2015 NBA Mock Draft: First-Round Projections, Sweet 16 Edition
A number of 2015 NBA draft prospects may have helped move the needle for themselves with strong performances in the NCAA tournament.
Since conference tournament play, we've seen a new name move into our top five and another move into the top 10. Consequently, a few prospects have also taken fairly significant slides down the board.
Over the next few weeks, we'll start to hear which players will be declaring and who will be returning to school.
Though nothing is set in stone, we've taken Arkansas' Bobby Portis off the board following his comments to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Bob Holt that he'd been leaning toward returning. We've also taken Michigan's Caris LeVert's name off the board, after the report from Rod Beard of The Detroit News that "NBA folks" have told him LeVert would be "better off staying for another year."
1. New York Knicks: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky, 6'11", PF/C, Freshman
The New York Knicks can really make the argument for a few prospects, including Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor. But it's just too tough to ignore Karl-Anthony Towns' two-way potential—or his fit in the triangle, a system that values big men who can face up, shoot and pass.
Compared to Okafor, Towns has blocked 37 more shots in 277 fewer minutes, and he's made seven more free throws on 59 fewer attempts.
While the Knicks should obviously covet Towns' superior instincts in rim protection, his promising outside touch could translate to valuable versatility. Towns' ability to play inside and out could also allow the Knicks flexibility in terms of signing another big man in free agency. You can pair him with a 4 or a 5, while Okafor, who doesn't play outside the paint, could have trouble fitting into a lineup with another center.
Either way, between Towns' defense, skill set and springier athleticism, he gives the Knicks exactly what they should be looking for up front.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jahlil Okafor, Duke, 6'11", C, Freshman
It would be hard to imagine the Minnesota Timberwolves passing on Jahlil Okafor, who'd become their second major building block alongside Andrew Wiggins.
Okafor showcased the entire repertoire Sunday against San Diego State in the third round of the NCAA tournament. He went for 26 points against a defense that ranks No. 4 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com.
He is really as good in the post as any 19-year-old kid we've seen in recent memory. And at 6'11", 270 pounds with nimble feet and an array of go-to and countermoves, there is no reason to believe his scoring numbers can't carry over to the pros.
If only Okafor showed a little more effort, assertiveness and awareness at the defensive end, he'd easily be your clear-cut favorite to go No. 1.
Either way, he offers can't-miss value at No. 2, which, if you're the Wolves, you just can't afford to pass on.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Emmanuel Mudiay, 6'5", PG, 1996
With Towns and Okafor off the board, the decision for the Sixers boils down to two guards: Emmanuel Mudiay and Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell.
And something tells me Mudiay's athleticism and upside could tip the scales in his favor. At 6'5", he's quicker, bouncier and 20 pounds stronger than Russell.
A natural pick-and-roll facilitator and constant threat to drive-and-dish, he's shown the willingness, instincts and playmaking ability to get his teammates involved. And though it's tough to put much stock into his numbers through 12 games in China (which is what an ankle injury limited him to), he did average 18 points.
Mudiay, 19, certainly looked the part overseas while taking it to pros and former draft picks.
If general manager Sam Hinkie believes Mudiay's jumper and decision-making can improve, odds are he buys into the potential that's tied to his best-case outlook as a pro.
4. Los Angeles Lakers: D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State, 6'5", PG/SG, Freshman
You'd like to imagine the Los Angels Lakers will take whomever of the top-four prospects falls into their lap. And D'Angelo Russell would work just fine, given the team's need for a new lead guard and a little extra offensive firepower.
Russell's season ended against Arizona on Saturday in a game where he just couldn't get the ball to drop. But it fell for him enough times throughout the year, and without much talent to play off, he'd been forced to do it all for the Buckeyes.
A world-class passer, lights-out shooter (41.1 percent from three, 2.7 threes per game, 44 percent off the dribble, per DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony via Synergy Sports Technology) and confident one-on-one scorer, Russell could be the most skilled freshman guard we've seen since Kyrie Irving.
Superior athleticism may make Emmanuel Mudiay the more desirable point guard following workouts, but I'm not sure the Lakers could go wrong with either prospect.
5. Orlando Magic: Justise Winslow, Duke, 6'6", SF, Freshman
Justise Winslow would fit the mold of a general manager Rob Hennigan lottery pick. From Aaron Gordon to Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, Hennigan doesn't seem to have any issue reaching on potential and banking on skills to develop over time.
Winslow just put on a show against San Diego State in the third round of the NCAA tournament. He generated offense and prevented buckets defensively just by tapping into his super-athleticism and motor.
