Perhaps the world is still getting over its post-football hangover, but it sure doesn't feel like we're already in the gearing-up process for March Madness. A quick look at the calendar, though, would tell us otherwise.
Most college teams are around three-quarters of the way through their regular seasons. Bracketologists are starting to reach "informed opinion" status after the wild guesses of the first couple of months. We know which teams are good, which ones are bad and the ones that are holding out in-between and making us throw things.
The same goes for the nation's best players. Assuming everyone declares after this season—a dumb assumption that is nonetheless necessary for this process—there is a generally good idea of how an NBA lottery would play out. Jahlil Okafor is the nation's best player. D'Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Karl-Anthony Towns are probably coming off the board in some order after him.
With the NBA All-Star break coming up, you can say the same about NBA teams. You can safely say nine or 10 lottery spots are already decided. All that's left is figuring out an order and finding which teams will hold down the final few straggler spots.
With that being the case, it's probably a good time to check in on how the NBA's first round could play out. We'll pay particular attention to lottery teams for this go-around.
|2015 NBA Mock Draft|
|1||New York Knicks||Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke|
|2||Minnesota Timberwolves||D'Angelo Russell, PG/SG, Ohio State|
|3||Philadelphia 76ers||Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China|
|4||Los Angeles Lakers||Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky|
|5||Orlando Magic||Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia|
|6||Sacramento Kings||Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky|
|7||Utah Jazz||Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA|
|8||Indiana Pacers*||Myles Turner, PF, Texas|
|9||Denver Nuggets*||Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia|
|10||Boston Celtics||Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona|
|11||Detroit Pistons||Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas|
|12||Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets)||Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky|
|13||Oklahoma City Thunder||Justise Winslow, SF, Duke|
|14||Houston Rockets (via New Orleans Pelicans)||Frank Kaminsky, PF/C, Wisconsin|
|15||Philadelphia 76ers (via Miami Heat)||Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas|
|16||Charlotte Hornets||Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin|
|17||Milwaukee Bucks||Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky|
|18||Phoenix Suns||Cliff Alexander, PF, Kansas|
|19||Cleveland Cavaliers||Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame|
|20||Chicago Bulls||Tyus Jones, PG, Duke|
|21||Washington Wizards||Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville|
|22||San Antonio Spurs||Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah|
|23||Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers)||Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky|
|24||Dallas Mavericks||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona|
|25||Portland Trail Blazers*||Robert Upshaw, C, Washington|
|26||Toronto Raptors*||Christian Wood, PF, UNLV|
|27||Los Angeles Lakers (via Houston Rockets)||Ron Baker, PG, Wichita State|
|28||Memphis Grizzlies||Terry Rozier, PG, Louisville|
|29||Golden State Warriors||Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia|
|30||Brooklyn Nets (via Atlanta Hawks)||Troy Williams, SF, Indiana|
|Asterisk (*) denotes a tie in standings|
Draft order is based on team records on Feb. 8, before games were played.
1. New York Knicks: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
If the Knicks win the lottery, this is the easiest pick on the board. The Patrick Ewing comparisons will write themselves, even if they're not entirely accurate. Unlike Ewing, Okafor isn't a lock to be a franchise-changing piece who can instantly affect a franchise's fortunes.
Okafor is and will likely always be a flawed defensive player. He doesn't have elite leaping ability or lateral quickness, which makes his ceiling closer to average as a rim protector and pick-and-roll coverage guy. Having a 7'5" frame will help, but Okafor's willingness to defend has waxed and waned at Duke. To put it a different way: He's much more Al Jefferson than Patrick Ewing.
Given the Knicks' struggles at the moment, though, I doubt they'd mind a Big Al reincarnation.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: D'Angelo Russell, PG/SG, Ohio State
Not sure I buy Russell being the second-best player in this class, but these are predictions, not evaluations. The Wolves are probably going to be in a difficult spot regardless of where they wind up selecting. Okafor is a tough sell with Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng on the roster; Emmanuel Mudiay is a weird fit in the post-Ricky Rubio extension world; Kristaps Porzingis doesn't remotely fit the Flip Saunders draft modus operandi.
Russell is the least of all evils. He needs the ball in his hands to be at his most effective, which makes him an odd fit next to Rubio, but he's an excellent three-point shooter who can slide into a combo-guard role with ease. There are some real Brandon Roy tendencies in Russell's game.
