2015 NBA Draft Stock Report: Risers and Fallers Heading into the Tournament
Time is running out for 2015 NBA draft prospects to make final impressions. And with conference tournament play underway and the NCAA tournament coming up, the stakes have risen.
A number of prospects have actually found some nice rhythm down the stretch, including one of the four contenders for the No. 1 overall pick.
But the biggest late-season riser could arguably be a fairly unknown sophomore from the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State's Cameron Payne has suddenly emerged as a legitimate talking point in the draft conversation.
On the other hand, we've also seen a couple of fringe first-rounders hit the wall, as well as a freshman who's been forced to the sidelines while being investigated by the NCAA.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky, 6'11", PF/C, Freshman
Stock Report: ↑
The more consistency we see from Karl-Anthony Towns, the more convincing his No. 1 overall case will look. And Towns has been consistently effective and efficient over Kentucky's last 11 games, shooting 65 percent.
His low-post arsenal has ultimately looked much smoother these past few weeks. He's getting into his jump hooks cleaner and playing through contact around the block.
Towns also continues to help himself out by capitalizing at the line, where he's shooting a terrific 79 percent.
Most recently against Florida on Saturday, we caught an eye-opening glimpse of Towns' defensive potential. He swatted six shots in 27 minutes. In comparison, Duke center Jahlil Okafor has swatted five over his last 160 minutes.
Weak-side blocks, on-ball blocks, chase-down rejections—between his mobility and length, Towns showed just how much defensive ground he can cover.
There's no doubting his NBA ceiling—given his versatility and two-way ability, it's higher than Okafor's. Towns just has to ultimately convince scouts he's on track to reach it. And he's been making a pretty good argument, which will only get stronger with a big postseason.
Cliff Alexander, Kansas, 6'8", PF, Freshman
Stock Report: ↓
The investigation into Cliff Alexander really came at the worst possible time for his draft stock. He'd been averaging just 3.8 points over his previous nine games. And now, the odds of him getting another crack at selling scouts is looking slim.
“We are basically moving on,” coach Bill Self told Gary Bedore of KUSports.com. “We’re preparing this week to not have Cliff, even though there’s a chance we could if everybody could get on the same page but as of now that has not occurred.”
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde recently reported that Alexander's mother had been tied to a finance company that specializes in loans to professional athletes and agents. According to Wojnarowski and Forde, "loans based on future earning potential can violate NCAA rules for student-athletes."
With questions over his eligibility and fit in Self's offense, you'd like to think Alexander will look to go pro the first chance he gets. Only there are also unanswered questions concerning his upside and eventual transition.
Alexander hasn't proved he can play outside the paint, and at 6'8", he's slightly undersized for the NBA interior, where his post game is limited as it is.
A 5-star recruit, per 247 Sports, out of high school, Alexander entered his freshman season pegged as a surefire top-10 pick. Now, he could find himself just fighting for a guaranteed 2015-16 NBA contract if he chooses to declare this summer.
Cameron Payne, Murray State, 6'2", PG, Sophomore
Stock Report: ↑
It's just become too difficult to continue writing off Cameron Payne's production as a result of inferior mid-major competition and a green light from the coaching staff.
He's averaging 24.1 points and 5.6 assists over Murray State's last eight games.
Despite suffering a devastating last-second loss to Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament finals, Payne carried the Racers down the stretch with 15 points over the last 11 minutes.
He did the same the previous game in a win over Morehead State, scoring 11 points over the last eight minutes, including the go-ahead three-pointer with less than a minute to play.
The loss to Belmont might ultimately keep Murray State from making the NCAA tournament, but nothing can diminish Payne's spectacular season or the leadership he's flashed.
He's one of 13 players to average at least 20 points, five assists, two steals and two made threes per game in a season since 1997-98, via Sports-Reference.com.
According to ESPN's Chad Ford:
He is drawing praise from scouts as one of the most intelligent point guards in the draft. Payne isn't the strongest or most athletic point guard in the draft, but he is quick, is shooting the ball much better as a sophomore, and has a very advanced feel for the game. He probably isn't a first-round pick right now, but some teams are taking a very close look.
It's still unclear as to whether Payne declares this June, but if he does, he's become an awfully intriguing sleeper prospect for late-first-round teams seeking out backcourt firepower.
Jarell Martin, LSU, 6'10", PF, Sophomore
Stock Report: ↑
Jarell Martin picked a good time to start playing the best ball of his college career. He's been the driving force behind LSU's success, having averaged 24.5 points and 11.3 rebounds in wins over Florida, Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas since February 21.
And he's managed to strengthen his case for first-round consideration in June.
Martin went for 27 points in a terrific road win at Arkansas on Saturday. He stepped up big with forward Jordan Mickey out. Martin's athleticism and quickness were just too much, as he continuously burned the Razorbacks' front line as a face-up scorer and finisher.
He even picked up a huge weak-side rejection on a shot that would have put Arkansas up two in the final 23 seconds.
An unconvincing jumper (14-of-51 from three), coupled by questionable size for a power forward (LSU lists him at 6'10", though he measured just 6'7.5" at the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy last summer, per DraftExpress) have clouded his outlook.
However, the former McDonald's All-American clearly has next-level talent. He's been an active presence on the glass (nine rebounds per game), a tough two-point scorer and a weapon in transition (35 made shots at the rim in transition, per Hoop-Math.com).
