2015 NBA Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions and Early Storylines to Watch

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 10, 2015

CHAPEL HILL, NC - MARCH 07:  Jahlil Okafor #15 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after scoring against the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at the Dean Smith Center on March 7, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

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
1New York KnicksJahlil Okafor, C, Duke
2Philadelphia 76ersEmmanuel Mudiay, PG, China
3Minnesota TimberwolvesKarl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky
4Los Angeles LakersD'Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State
5Orlando MagicKristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
6Sacramento KingsWillie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
7Denver NuggetsKevon Looney, PF, UCLA
8Detroit PistonsStanley Johnson, SF, Arizona
9Atlanta Hawks (Acquired from Brooklyn Nets)Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia
10Utah JazzMyles Turner, PF, Texas
11Boston CelticsKelly Oubre, SF, Kansas
12Philadelphia 76ers (Acquired from Miami Heat)Devin Booker, SF, Kentucky
13Charlotte HornetsFrank Kaminsky, PF, Wisconsin
14Indiana PacersJustise Wilson, SF, Duke
15Phoenix SunsBobby Portis, PF, Arkansas
16Milwaukee BucksR.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State
17Houston Rockets (Acquired from New Orleans Pelicans)Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky
18Oklahoma City ThunderMalik Pope, SF, San Diego State
19Washington WizardsMontrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
20Chicago BullsJakob Poeltl, C, Utah
21Toronto RaptorsSam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
22Cleveland CavaliersJerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame
23San Antonio SpursDomantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga
24Dallas MavericksDelon Wright, PG, Utah
25Boston Celtics (Acquired from Los Angeles Clippers)Terry Rozier, PG, Louisville
26Portland Trail BlazersRondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona
27Los Angeles Lakers (Acquired from Houston Rockets)Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky
28Memphis GrizzliesTyus Jones, PG, Duke
29Brooklyn Nets (Acquired from Atlanta Hawks)Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia
30Golden State WarriorsCaris LeVert, SF, Michigan
Order via ESPN, Picks by Adam Wells

All Eyes on Philadelphia

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Matt Slocum/Associated Press

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

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 29:  DAngelo Russell #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action against the Maryland Terrapins on January 29, 2015 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

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. 

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 29:   (L-R) Jamaal Wilkes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott, Earvin 'Magic' Johnson and Mitch Kupchak pose for a picture during a press conference to introduce Byron Scott as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on July 29, 2
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

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:

Derek Bodner @DerekBodnerNBA

Towns with a huge step-back J just inside the three point lines as the shot clock was winding down. When he fully puts it all together...

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. 

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