The name Brandon Roy might not enthuse Wolves fans—who remember him only as the shell of himself in 2012—but ask any Portland fan about Peak Roy. It's hard to not get excited about a Rubio-Russell-Wiggins core.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China
Save the comments, Sixers fans: I know the team has a point guard. You should also know that this front office has shown exactly zero positional preference on draft night, choosing to laughably attempt to convince folks Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid could play together. (Spoiler: They cannot and one will be eventually traded.)
Michael Carter-Williams, the team's current point guard, has been floated on the trade block for most of the past year, according to ESPN's Chad Ford. The Sixers were trying to sell high around last year's draft and have understandably come back disappointed with his lack of progress in Year 2.
If the plan really is to trade Carter-Williams, Mudiay is a no-brainer here. He might already be a better player. An ankle injury ended Mudiay's brief Chinese dalliance after only 10 games, but he was averaging 17.7 points, six rebounds and six assists per game. He is a box score filler like Carter-Williams with a much, much higher ceiling.
4. Los Angeles Lakers: Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky
The Lakers would understandably come away disappointed on lottery night if they fail to land the No. 1 pick. Okafor, like Julius Randle last year, is the perfect fit for a quick-strike rebuild around young talents. (They're also the type who can more easily be thrown into major trades after stellar rookie seasons.)
Sitting at No. 4 with Towns still available isn't a half-bad fallback plan. Towns may have the single highest upside of any player in this class. At 6'11" with a 7'4" wingspan, he's a skilled rim protector with good athleticism and body control at the basket. His counting stats are limited because of Kentucky's loaded rotation, but he is generally on the same plane as Noel was in Lexington.
It's Towns' skill set that puts him over the edge, though. He's far more skilled as a shooter and passer than most kids with his athletic profile. Most high school coaches would have parked someone like Towns under the rim and never allowed him to do anything else. Towns has been able to blossom, flashing a good stroke on mid-range jumpers and even taking the occasional three. A version of Towns with more of a mean streak is probably the No. 1 pick.
5. Orlando Magic: Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
Porzingis had real lottery potential last year but decided to stay overseas. From a skills standpoint, he's his own player. Far from the European stereotype, Porzingis actually does most of his damage in the open court. He excels when the pace quickens, using his cutting ability and quickness to make strong rim dives. The last two years he has also added a more consistent jumper to his repertoire, shooting 42.4 percent from three in Eurocup.
On the other hand, Porzingis' build is extremely slight. He's going to get bullied at the NBA level unless he adds 20 to 30 pounds. It wouldn't be a surprise to see teams attempt to pigeonhole him into a small forward role to account for those issues. Orlando's need for floor spacing informs this pick more than a belief Porzingis will be a real star.
6. Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
I don't see what others do in Cauley-Stein. Three seasons into his college career, the improvements have been there but not enough to make me think he's a surefire lottery pick.
Most of the deficiencies he had as a freshman—ones that pushed him back to school—are the same ones he has now. His body has filled out really well, but he's still an extremely raw offensive player without much discernible skill beyond his athleticism. Don't get me wrong, Cauley-Stein is an absolute freak athlete. He does things once or twice a game where you make a stink face so hard that it actually hurts your forehead.
He's also 21 years old. His wingspan is a meh 7'2" for someone who is listed at 7'0". The improvements to his offensive game have come in such fits and starts that I don't see much beyond a rotational big who will play 15 to 20 minutes a game. Maybe there's a Tyson Chandler lurking in here somewhere and I'm missing it. For now, though, Cauley-Stein is going to be one of those players NBA teams are far higher on than I.
7. Utah Jazz: Kevin Looney, PF, UCLA
The Jazz are weird. They have no real needs. Yet they have no discernible strengths. Every one of their starting positions are filled by fine players who are probably never going to be stars. (Dante Exum is still young, but his rookie season has been scary bad.)
You could, in theory, see Utah go anywhere with this pick. I'm going with Looney here for one reason: The prospect of a Looney-Rudy Gobert front line entertains the holy hell out of me. Soooooo many arms. And it might actually work if Looney continues to improve his jumper!
8. Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner, PF, Texas
Larry Bird's draft strategy in recent years has been...strange. Miles Plumlee spent one season in Indiana tethered to the bench before being traded to Phoenix, where he's subsequently gone from pleasant surprise to barely existing.
Solomon Hill is playing this season. He, indeed, is playing basketball this season. So there's that. But it's fair to say that Bird has not done a great job of maximizing his draft position since returning to the front office.
Selecting a player like Turner would be a boom-or-bust situation that could either redeem or doom Bird's draft resume. Turner isn't ready for NBA basketball. He's absent for long stretches of games, thinks his jumper is way better than it actually is and needs to bulk up if he wants to swing between the two big spots.
