The NBA draft is a delicate balancing act of hope and reality for fans and teams. Players are being taken because of their potential to do great things at the highest level of basketball, but these are young men still growing into the people they will become.
Asking anyone to go straight from college into a professional sports league is daunting. Add to that the coverage all of these players get, as well as the exposure most of them got from college basketball, and they are expected to be stars right out of the gate.
It's rare for a player to come into the NBA instantly ready to be a star. You can count on one hand the list of players who did that, while it would take a copy of Infinite Jest to fill in the number of players who needed at least one year before turning into who we thought they were.
In this latest mock draft, there are some players with the skills and mindset that will allow them to shine as rookies who deserve to be highlighted.
|2015 NBA Mock Draft|
|1||Minnesota Timberwolves||Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky|
|2||Los Angeles Lakers||Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke|
|3||Philadelphia 76ers||D'Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State|
|4||New York Knicks||Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China|
|5||Orlando Magic||Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia|
|6||Sacramento Kings||Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky|
|7||Denver Nuggets||Justise Winslow, SF, Duke|
|8||Detroit Pistons||Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky|
|9||Charlotte Hornets||Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia|
|10||Miami Heat||Myles Turner, PF, Texas|
|11||Indiana Pacers||Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State|
|12||Utah Jazz||Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona|
|13||Phoenix Suns||Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin|
|14||Oklahoma City Thunder||Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame|
|15||Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets)||Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin|
|16||Boston Celtics||Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas|
|17||Milwaukee Bucks||Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA|
|18||Houston Rockets (via New Orleans Pelicans)||Tyus Jones, PG, Duke|
|19||Washington Wizards||Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas|
|20||Toronto Raptors||Delon Wright, PG, Utah|
|21||Dallas Mavericks||R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State|
|22||Chicago Bulls||Terry Rozier, PG, Louisville|
|23||Portland Trail Blazers||Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona|
|24||Cleveland Cavaliers||Christian Wood, PF, UNLV|
|25||Memphis Grizzlies||Chris McCullough, PF, Syracuse|
|26||San Antonio Spurs||Pat Connaughton, SF, Notre Dame|
|27||Los Angeles Lakers (via Houston Rockets)||Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville|
|28||Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers)||Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia|
|29||Brooklyn Nets (via Atlanta Hawks)||Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas|
|30||Golden State Warriors||Rashad Vaughn, SG, UNLV|
|Order via NBA.com|
D'Angelo Russell, PG (Projected No. 3 to Philadelphia)
One good thing about D'Angelo Russell going to Philadelphia is he will get to play, because the 76ers need playmakers at virtually every position. The most basic requirement for being able to shine as a rookie is playing time.
The last image of Russell playing in a game was not a good one. Ohio State lost 73-58 to Arizona in the NCAA tournament, with Russell held to nine points on 3-of-19 shooting. Yet the star guard did showcase his other skills, with seven rebounds, six assists and just one turnover against a team that had more talent.
Penn State coach Pat Chambers, whose team lost to Ohio State twice last season, told Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer that Russell's versatility is what makes him such a special talent.
"Pick your poison," Chambers said. "You want to take away his three? He's going to crush you in the paint. He can finish with either hand. He can drop it off for dunks. If you over-help, he can kick it out for threes. Just a remarkable talent."
Even the knocks on Russell, as pointed out by B/R's Jonathan Wasserman, don't really hurt his future prospects because of how the game is being played today:
Spectacularly skilled, from his handle and jumper (95 threes, 41.1 percent from deep) to his dynamic scoring ability (19.3 points per game), D'Angelo Russell offers superstar NBA potential.
And with unteachable vision and passing instincts (five assists per game), as well as legitimate 6'5" size, Russell possesses the versatility and physical tools to play either backcourt position.
The only knock on Russell stems from his lack of above-the-rim explosiveness—the same knock that likely led to five franchises passing on Stephen Curry in 2009.