Though not a dynamic shot creator, Winslow has now made a three-pointer in 30 of 35 games played. And since experiencing a mini slump in January that started with a shoulder injury, he is averaging 14 points a game over Duke's last 16.
A core of Winslow, Payton, Oladipo and Gordon would have some pretty intriguing energy and defensive potential.
6. Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Junior
The Sacramento Kings have a number of offensive weapons and, quite frankly, there aren't too many scorers left on the board who'd be able to help them in the immediate future.
Willie Cauley-Stein has emerged as arguably the most valuable defensive prospect in the country. And that should make him a target for the Kings, who rank No. 27 in defensive efficiency.
At 7'0", he offers rim protection (only two teams in the league allow a higher opponent field-goal percentage at the rim), as well as the versatility to switch onto guards or pick up and press full court.
As an added bonus, Cauley-Stein is also good for an easy bucket or two per game, whether it's off a dump down, pick-and-roll or offensive putback.
Maybe the Kings think about sliding DeMarcus Cousins to the 4 and adding a major defensive asset like Cauley-Stein at center.
7. Denver Nuggets: Stanley Johnson, Arizona, 6'7", SF, Freshman
Stanley Johnson has established himself as one of the safer, more promising prospects, thanks to that 6'7", 245-pound size and team-leading 14 points-per-game average.
With a tremendous blend of athleticism and strength, Johnson aces the eye test from a physical perspective. And he has flashed the skill set and scoring ability to generate offense off drives, mid-range jumpers and threes.
Johnson also offers plenty of defensive activity, as well as lockdown tools to blanket 2-guards or wings.
Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari will be entering the final years of their contracts in 2015-16. Denver could take the season to groom Johnson into its starting small forward of the future.
8. Detroit Pistons: Mario Hezonja, Croatia, 6'8", SG/SF, 1995
Mario Hezonja would be able to fill a giant hole in a Detroit Pistons lineup that features Caron Butler and Tayshaun Prince at small forward.
Standing 6'8", Hezonja has mismatch size and athleticism for a wing. And he's lethal from behind the arc (39.8 percent this year), where the Pistons shoot 33.7 percent as a team.
He has been fairly quiet over the past month for Barcelona, though his minutes have been down. It's still unclear as to whether he'll come right over or even declare for the draft in the first place, but if he enters his name, there is just too much two-way upside to pass on if you're Detroit.
9. Atlanta Hawks (via Nets): Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7'0", PF, 1995
At No. 9, the Atlanta Hawks aren't going to find a prospect with higher upside than Krisptaps Porzingis, who, at 7'0", can face up and score from 25 feet out.
He's made 36 threes in 41 games at a 37.5 percent clip this year. With the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter, attack closeouts, separate in the mid-range and finish above the rim, Porzingis is a big man who scores from all three levels.
He offers eye-opening offensive versatility, as well as some promising shot-blocking tools and defensive pick-and-roll foot speed.
At 220 pounds, Porzingis is a little bit of a risk-reward play, but the potential reward is too enticing.
10. Indiana Pacers: Trey Lyles, Kentucky, 6'10", PF, Freshman
Trey Lyles has looked sharp this postseason, having flashed everything from post-ups, mid-range touch and drives.
You sometimes almost forget he's 6'10". Though average explosiveness limits his perceived NBA ceiling, Lyles is deceptively athletic and highly skilled.
He's knocking down 41.7 percent of his two-point jumpers and finishing at a 77.1 percent clip at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com.
With all the flashy names off the board, you'd have to think Lyles will be right there in the mix for the Pacers at No. 10.
11. Charlotte Hornets: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame, 6'5", PG/SG, Senior
Only three teams in the NBA average fewer assists than the Charlotte Hornets, who could really use another playmaker.
The Hornets backcourt offers plenty of scoring, but not much passing. Jerian Grant gives them a little of both, and at 6'5", having shared a backcourt with another ball-handler in Demetrius Jackson, he's a guard you can slide next to Kemba Walker at the 2.
Grant has been sensational all year, averaging 16.8 points, 6.6 assists and just 2.2 turnovers as Notre Dame's catalyst. He's shown the ability to take over games, as well as the willingness to prioritize distributing over hunting for shots.
He now has the Irish in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 after a solid overtime win over Butler on Saturday.
The Hornets haven't gotten much from their draft picks over the past couple of years. Grant will be 23 years old by the start of next season, and he should be ready to roll.
