The last great showcase for top NBA draft prospects is the NCAA tournament. The combine in May can help elevate someone's stock, but teams and talent evaluators want to know what will happen when they put players on a huge stage.
March is going to be a big month for fans of the draft. Not only is it a great time for the sport of basketball because of the passion and emotion in every tournament game, but virtually every major prospect with the exception of foreign players will be on center stage for at least the next two weeks.
There's also the chance that the debate over whether Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns deserves to be the No. 1 pick will be settled soon. A lot of evaluation remains to be done, but consistently great showings in March can make a draft prospect.
With that in mind, here's a look at a first-round mock draft with the storylines to keep an eye on in the coming months.
|2015 NBA Mock Draft|
|1||New York Knicks||Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke|
|2||Philadelphia 76ers||Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China|
|3||Minnesota Timberwolves||Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky|
|4||Los Angeles Lakers||D'Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State|
|5||Orlando Magic||Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia|
|6||Sacramento Kings||Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky|
|7||Denver Nuggets||Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA|
|8||Detroit Pistons||Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona|
|9||Atlanta Hawks (Acquired from Brooklyn Nets)||Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia|
|10||Utah Jazz||Myles Turner, PF, Texas|
|11||Boston Celtics||Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas|
|12||Philadelphia 76ers (Acquired from Miami Heat)||Devin Booker, SF, Kentucky|
|13||Charlotte Hornets||Frank Kaminsky, PF, Wisconsin|
|14||Indiana Pacers||Justise Wilson, SF, Duke|
|15||Phoenix Suns||Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas|
|16||Milwaukee Bucks||R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State|
|17||Houston Rockets (Acquired from New Orleans Pelicans)||Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky|
|18||Oklahoma City Thunder||Malik Pope, SF, San Diego State|
|19||Washington Wizards||Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville|
|20||Chicago Bulls||Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah|
|21||Toronto Raptors||Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin|
|22||Cleveland Cavaliers||Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame|
|23||San Antonio Spurs||Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga|
|24||Dallas Mavericks||Delon Wright, PG, Utah|
|25||Boston Celtics (Acquired from Los Angeles Clippers)||Terry Rozier, PG, Louisville|
|26||Portland Trail Blazers||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona|
|27||Los Angeles Lakers (Acquired from Houston Rockets)||Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky|
|28||Memphis Grizzlies||Tyus Jones, PG, Duke|
|29||Brooklyn Nets (Acquired from Atlanta Hawks)||Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia|
|30||Golden State Warriors||Caris LeVert, SF, Michigan|
|Order via ESPN, Picks by Adam Wells|
All Eyes on Philadelphia
For better or worse, the Philadelphia 76ers remain one of the must-see teams on draft night. They had seven picks last year and figure to be busy again with two first-round picks.
One problem for the 76ers is that despite the front office's best efforts to put together the league's worst team, thereby getting the most pingpong balls for the lottery, their players keep winning too many games.
As things stand, Philadelphia trails New York for the league's worst record and could end up missing out on the top pick. That's not necessarily a bad thing for the 76ers this year, as they don't need to invest another top pick in a center.
Instead, the franchise should be looking for a true point guard. Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith aren't the kind of players you want starting in the NBA.
This franchise dipped its toes into international waters with Dario Saric in the first round last year and should do it again if it wants a stellar point guard. Emmanuel Mudiay got a Derrick Rose comparison by ESPN Insider Chad Ford thanks to his "size, elite athleticism and raw power."
While it's dangerous to throw a Rose comparison on any point guard coming into the league, which immediately puts MVP pressure on a player who hasn't played a minute in the pros, Ford isn't alone in praising Mudiay.
Former 76ers head coach Larry Brown did a radio interview in Philadelphia (via Matt Lombardo of NJ.com) in which he said he has no doubts about Mudiay's ability to succeed in the NBA:
You need a great point guard. First and foremost I think it starts with them defending the ball. Emmanuel's 6-5, he's long, he's athletic. I think he can keep the ball in front of him. He's a pass-first point guard. He's an extra rebounder. He's not a great shooter, but, in the NBA, you have so much time to work on your shot and improve your game, his shot's not broken. I think it'll get there. I think he has it all.