The 76ers need to find a player who can handle the ball. They traded Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee at the deadline and have invested high draft picks in two post players the last two years (Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid).
It's time for the front office to get the natural scorer and passer who can score from anywhere on the floor and get those post players the ball. Russell will make a nice addition to what is becoming an intriguing roster, even though there's still more work for the front office to do before the playoffs are within reach.
Willie Cauley-Stein, C (Projected No. 6 to Sacramento)
While Russell is a player with star potential, one trick to finding players who can make an instant impact is looking for a high floor instead of a large ceiling. Willie Cauley-Stein has the highest floor of any player projected to go in the top 10 because of his elite defensive skills.
Cauley-Stein is a perfect center for today's NBA, which requires more athleticism and the ability to play away from the basket. You don't want him touching the ball outside the post, but if his team needs a defensive stop, there's nowhere he can't make it.
In March, Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal noted how opposing teams avoided using a pick-and-roll offense because of Cauley-Stein:
Opposing teams often abandon the pick-and-roll against Kentucky because Cauley-Stein’s quickness and ability to defend guards as well as centers allow the Wildcats to switch without being at a disadvantage. Cauley-Stein often guards the opposing team’s best scorer, regardless of position. The most recent example: He limited Auburn point guard K.T. Harrell, the SEC’s leading scorer, to 1-of-12 shooting.
Because Cauley-Stein is a limited offensive player, never averaging more than 8.9 points per game in three seasons at Kentucky, he has to go to a team where scoring isn't an issue.
The Sacramento Kings don't have that problem, averaging over 101.3 points per game last season. The problem is they gave up 105 points per game. Cauley-Stein projects as a fantastic role player in the NBA because of his defensive versatility, with the potential to get better if he develops a consistent offensive game.
Even with a limited offensive ceiling, Cauley-Stein should have no problem being a solid starter on a playoff team the second he steps into the NBA.
Bobby Portis, PF (Projected No. 19 to Washington)
Bobby Portis is the kind of player whose talent sneaks up on you, but once you see it, there's no doubt that he can hold his own against anyone. That doesn't make him a star prospect; otherwise, he would be a guaranteed lottery pick.
However, as an athletic power forward who is able to create his own shot, Portis is a tremendous talent in this draft class. He did everything a top draft pick should do in college, increasing his scoring output (12.3 points per game to 17.5), rebounding (6.8 per game to 8.9) and shooting percentage (50.6 to 53.6).
One thing that makes Portis so unique is having a nose for the ball, as Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports noted in his March analysis of the Arkansas star:
He doesn't really ever stop working to try to get the ball, and another place that shows up is on the offensive glass. Portis averages 3.4 offensive rebounds per game, and is fifth in the SEC with a 12.9 offensive rebounding rate. The high motor that he shows all over the floor shows up in spades here, as he rarely quits on the ball and uses his length to be active at grabbing second-chance opportunities.
Effort is everything for a draft pick trying to establish himself in the NBA. Portis is earning raves for his effort from people in the NBA, as one general manager told ESPN's Chad Ford after the combine:
He's going to be in our league a long time. He plays hard, he rebounds, and he has a shot that is ugly, but it goes in and will be very hard to block. If you're looking for a solid rotation guy with an upside as a potential starter, he's your guy. And honestly, that's all you can really expect from this portion of the draft.
Going to Washington would provide a smooth transition to the NBA for Portis because the Wizards are already a playoff team. The Wizards also have one of the league's best point guards in John Wall, who can get Portis the ball in wide-open spots to take advantage of his shooting touch.
The Wizards need to get more athletic at the 4, with Nene Hilario and Kris Humphries currently on the roster. They may also be looking to replace Paul Pierce at small forward, as David Aldridge of NBA.com reported The Truth may opt out of his deal to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Portis isn't exactly going to be Pierce, who is a potential Hall of Famer, but the Arkansas star does have many unique qualities that will allow him to be a valuable piece for a playoff team right away.
Stats via ESPN.com.