2015 NBA Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions for Fastest-Rising Prospects

Sterling Xie@@sxie1281Correspondent IIJune 16, 2015

Apr 3, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Willie Cauley-Stein during practice for the 2015 NCAA Men's Division I Championship semi-final game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Fewer than 10 days out from the 2015 NBA draft, smokescreens from teams have made it a considerable task to decipher fact from fiction.  While many of these leaks are simply for misdirection purposes, all of these are done with a purpose of altering a certain prospect's stock.

And if there's enough smoke surrounding a certain player, there's bound to be fire.  Every draft season sees late bloomers in the predraft process rocket their way up the final boards, from Aaron Gordon last year to Anthony Bennett two years prior.  

So which names could fall into that category this year?  Mocking the entire first round, let's highlight a trio of prospects who might come off the board earlier than many suspect.

2015 NBA 1st-Round Mock Draft
1Minnesota TimberwolvesKarl-Anthony Towns, PF, Kentucky
2Los Angeles LakersJahlil Okafor, C, Duke
3Philadelphia 76ersD’Angelo Russell, PG/SG, Ohio State
4New York KnicksWillie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
5Orlando MagicEmmanuel Mudiay, PG, China
6Sacramento KingsKristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
7Denver NuggetsJustise Winslow, G/F, Duke
8Detroit PistonsMario Hezonja, SF, Croatia
9Charlotte HornetsStanley Johnson, SF, Arizona
10Miami HeatSam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
11Indiana PacersDevin Booker, SG, Kentucky
12Utah JazzTrey Lyles, PF, Kentucky
13Phoenix SunsFrank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin
14Oklahoma City ThunderCameron Payne, PG, Murray State
15Atlanta Hawks (via Nets)Myles Turner, PF, Texas
16Boston CelticsKevon Looney, PF, UCLA
17Milwaukee BucksBobby Portis, PF, Arkansas
18Houston Rockets (via Pelicans)Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas
19Washington WizardsJerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame
20Toronto RaptorsMontrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
21Dallas MavericksR.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State
22Chicago BullsDelon Wright, PG, Utah
23Portland Trail BlazersRondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF/SG, Arizona
24Cleveland CavaliersJustin Anderson, SF, Virginia
25 Memphis GrizzliesChristian Wood, PF, UNLV
26San Antonio SpursTyus Jones, PG, Duke
27Los Angeles Lakers (via Rockets)Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky
28Boston Celtics (via Clippers)Cliff Alexander, PF, Kansas
29Brooklyn Nets (via Hawks)Jarell Martin, PF, LSU
30Golden State WarriorsChris McCullough, PF, Syracuse

Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky

Big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor have drawn most of the predraft hype, but it's Cauley-Stein who might have the highest defensive ceiling.  The 7-footer doesn't possess the offensive upside of the presumptive top two picks, but with his mobility and athleticism, there's also no better interior rim protector in this draft class:

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And at 7' Cauley-Stein is no Okafor or Towns on offense. the age of legit 2-way bigs is over: poor or no coaching. https://t.co/BtgXb5Ls0m

— Len Elmore (@LenElmore) June 14, 2015

I've projected him at fourth overall here, which is higher than most mocks.  

In a league increasingly dominated by shooting and spacing from the wings, it's hard to justify selecting a big man without pro-ready post capabilities (or all-around potential like Towns possesses).  Cauley-Stein should get nice looks on rolls to the basket out of pick-and-rolls, but it will likely be multiple seasons before he develops a post game, if he does at all.

However, a team like the New York Knicks already have a ball-dominant scorer in Carmelo Anthony and need a greater infusion of talent next to their perennial All-Star.  As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale argues, Cauley-Stein's defensive capabilities are not only safe, but they could also help foster a culture change for the moribund Manhattanites: 

As a 7-footer with the gait of a shooting guard, he's an instant, culture-changing upgrade for New York's 28th-ranked defense. The Knicks admittedly didn't struggle with rim protection last season—theyranked eighth in restricted-area defense—but that's only because their porous perimeter prevention invited three-point attempts.

