It's never too early for an NBA mock draft. Not even in February, when we don't know the draft order or even which players will declare. Because mock drafts are fun at any time of the year, darn it.
This year's class has some excellent prospects, especially at the top of the draft, and there are certainly enough teams in need of a stud to reverse their fortunes. If you don't believe that, just look at the Eastern Conference standings.
But along with mocking the first round, I'll also take a closer look at a few teams who seem poised to come away from this draft most improved. From their likely draft position to the amount of picks they hold, these teams should leave the 2015 NBA draft feeling quite good about their haul.
|2015 NBA Mock Draft|
|1||New York Knicks||Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke|
|2||Minnesota Timberwolves||Karl-Anthony Towns, PF, Kentucky|
|3||Philadelphia 76ers||D’Angelo Russell, PG/SG, Ohio State|
|4||Los Angeles Lakers||Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China|
|5||Orlando Magic||Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona|
|6||Sacramento Kings||Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia|
|7||Utah Jazz||Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky|
|8||Denver Nuggets||Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia|
|9||Indiana Pacers||Myles Turner, PF/C, Texas|
|10||Detroit Pistons||Justise Winslow, G/F, Duke|
|11||Boston Celtics||Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky|
|12||Atlanta Hawks (via Nets)||Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas|
|13||Houston Rockets (via Pelicans)||Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA|
|14||Oklahoma City Thunder||Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville|
|End of Lottery|
|15||Philadelphia 76ers (From Cavaliers via Heat)||Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin|
|16||Charlotte Hornets||R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State|
|17||Phoenix Suns||Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas|
|18||Milwaukee Bucks||Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin|
|19||Washington Wizards||Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame|
|20||Chicago Bulls (via Cavaliers)||Malik Pope, SF, San Diego State|
|21||Cleveland Cavaliers (via Bulls)||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF/SG, Arizona|
|22||San Antonio Spurs||Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky|
|23||Boston Celtics (via Clippers)||Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah|
|24||Dallas Mavericks||Cliff Alexander, PF, Kansas|
|25||Los Angeles Lakers (via Rockets)||Caris LeVert, SF, Michigan|
|26||Portland Trailblazers||Delon Wright, PG, Utah|
|27||Toronto Raptors||Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga|
|28||Memphis Grizzlies||Ron Baker, SG, Wichita State|
|29||Brooklyn Nets (via Hawks)||Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky|
|30||Golden State Warriors||Justin Anderson, F, Virginia|
|Draft order based on current records|
The Teams With the Top Four Picks
Much like last year's draft was all about finishing with a top-three pick, this year feels like a top-four type of year, with Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Karl-Anthony Towns looking like the four franchise players to be had.
While Russell's excellent season will make him a serious consideration for the top overall pick, Okafor appears to be the gem of this class. As Chad Ford of ESPN wrote last week, there's a pretty general consensus that Okafor is the top man on the board:
As of today, every team I spoke with has Okafor as the No. 1 pick. When there is no clear No. 1 pick, teams tend to focus on team needs instead of overall talent. However, when there's a clear-cut No. 1, needs tend to go out the window.
Both Kevin Pelton and I and Fran Fraschilla have detailed why Okafor remains the odds-on favorite to go No. 1. To put it succinctly, he's the most offensively polished freshman we've seen come along in a decade. While his lack of explosive athleticism and defensive prowess doesn't put him in the same elite company as Anthony Davis or LeBron James as far as draft prospects go, he's a very good No. 1 pick.
Don't sleep on Russell, however. He's averaging 19.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. But if you really want to know why Russell has the sort of killer instinct and ability to bend a game to his will, well, you only need to hear what he said after putting up 32 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Sacred Heart in November.
"I didn’t honestly know who the opponent was, just prepared the best way I could," Russell told of Eleven Warriors. "And I just told myself whoever was guarding me, I was going to destroy them. So I just tried to do that and it landed good for me."
Don't be surprised if Russell destroys his fair share of NBA opponents, too.
The Sixers will almost assuredly have one of those top four picks. And good riddance—the Great Tanking Experiment of the last several years can't all be for naught.
If the season ended today, the Sixers would have the third pick, and being able to select Russell would almost assuredly be the ideal situation for the team. The Sixers absolutely need a pure scorer to go along with the defensive-minded Nerlens Noel, the yet-to-debut Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, who will be in Europe for one more season.
Add in Michael Carter-Williams at the point, and the need for a scorer on the wing is pretty clear (even if Tony Wroten has been a pleasant surprise at shooting guard). Of course, the team could also go after the more physical and athletic Mudiay, but with the need for a pure scorer, Russell makes the most sense.
Oh, and the Sixers will also likely have a second pick in the first round where they should be able to nab another excellent prospect. In this case, I have them grabbing Sam Dekker from Wisconsin. Dekker's size and athleticism on the wing fits with the type of player the Sixers have seemed to covet in their rebuilding experiment.
If the draft went down this way, it would certainly be a win for the Sixers. And another indication that their tanking experiment might just come to fruition in a few years with so much young talent on the roster.
Los Angeles Lakers
The best thing that can happen to the Lakers is to end up with a top-four pick, and not just so they can draft one of this year's top players. No, it's because the team's first-round pick this year is only top-five protected.
While the Lakers are the sort of team that prefers to "rebuild" through free agency, adding another young stud to pair with Julius Randle would not only give the team a young core, but it would also be an attraction for potential free agents. Add in the fact that they also own the Houston Rockets' first-rounder, and the Lakers could seriously inject some young talent into the roster this season.
And if there is one thing the Lakers probably need, it's some more young talent. Well, that and a superstar who can coexist with Kobe Bryant.
The Celtics are another team with two first-round picks, though, they are currently winning enough to push themselves out of a top-10 pick. Even the most competitive of Boston fans can probably acknowledge that losing now would benefit the Celtics greatly in the future. The quality of player between pick Nos. 5-8 and the picks from No. 9 to No. 14 in the lottery could end up being pretty great.
Still, also owning the Los Angeles Clippers' first-rounder means the team should be able to improve in the first round this year. And even if they keep winning, they may be able to package their two picks to move up a few spots in this draft.