Martin reminds me a lot of Orlando Magic combo forward Tobias Harris. I'm not sure he's a first-round lock if he chooses to declare, but he'll certainly get top-30 looks thanks to this recent surge.
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina, 6'9", PF, Sophomore
Stock Report: ↓
After looking like a potential prospect on the rise midway through February, Kennedy Meeks has crashed in March, having scored 14 points combined over North Carolina's last three games.
You barely noticed him against Duke on Saturday night, when he finished 1-of-7 for two points.
And now, it looks like Meeks could be in jeopardy of missing the ACC tournament, with coach Roy Williams announcing his sophomore big man will be out due to an illness.
"Running a temperature, they got it down last night, but it was back up this morning," Williams said via ESPN's C.L. Brown. "They tested him for [mononucleosis], strep [throat], everything comes up negative. ... He won't play tomorrow [Wednesday]; we'll have to wait and see after that."
Meeks could have ultimately used a big postseason to strengthen his case as a first-round prospect.
At 6'9", 280 pounds, Meeks has a monster frame and soft hands. He has a body built for the NBA interior. But Meeks' lack of a perimeter game and athleticism, as well as some questionable decision-making, limit his upside and overall appeal.
Assuming he can get back on the floor for the NCAA tournament, Meeks will need a good one if he plans on making this his last college season.
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College, 6'4", SG, Junior
Stock Report: ↑
Olivier Hanlan has been as good as anyone since the start of February, averaging 25.4 points over Boston College's last 11 games.
Just in the past two months, he's gone for 30 points against North Carolina, 32 against Florida State, 32 against Miami and 39 against Pittsburgh.
Facing elimination against Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC tournament, Hanlan nailed the game-winning bucket in the final 10 seconds—a pretty step-back jumper (to give him 25 points) he created all sorts of separation with.
On the year, he's managed to maintain his volume-scoring numbers (19.6 points per game) while averaging a career-high 4.2 assists. And he's knocked down 64 threes through 31 games.
Though not a natural point guard and undersized for a 2, Hanlan's ability to generate offense with the ball in his hands may hold value to a team looking for playmaking.
Quite frankly, I'm not sure he could have a better year. Don't be surprised if Hanlan declares looking to capitalize on his late-season run. We'd project he could go anywhere in the second round.
Terry Rozier, Louisville, 6'1", PG, Sophomore
Stock Report: ↓
With primary ball-handler Chris Jones dismissed from the team, this has been Terry Rozier's chance to prove himself as a playmaker. And he hasn't quite capitalized.
In a bad home loss to Notre Dame on March 4, Rozier, who shot 4-of-15, got outplayed by both Demetrius Jackson (21 points, three assists) and Jerian Grant (12 points, seven assists).
Rozier has ultimately struggled to create high-percentage looks for himself as well as teammates.
You can argue his role for Louisville is to score, though regardless, that 18.7 percent assist percentage and minus-0.65 pure point rating, per RealGM.com, reflect poor passing and facilitating instincts. And at 6'1", he could have a time tough getting by without them as a pro.
Rozier has also been really off from outside, having missed 18 of his last 22 three-point attempts. He's shooting just 36.3 percent on 14.6 shots per game over Louisville's last nine.
He's a terrific athlete, rebounder and open-floor weapon, but in terms of his transition to the pros, Rozier's purpose against a set half-court defense is unclear.
Trey Lyles, Kentucky, 6'10", PF, Freshman
Stock Report: ↑
Make that three out of four games with at least 14 points for Trey Lyles, who's now shooting 60 percent from the floor since returning from strep throat on February 10.
You're just not going to find too many forwards who can match up with Lyles at the college level.
Though not a jump-out-of-the-gym style of athlete, his blend of size, mobility and skill translates to mismatch offensive versatility.
You sometimes forget he's actually 6'10".
Lyles has been sharp in the mid-range, shooting 45.1 percent on two-point jumpers. And despite lacking burst, he makes up for explosiveness with terrific body control around the rim, where he's shooting an excellent 78.2 percent.
I'm on board with the Taj Gibson comparison. Lyles doesn't have that can't-miss upside, but given his particular offensive strengths and basketball IQ, you get the impression he'll stick for a long time as a pick-and-pop, face-up power forward.
Aleksandar Vezenkov, Bulgaria, 6'8", SF/PF, 1995
Stock Report: ↑
If you're looking for a potential international sleeper, you might want to keep an eye on stretch forward Aleksandar Vezenkov, who currently leads Greek's top division in scoring with 18.6 points per game.
He hasn't exactly come out of nowhere. Vezenkov also led the Under-20 European championships in scoring and rebounding this past summer.
But he's been on a tear since the start of February. Vezenkov just went for 25 points, seven boards and five assists against Koroivos on Saturday, and he's now averaging 21.8 points over his last four games.
On February 7, he exploded for 29 points and 14 rebounds while showcasing some eye-opening versatility as a pick-and-pop, spot-up forward and active rebounder.
Vezenkov's game ultimately revolves around his quick-release, lights-out shooting stroke that connects on 1.9 threes per game at a scorching 45.5 percent clip. Though not particularly athletic or explosive, he also has the body control to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim in line drives.
Defense is where he's likely to struggle most as an NBA pro, and he doesn't offer much upside. But Vezenkov's shot-making ability and presence on the glass could work in a Nikola Mirotic or Kostas Papanikolaou type of role.
Though likely more of a second-round option, don't lose track of Vezenkov, whose volume production overseas has been worth looking into.