete of the Year.

    He shined at St. Joseph's in New Jersey due to his versatile offensive skills, superb scoring instincts and ability to shoot over opponents. One NBA scout lauded Towns' grasp of the sport.

    "He's very skilled and has a very good feel for playing the game of basketball," the scout told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. "He's strong. He plays his position well. There are not a lot of basketball players with his feel for the game. He can face up and make jump shots. He's special."

    It's readily apparent that Towns has a diverse bag of tricks compared to most big men, and Spears provides some context to explain the variety:

    Though young, Towns has an old-school love for the game. He is developing a skyhook patterned from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and says he is trying to defend like A.C. Green. He has watched YouTube to learn moves from Magic Johnson, Shawn Kemp, Sam Perkins, Toni Kukoc, George Gervin and the late Len Bias. Towns has read basketball instructional books from Johnson Kemp, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving. His favorite basketball player of all-time is Bias.

    Towns needs to play stronger on both ends, and he's not an elite athlete. But don't think for a second that he can't earn a top-five selection come June.

3. Kelly Oubre, Kansas SF (Freshman)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Vitals: 18 years old/ 6'7"/ 204 lbs/ 7'1.5" wingspan

    Hometown: Richmond, Texas

    NBA Role: Starting small forward, second or third scoring option, potential All-Star

    Incoming Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre is the type of small forward pro scouts drool over. Blessed with a 7'1.5" wingspan and superb athleticism, the Findlay Prep standout has the ability to shoot and score over people at will.

    He's been gradually improving as a shooter and shot creator, and if he continues that upward trajectory, he'll be a dangerous weapon once he enters his early 20s. Oubre has been ironing out his southpaw delivery and slowly expanding his repertoire.

    "Oubre is far from a polished player at this point but is incredibly talented," notes Jonathan Givony of Draft Express. Givony added that Oubre's "size, length, scoring instincts are off the charts."

    Oubre wasn't an impressive defender in high school, but he's shown an increased eagerness to work hard on that end. Once his fundamentals and energy catch up with his length and quickness, he'll turn into a nice on-ball stopper.

    Oubre still has to learn some of the nuances of the game and become truly efficient, so he might not shine or dominate at Kansas like many are hoping. However, he will pass the "eye test" with flying colors and show ample promise as a top-tier NBA prospect.

2. Emmanuel Mudiay, Guangdong Southern Tigers G (18 Years Old)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Vitals: 18 years old/ 6'5"/ 200 lbs/ 6'8.5" wingspan

    Hometown: Kinshasa, Congo (then Arlington, Texas)

    NBA Role: Primary facilitator, first or second scorer, potential All-Star point guard

    The NBA has evolved into a guard-oriented league in recent years, and Emmanuel Mudiay is the type of dynamic playmaker teams are looking for.

    Until July, he was set to lace 'em up for Larry Brown at SMU. Instead, he agreed to a one-year deal with Chinese Basketball Association powerhouse Guangdong Southern Tigers, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, opting to go pro to support his family.

    Based on his dazzling skill set and lofty potential, he's worth all the fuss.

    Mudiay has the speed, ball-handling ability and body control to get anywhere on the court. He uses change of pace and shiftiness to create separation and then delivers a brilliant mix of unselfish passing and crafty scoring.

    Although his outside jumper looks great, he needs to convert more consistently. And as a point guard, he sometimes tries to do too much. Early in his pro career, he's going to have some "whoops" moments.

    But the pros heavily outweigh the cons, as he supplies size, athleticism and a knack for generating offense. On the other end, his length and agility will enable him to check both guard spots.

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke PF (Freshman)

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Vitals: 18 years old/ 6'11"/ 272 lbs/ 7'5" wingspan

    Hometown: Chicago

    NBA Role: All-Star center, first or second scoring option, double-double average

    Enjoy him while you can, Duke fans.

    Jahlil Okafor has the look and impact you'd expect from a top prospect, and he knows what it takes to control the paint. He's got much more than a massive frame and a soft touch around the basket.

    In addition to carving out position and dominating opponents physically, the young Blue Devil possesses the intangibles to counteract opponents and connect with his teammates.

    "Okafor understands the game at a high level," said Michael DeCourcy of Sporting News. "Phenomenal passer, can score in (the) post, knows what to do with his body."

    He's not an upper-rung athlete, but he tops our rankings because he's an absolute force. For an 18-year-old, he exhibits superb footwork, promising low-post scoring skills and a willingness to play fundamental defense.

    In a draft crop stocked with several attractive big men, Okafor stands out as the premier prospect. A slew of cellar-dwelling NBA squads would love to land him in June.

     

    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.

     

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