The 76ers can do whatever they want with that second first-round pick from Miami, as it's basically a luxury, but they need to hit on that first pick. Point guard is the biggest hole on a roster filled with holes and question marks.
Mudiay has all the makings of a superstar at the point. He creates offense without having to score, which is exactly what a franchise ranking last in points per game needs to show some signs of life.
The Lakers' Rebuild
There's no bigger story in the NBA this coming offseason than what will happen with the Los Angeles Lakers. They tried to play in free agency last summer to no avail, ending up acquiring players like Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer to fill out the roster.
That's not what you ever expect to see from arguably the NBA's marquee franchise, but sometimes things need to break down so they can be rebuilt. The Lakers have been given a golden opportunity in this draft as long as they remain in the top five, because if not the pick goes to Philadelphia as part of a trade that involves Phoenix.
In addition to their first pick, the Lakers are also going to have Houston's first-round pick from the Lin trade. It's not going to be a great player, because the Rockets have the third-best record in the NBA, but L.A. will still get a quality talent.
The two areas the Lakers need to address are point guard and center. Julius Randle can be a difference-maker at power forward when he returns, and Jordan Hill, who is having a solid year and is signed through next season, can at least hold down the center spot for one more year.
Because of that scenario, as well as where the Lakers' first pick is in this scenario (No. 4), they'll miss out on the top two big men (Okafor and Towns). That puts them in line to get one of the top two point guards.
Jabari Davis of Basketball Insiders wrote about the importance of this draft to the Lakers, also providing a report on D'Angelo Russell, who would be taken by the team in this scenario:
Russell is also 6’5, but with a skill set and physique that could lend to using him as a combo-guard in the NBA. While Russell is definitely a natural playmaker, he also has the ability to assert himself as a scorer if necessary. He can really shoot it from beyond the arc (43.2 percent), and is effective in both catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble scenarios.
That's exactly what the Lakers need from their top pick this year. Russell gives them a player who distributes well but isn't afraid to attack the basket. They don't have another player who can drive at will and create for teammates.
As far as the other first-round pick, the Lakers should be happy just to find a quality bench player, considering how low that selection is. It's hard enough to find a star in the draft picking inside the top five, so getting anyone in the top 30 would speak volumes about the team's player development and scouting staff.
The No. 1 Pick
It seemed like a given for a long time that Okafor would be the No. 1 pick in the draft, no questions asked. Yet the more scouts have looked at the Duke center, the more questions keep coming up.
Specifically, there are questions concerning how dynamic Okafor will be in the NBA, as highlighted by B/R's Jonathan Wasserman in a recent scouting notebook:
Meanwhile, though a different style player, Okafor is making just 54.8 percent of his free throws. He hasn't given scouts much reason to believe there's a jumper in the works. You have to wonder if that could turn off No. 1 overall pick contenders such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic—lineups that already have interior-oriented centers who live in the paint.
Another problem for Okafor is on defense, which is something he acknowledged to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
"I feel it's true. That is one of my weaknesses," Okafor said. "I wouldn't argue with that. That's something I've been working with the coaches a lot this season, trying to get better at it."
So if Okafor isn't the No. 1 pick, which is currently in the hands of New York, does that automatically vault Towns, one of Kentucky's centers who will be taken in the first round, into that spot?
There have certainly been a lot of reasons to love Towns' development this year under John Calipari. One of the most prominent is some distance with his shot, as noted by Derek Bodner of 97.3 ESPN in Philadelphia:
Towns' numbers aren't impressive, as he averages just 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, but keep in mind he's doing that playing less than 21 minutes per game and splitting time on Calipari's loaded roster.
When you average Towns' stats out against Okafor's by every 40 minutes played, as Wasserman did in the Infogram graphic below, the gap isn't as stark as you might think:
In other words, the gap between Okafor and Towns is closing quickly. Yet the Knicks will still take the Duke star with the No. 1 pick.
First, even with some limitations, Okafor is a rare commodity: a true center who can score, which is someone every team wants to find. Think of him as an offensive-minded Dwight Howard.
Second, the Knicks need impact right away. As talented as Towns is, he's going to need development time because Kentucky hasn't allowed him to play as much as a typical top pick. Okafor will be a star the day he steps onto an NBA court and will be a hero in New York.