Besides, Cauley-Stein does a ton of everything. He blocks shots, hoards rebounds and can even force steals off the dribble. His 7.1 percent block rate ranked 12th in the country among all players to log at least 1,000 total minutes, while his rebounding percentage (14.5) would have ranked first among any Knicks player to match his playing time.

There are indications that Cauley-Stein could develop into an above-average offensive player with time, as his free-throw percentage improved from catastrophic (37.2 percent his freshman year) to roughly average (61.7 percent) during his time at Lexington.  There's a defined floor with the Kentucky product, but the ceiling is higher than many realize, which could vault him into the top five.

Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin

Every year, a draft prospect rises because of his performance in the limelight of the NCAA tournament.  Dekker is this year's poster child for that distinction, as the former Wisconsin small forward averaged 19.2 points per game in the tourney, well above his 13.9 regular-season scoring average.

However, Dekker is much more than a three-week wonder, as his excellent combine numbers belie his intriguing combination of athleticism and shooting (52.5 field-goal percentage last season).  Dekker never posted gaudy scoring averages at Madison, but as he told CSN Chicago's Vinnie Duber, part of that stemmed from a passivity he feels he has outgrown:

Consistency is always going to be a question with everybody, but with me, there’s times I go weeks and play very high-level basketball and then I have a few games where I just wouldn’t be as aggressive. I was passive once in a while. That’s just me maturing and just letting things go and having that confidence that I can be a difference maker every night. That comes with growing up, that comes with maturation, and I think I’ve taken a big step and a big leap in that direction and have gotten much better.

Most have agreed on Justise Winslow and Mario Hezonja as the top wing players in this draft, but there's a glut after the top two.  ESPN's Kevin Pelton advocated for Dekker as a top-four wing prospect, in part because of his shooting capabilities that the likes of Stanley Johnson and Kelly Oubre need to develop:

Breaking down the top-4 wings in '15 draft. http://t.co/ZBldgqlm1P ($) Pelton: Dekker, no.4; Ford: N/A. #Badgers pic.twitter.com/keB9M9CNYc

— Rexford Sheild (@RexfordJunior) June 6, 2015

Consequently, despite receiving little lottery hype during the collegiate season, Dekker could wriggle his way into the top 10 on draft night.  The Miami Heat, in desperate need of perimeter spacing, would represent a logical fit for Dekker at pick No. 10.

Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky

I have Booker projected higher than most mocks, and in truth, he's far from a lock to even end up in the lottery.  However, the SEC Sixth Man of the Year has received more attention after getting overshadowed at Lexington, with some rumors even projecting him as a high-end lottery prospect:

DraftExpress says Devin Booker is getting "very serious looks” from teams at 4-6. That would be a hefty jump.

— Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA) June 11, 2015

Those projections might be a bit overblown, but they do highlight Booker's elite shooting.  His 41.1 percent three-point percentage was the eighth-best single-season mark in Wildcats history, and among the eight Kentucky players to average at least 20 minutes per game last year, only Towns and Tyler Ulis were more productive offensive players:

Offensive Rating of Kentucky Players, 2014-15
Karl-Anthony Towns126.8
Tyler Ulis123.3
Devin Booker123.1
Willie Cauley-Stein119.8
Trey Lyles115.9
Andrew Harrison115.2
Aaron Harrison115.1
Alex Poythress99.3
Source: Sports-Reference.com; min. 20 MPG

Booker doesn't possess huge athleticism, and his ball-handling skills are below-average for a guard.  Catch-and-shoot snipers are nice, but they have a limited upside.  Unless Booker can diversify his offensive arsenal to include more looks at the rim and free-throw opportunities, he'll be limited to a specific niche.

Of course, that niche is incredibly valuable in today's game, which should limit how far Booker falls.  Combined with solid defense and high playing intelligence, Booker seems like a mid-first-rounder who could rise if teams sniff out his potential.

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