Projecting Turner into the future is a far more fun exercise. A super-athletic 7-footer, Turner swats the daylights out of shots at the rim and finishes above the rim with a surprising grace. That he's willing to stretch himself on the floor now is not a bad thing. Even if his bricky shots are a detriment to Texas, they'll be a boon for his NBA team once they start falling.
The Pacers need to think about life after David West. Drafting Turner might fill that time frame with hope rather than dread.
9. Denver Nuggets: Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia
The last thing Denver needs is more rotational clutter. Taking Hezonja, a skilled swingman with elite offensive potential, and persuading him to stay overseas for a season might be the best course of action. The Nuggets are a bad team that is basically capped out through next season and have veterans filling most rotation spots.
Hezonja allows them to hit the pause button on adding another piece while giving hope for the future. It's the route most thought they were taking a year ago with Jusuf Nurkic before bringing him over. Adding a Croatian with Nurkic, who played professionally in the country, could also allow both young players to feel more comfortable stateside.
10. Boston Celtics: Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona
This pick comes down to a threesome of wings (Johnson, Kelly Oubre and Justise Winslow) with generally similar grades. Oubre has the highest upside but has had the worst season. Winslow doesn't excel in any one particular area.
Johnson has been the best of the three on the floor this season while adding wrinkles few knew he had. I'm frankly flabbergasted that Johnson is shooting 39.3 percent from three. It's not a piece I saw him adding to his game until he was a few years into his NBA career. The form on his jumper is a little funky and he's nowhere near a great shooter, but even approaching league average is light years away from where most had him at this point.
Johnson's defense was as advertised. He is a constantly moving force with excellent lateral quickness and instincts. His body was NBA-ready coming into Lawrence. Imagine trying to score against Boston with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Johnson on the floor at the same time. Yikes.
11. Detroit Pistons: Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas
Again we're choosing between the remaining wings. Oubre wins out here because he better fits the Stan Van Gundy style of play. The Kansas standout has worked hard to carve himself a niche in Bill Self's rotation after being buried earlier this year and has shown flashes worthy of his 5-star billing. He has good range despite a shooting motion that makes me want to throw things. He has real potential as a defender if he can keep his head in the game and absolutely punches on people whenever he gets a chance.
There is a flair to Oubre's game that is at once off-putting and tantalizing. Which kind of makes him a perfect fit for Van Gundy, a basketball genius who's been known to get a little ornery at times.
12. Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets): Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky
I'm sure Billy King is a nice guy. I'm surer that he should probably not be running a basketball franchise anymore. That he gave the Hawks pick-swapping rights in the Joe Johnson trade is one of the most fundamentally insane basketball moves of this century.
That it winds up with the holders of the NBA's best record adding yet another shooter to their rotation feels fitting. Booker is the best pure shooter in this class, bar none. He has a quick, fluid release that he can get off with a defender closing hard without a problem and hasn't tapered off a bit since beginning SEC play.
The Hawks love players who know how to play basketball. Their system only thrives when everyone buys into making the correct basketball play at all times. Booker is a heady player who is at times the calming force for Kentucky despite a more veteran-laden group than usual. There is no more Hawksian player in this class.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder: Justise Winslow, SF, Duke
Winslow does about everything well except shooting, which makes him almost a carbon copy of Oklahoma City's shrug-worthy shooting guard rotation. Thabo Sefolosha became Andre Roberson this season with the same bricky results.
While someone like Booker may be more of an ideal fit, there's an awful lot to like about Winslow. NBA-ready from the jump, he's an explosive athlete who projects as an excellent defender and finisher near the rim. He's also not an abysmal shooter from distance, knocking down 36.5 percent of his threes. His poor free-throw percentage speaks to the work he needs to do with his form, but he doesn't turn 19 until March and fills the stat sheet in promising ways.
14. Houston Rockets (via New Orleans Pelicans): Frank Kaminsky, PF/C, Wisconsin
Injuries to Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones have shown the Rockets how fragile the concept of frontcourt depth can be. Any time a top-four Western Conference team is stuck playing Joey Dorsey, well, let's just say something went wrong.
Kaminsky bolsters depth and brings a fluid three-point stroke that'll intrigue general manager Daryl Morey. While he's not a rim protector, Kaminsky can give Howard the spacing he needs to work offensively while at least providing some length on the other end.
Tyus Jones is another possibility here if Morey decides he really needs to fill the hole at point guard.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter
All height, weight and wingspan info comes via DraftExpress.