The Top Returning 2015 NBA Draft Prospects to Watch Next Season
Most of the premier talent from college basketball last season declared for the NBA draft. Some didn't.
These are the top returning NBA prospects to watch in 2014-15—guys who'll enter their sophomore, junior or senior seasons on lottery and first-round radars.
For many of them, this will be the year they make that leap and maximize their NBA draft stock.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Junior
Willie Cauley-Stein will be coming off ankle surgery, but he'll also be coming off a sophomore year having averaged 2.9 blocks in just 23.8 minutes a game.
Scouts love that blend of 7'0" size and wide-receiver-like athleticism. He's the type of big man who can make things happen without needing the ball in his hands.
And that's why the minimal progress he's made with his ball skills really isn't all that important.
Cauley-Stein's appeal stems from his physical tools and the impact he's capable of having around the rim, whether it's as a finisher, rebounder or shot-blocker.
Guys like Tyson Chandler have done just fine for themselves in the pros without any go-to moves or jumper.
As long as he's healthy and active, expect Cauley-Stein to remain in that lottery conversation throughout his junior season.
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, 6'8", SF, Sophomore
Following a tough loss in last year's Final Four, Sam Dekker's game and body both seemed to have made strides over the past few months.
He measured in at 6'9" this summer at the LeBron James Nike Skills Camp, where he was "clearly the most impressive performer in Las Vegas," according to CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello.
And if you've seen him lately, he's definitely added some bulk and muscle to his arms and upper body.
I'll admit—Dekker wasn't overly impressive last season despite Wisconsin's run down the stretch. He shot just 32.6 percent from downtown and averaged 12.4 points—numbers way below expectations heading into 2013-14.
But Dekker's NBA potential remains intact. A bounce-back season that highlights his intangibles—basketball IQ, motor, passing instincts—and skill set as a driver and shooter could land him right back in the first-round conversation.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, 6'8", PF, Junior
Montrezl Harrell caught fire down the stretch last season, but this could be the year he puts it all together.
His devastating blend of athleticism, hops and power has been well documented by scouts. He shot 57.7 percent as a freshman and 60 percent as a sophomore, when he upped his scoring average from 5.7 points a game to 14.
Harrell is just a monster around the rim, where he finishes dump passes, lobs and putbacks high above the cylinder.
And in doses, we've seen him attack from the elbows, flash the jump hook in the lane and face up for a short-range jumper. But he'll have to continue expanding and polishing his skills, moves and touch from foul line to baseline.
This should be the year when it all comes together.
Think J.J. Hickson.
Wayne Selden, Kansas, 6'5", SG, Sophomore
Wayne Selden should be looking at additional scoring chances as a sophomore with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid moving on.
The NBA guys are drawn to Selden's 6'5" size and diesel 230-pound frame for a 2-guard. Though not the slickest off the dribble as a shot-creator, his ability to play through contact allows him to get away with being an attacker whose drives come mostly in straight lines.
In between, he's got the stop-and-pop jumper in the arsenal to match some impressive body control when looking to finish in the lane or open floor.
But he'll have to shoot the ball much better this season to really keep the buzz pumping. Another sub-33 percent three-point-shooting number won't cut it.
Selden fits the physical profile of an NBA guard with promising shot-making mechanics, a strong attack game and solid defensive tools. He'll have to put it all together to generate a little more consistency as a sophomore.
Caris LeVert, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Junior
Caris LeVert might be the face of the projected breakout prospects in 2014-15, after flashing some dangerous scoring ability as a sophomore despite playing behind Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III in the pecking order.
With both moving on to the pros, LeVert should be in line for plenty of touches as a top offensive option this upcoming season.
LeVert can light it up from the perimeter, having shot 40.8 percent from downtown on 1.6 made three-pointers a game. He's got that ability to catch fire out of nowhere and put up points in bunches quickly.
And he's also a big-time athlete in the open floor with solid defensive tools.
This year, look for LeVert's in-between game to develop and ultimately propel him up draft boards. We could be looking at a 20-point-per-game scorer for Michigan when it's all said and done.
Delon Wright, Utah, 6'5", PG, Senior
Don't miss Delon Wright this season—after transferring from junior college in San Francisco, Wright had an incredible year under the radar as a junior at Utah, where he finished fifth in the country in win shares, per Sports-Reference.com.
A 6'5" point guard with long arms and deceiving quickness, Wright has great physical tools and a terrific feel for the game.
He averaged 15.5 points on a mind-blowing 56.1 percent shooting last season.
So crafty off the bounce with the ability to slip through tight spaces and change direction on the dime, he simply finds ways to get to the rim, where he finished a whopping 71.7 percent of his shots, per Hoop-Math.
He also averaged 5.3 assists last year, showing legitimate instincts as a passer and facilitator, while his 6.8-rebound-per-game average reflects his activity and nose for the ball.
Defensively, he's an absolute pest. With that blend of size, quickness and length, he managed to rack up 2.7 steals a game in 2013-14.
Jump shooting is the obvious concern for Wright—he hit only 12 three-pointers all season playing his first year of Division I ball. But he was threatening in the mid-range and he knocked in 79.3 percent of his free throws, so there's at least some promise to work with moving forward.
With Wright, we could be looking at the Elfrid Payton of the 2015 draft.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona, 6'7", SF, Sophomore
More than anything else, it's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's defensive versatility that stands out on the scouting report. At 6'7" with lightning-quick feet, a near 7'1" wingspan and a live motor, Hollis-Jefferson has flashed lockdown potential at the 1, 2 and 3 positions on the floor.
And he's a high-flyer. Hollis-Jefferson can really climb that ladder and get way up there for blocks (averaged 1.1 a game), rebounds and finishes above the rim.
Offensively, he's a work in progress, but he did shoot 49 percent and average 9.1 points on only 6.5 shots a game last season. Hollis-Jefferson hit 103 free throws as well without showing much ability to create—a reflection of his explosiveness when slashing and taking off up toward the rim.
There's no doubt he'll have to improve his jumper to crack the lottery conversation, as few wings get by in the pros without one (he only hit two three-pointers as a freshman).
But Hollis-Jefferson is one of those guys who excels in some areas you just can't teach while showing promise in others where there's room for growth. Look for him to become a bigger threat with the ball in his hands as a sophomore.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas, 6'10", PF, Sophomore
Bobby Portis had some really nice moments as a freshman—moments he'll now look to convert into consistent stretches and regular occurrences as a sophomore.
At 6'10" with a 7'1.5" wingspan, Portis has tremendous physical tools and good mobility for a projected power forward.
And he's got some promising skills to match the size and athleticism. Though a work in progress, we've seen everything from a back-to-the-basket and face-up game to a jumper around the arc.
He was efficient and active last season, having shot 50.9 percent and blocked 1.6 shots in 27 minutes a game as a freshman.
Portis made the best of a recent invite to this summer's LeBron James Nike Skills Academy, where he generated some solid buzz for himself as a strong breakout candidate in 2014-15.
"Bobby Portis very impressive today. Shoots it better than expected. Runs the floor," tweeted ESPN's Seth Greenberg live from camp.
“It was a great experience for me to go against some of the best players in the nation and go up against guys with more experience,” Portis told Robbie Neiswanger of swtimes.com. “I think it helped me out a lot because I came out with a ton of confidence on the block.”
Portis has the look and game of a first-round pick. Consistency and a little more production should get him there as a sophomore.
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