12. Utah Jazz: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, 7'0", C, Senior
With Frank Kaminsky, the Utah Jazz can add an immediate shot-maker to the rotation, as well as a big man whose stretch potential could complement the interior play of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
Kaminsky's upside may be limited, but at No. 12, the Jazz aren't finding a can't-miss All-Star anyway.
After taking a wild card and project in Dante Exum, and possibly missing the mark on Trey Burke, the Jazz might be best playing it safe and taking a sure thing like Kaminsky. He fills a need and gives them another 7-footer who can score in the post and bring opposing rim protectors away from the basket.
13. Houston Rockets (via Pelicans): Kris Dunn, Providence, 6'3", PG, Sophomore
With Patrick Beverley and Jason Terry entering free agency after the season, the Houston Rockets could target a point guard using the pick they'll receive from the New Orleans Pelicans. And no point guard left on the board has flashed more upside than Kris Dunn, who, at 6'3" and 205 pounds is powered by blurry quickness and dangerous athleticism.
Decision-making is really the only red flag, which we saw in Providence's second-round NCAA tournament loss to Dayton. Dunn racked up seven turnovers.
But he finished No. 1 in the country in assist percentage and No. 5 in steal percentage, per Sports-Reference.com, as a sophomore, a reflection of his playmaking ability at both ends of the floor.
Had this been Dunn's first year and not his third after two season-ending shoulder surgeries, chances are we'd have been talking about him as a lottery pick all season.
14. Phoenix Suns: Myles Turner, Texas, 6'11", PF/C, Freshman
With a number of wings and a solid backcourt, the Phoenix Suns could use Myles Turner's rim protection and stretch-big potential.
He needs to get a lot stronger, but Turner blocked 2.6 shots in 22.2 minutes, and flashed a natural-looking jumper, even if it didn't always drop.
Turner struggled offensively over the past month, and it has raised some questions over how far away he really is. But a patient team could reap some major long-term benefits tied to Turner's two-way skill set and rare versatility.
15. Boston Celtics: Kevon Looney, UCLA, 6'9", PF, Freshman
Kevon Looney needs to hit the weight room and work on his post game, but there is obvious long-term potential attached to his physical tools and perimeter ball skills.
With the size of a power forward and a terrific nose for the ball on the glass (9.2 rebounds per game, 48 putbacks), Looney's ability to handle it and shoot fuels some intriguing mismatch versatility.
He has knocked in 22-of-51 threes this season, and has shown he can face up and separate into jumpers.
Looney hasn't been much of a factor offensively down the stretch of the season, and there are questions as to how his 220-pound frame will translate. But at No. 15, the upside is worth the risk or time it could take for him to develop.
16. Philadelphia 76ers (via Heat): Kelly Oubre, Kansas, 6'7", SF, Freshman
With electric athleticism and dangerous shot-making ability, Kelly Oubre has flashed lottery-caliber potential. But an on-and-off motor and inconsistent impact could cause teams to hesitate on reaching.
Oubre finished 3-of-9 in Kansas' NCAA tournament loss to Wichita State after scoring just three points in a loss to Iowa State in the Big-12 tournament.
Still, between his springs, handle and shooting stroke for a 6'7" wing, there is plenty of upside for the 76ers to chase. In Philadelphia, Oubre would ultimately get just what his doctor ordered—regular minutes and plenty of freedom, two things he didn't have in Kansas.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Jakob Poeltl, Utah, 7'0", C, Freshman
The Milwaukee Bucks could look to develop Jakob Poeltl into their long-term anchor in the middle, which is what he's been for Utah's No. 7-ranked defense, according to Kenpom.com.
At 7'0", he has the size, mobility and instincts of an NBA rim protector. And heading into the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16, Poeltl is averaging 14.2 points over his last five games.
Poeltl completely dominated Stephen F. Austin's undersized front line in Utah's first game of the dance, finishing 7-of-7 with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
Though not a go-to offensive option, he has a great feel for finishing in the paint (shoots 69.1 percent from the floor) off dump-offs, pick-and-rolls and offensive rebounds.
The Omer Asik comparison is about as good as it gets in terms of his physical tools, projected role and limitations.
18. Washington Wizards: Devin Booker, Kentucky, 6'6", SG, Freshman
Devin Booker's three-ball has cooled off, and given his lack of playmaking ability, it could trigger hesitation from general managers who previously thought they were looking at an elite-level sniper.
He's still shooting a solid 40.6 percent from downtown, but when his jumper isn't falling, Booker is vulnerable to disappearing.
However, as a freshman, Booker has been hot a lot longer than cold. When he's locked in, he can put the ball in the hole from any spot on the floor.
Though not much of a threat to create, Booker projects as a shot-maker—a 2-guard or wing who can spot up off the ball, pull up in the mid-range and nail a shot off a curl.
And that could work in Washington, where he'd be able to give John Wall another target in the drive-and-kick game.
19. Philadelphia 76ers (via Thunder): R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, 6'5", SG, Jr.
R.J. Hunter hit the national radar after scoring 12 points in the final three minutes to sink Baylor in the NCAA tournament. However, scouts have been following his career for a couple of seasons now.
He has averaged at least 17 points a game in each year at Georgia State. And though Hunter struggled with shooting consistency as a junior, he still managed to average 19.7 points, make 80 threes and double his assist rate from a year ago. Plus, only six players in the nation made more free throws this season.
With ridiculous range and shot-making ability, Hunter should be able to relocate his accuracy as the fourth or fifth option in an NBA offense, as opposed to the top gun he's been for the Panthers.
The Sixers need some more players who can put the ball in the bucket, making Hunter an easy target with their third pick of the first round.
20. Toronto Raptors: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, 6'8", PF, Junior
At this point, Montrezl Harrell's strengths and weaknesses are pretty well defined. He's an explosive athlete and energizer around the basket, where he finishes above the rim (81.4 percent at the rim), pulls in 9.2 rebounds per game and plays physical interior defense.
But poor shooting touch (59.4 percent from the line, 9-of-37 from three) and choppy footwork limit him as a scorer.
Not that facing a 7'6" center should be easy, but Harrell was ineffective against Mamadou N'Diaye in Louisville's NCAA tournament opener against UC Irvine, having shot 3-of-8 and grabbed four boards in 38 minutes.
Harrell's shaky offensive skills and 6'8" size for a low-post player ultimately diminish his appeal and upside.
However, a team looking for a little spark and athleticism up front may still target Harrell outside the lottery. The Raptors, who could use an upgrade at power forward, would make sense as a potential suitor.
21. Chicago Bulls: Delon Wright, Utah, 6'5", PG, Senior
With Derrick Rose the only point guard under contract in 2015-16, Delon Wright would make sense as a potential target for the Bulls.
He has played at a high level now for two years as Utah's lead guard and primary decision-maker.
A pesky, versatile defender and an efficient offensive playmaker (5.2 assists, 1.9 turnovers per game, 51.8 percent shooting), Wright fits the description of a Chicago role player.
And though not known as a particularly threatening shooter, he has hit 26 threes at a respectable 36.1 percent clip. Wright also shot a terrific 83.4 percent from the line.
There is nothing flashy about his game, but you get the impression Wright can carve out a niche for himself as a scrappy, defensive-minded facilitator.
22. Dallas Mavericks: Christian Wood, UNLV, 6'11", PF, Sophomore
Christian Wood finished his sophomore year strong with 21 points against San Diego State on March 12 and 28 points against Nevada on March 11.
It capped off a breakout season for Wood, who played only 13 minutes a game as a freshman. Wood averaged a double-double in 2014-15—15.7 points, 10.0 boards and 2.7 blocks.
At 6'11", he is a bouncy big man around the basket, which translates to easy buckets off lobs, putbacks and dump-downs. But it's his ability to face up and attack or stretch the floor as a shooter that raises his ceiling an extra story.
Wood still isn't particularly efficient from outside (28.4 percent from three), but he did make 25 threes and a variety of different jumpers inside the arc.
Though he's a project, at No. 22, the Mavericks get a steal if he pans out.
23. San Antonio Spurs: Cameron Payne, Murray State, 6'2", PG, Sophomore
No ticket to the Big Dance hasn't stopped Cameron Payne from cooking. He's averaging 17.0 points and 8.5 assists through two NIT games, after helping the Racers trounce Tulsa by 21 points on Monday.
Payne slid under the radar during the year despite averaging 20.1 points, 6.0 assists, 2.4 made threes and 1.9 steals per game. He's a crafty playmaker with a lethal outside stroke and a smooth floater-and-runner game.
He's also a gamer—a lead guard who loves to take the big shot, which we saw throughout the Ohio Valley conference tournament.
The only red flag with Payne has been the competition he's faced. But it's just gotten too hard not to buy in. Payne has emerged as a legitimate first-round candidate and 2015 sleeper.
24. Portland Trail Blazers: Jarell Martin, LSU, 6'10", PF, Sophomore
LSU announced that Jarell Martin has decided to enter the NBA draft after averaging 16.9 points and 9.2 rebounds on 50.9 percent shooting as a sophomore.
Martin had a strong year in the SEC, though he really turned it on the last month, having hit the 25-point mark three times over his final seven games.
He changed his shot selection in 2014-15—Martin took 29 fewer threes and consequently raised his scoring effectiveness and efficiency. He's at his best facing up in the mid-range and attacking or bullying his way for buckets around the rim.
With broad shoulders and deceptive athleticism, Martin ultimately reminds me a ton of Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris. He'll have the chance to become a tougher matchup if he can eventually start knocking down jumpers with more consistency.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers: Tyus Jones, Duke, 6'1", PG, Freshman
Tyus Jones has let his passing and playmaking do most of the talking for him this postseason. And that's what a team like the Cavaliers would value most from Jones—his ability to set the table for teammates.
He has terrific vision and pure point guard instincts. A lack of strength and athleticism limits his defensive effectiveness and upside, but with a promising jumper (38.1 percent from three, 88.4 percent at the line) and strong feel for the game, there is a role for him as a backup for a team that can surround him with talent.
26. Boston Celtics (via Clippers): Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, 6'9", SF, Junior
Sam Dekker's first-round case has gotten stronger over the past month. And he's had a terrific start to the NCAA tournament, having scored 37 points and made seven threes through two games.
Still, Dekker's appeal to the NBA stems from his versatility and basketball IQ. At 6'9" with above-average athleticism, he has excellent physical tools for a small forward, along with the ball-handling skills, shot-making ability and passing instincts to contribute something different each possession.
Dekker doesn't need to create to make an impact. He picks up buckets off drives, cuts, spot-ups and transition opportunities.
If he can consistently knock down jumpers in the pros, something he's struggled to do at Wisconsin, Dekker should have no problem fitting in as a role player.
27. Los Angeles Lakers (via Rockets): Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona, 6'6", SF
Though not known for his offense, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has scored 34 points through Arizona's first two NCAA tournament games.
He poured in 23 against Texas Southern last Thursday, and to no surprise, all of them came inside the paint, according to the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter account.
Hollis-Jefferson followed up on Saturday by helping hold Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell to just 3-of-19 shooting. And that's how Hollis-Jefferson will ultimately make his money in the pros—by locking down opposing perimeter scorers.
At 6'6", he's long and incredibly quick laterally.
Without many explosive offensive options on the board, this is where you target a defensive specialist.
28. Memphis Grizzlies: Terry Rozier, Louisville, 6'1", PG/SG, Sophomore
Terry Rozier might be coming off his best game of the year, after showing he can balance scoring and distributing by going for 25 points and seven assists against Northern Iowa on Sunday night.
Averaging 17.2 points on the season, we knew Rozier could put the ball in the hole. But he's also taken 14.2 shots per game while sporting a 3-2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Rozier is a big-time athlete and tough on-ball defender. At 6'1", he's just needed to show scouts he can run the point. And Rozier's performance against Northern Iowa suggests maybe he does have some playmaking instincts to work with.
29. Brooklyn Nets (via Hawks): Cliff Alexander, Kansas, 6'8", PF, Freshman
Eligibility issues kept Cliff Alexander out of Kansas' final eight games of the year. And, quite frankly, he wasn't playing too well before the NCAA investigation.
Still, his athleticism and motor are worth a look late in the first round. Alexander can impact games without needing the ball by providing interior activity. He's a constant presence on the glass, having averaged 12 rebounds per 40 minutes. And he proved to be a strong finisher at the rim (shot 56.6 percent from the floor) off dump passes, pump fakes and lobs.
Alexander doesn't project as a scorer, but his nose for the ball and explosiveness around the basket could work in an energizer role.
30. Golden State Warriors: Jake Layman, Maryland, 6'9", SF/PF, Junior
His 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game aren't earth-shattering, but Jake Layman has flashed a number of NBA-friendly skills and attributes.
Standing 6'9", Layman made 45 threes at a 37.8 percent clip, which highlights his stretch 3 or 4 potential. And he also finished cuts and drives at a much better rate this season, having raised his two-point percentage from 44.1 percent to 53.0 percent.
Though he's drawn comparisons to Chandler Parsons, Layman isn't nearly as sharp of a shot creator against a set defense.
He'll have a good chance of succeeding in a role where he can play to his strengths as a shooter and slasher off the ball.