Best- and Worst-Case NBA Comparisons for the Top 10 Picks in 2015-16
Pro-player comparisons are intended to paint clearer projections for NBA prospects.
To create these comparisons, we took everything possible into account, from a player's physical tools to his style of play, stats, strengths and weaknesses.
For each top-10 prospect, we came up with two player comparisons—one that suggests who he'd look like if he were to maximize his potential, and another that represents what would happen if that prospect made zero progress.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves, PF/C
Best-Case Comparison: Al Horford
Worst-Case Comparison: Andrew Bogut
Karl-Anthony Towns' upside is driven by offensive versatility and dangerous defensive tools. He combines Al Horford's basic post game, mid-range touch and rebounding prowess, as well as the potential to develop into a shot-blocking machine.
But at 19 years old, Towns still has to tie everything together. And if he eventually does, we could be talking about a two-way, inside-out big man who can play with his back to the basket or face it and score.
If it never clicks for Towns, particularly on offense, Andrew Bogut could work as a worst-case projection. Though slowed by injuries, Bogut never quite developed into the scorer you'd expect a No. 1 overall pick to become.
He was a good offensive player and strong passer—he just wasn't great in any one area of the game. And at this point, Towns is still a bit raw in terms of his footwork and execution (shot 39.6 percent in summer league).
Still, like it did for Bogut, Towns' rim protection should continue to hold value, regardless of how well he develops offensively.
D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers, PG/SG
Best-Case Comparison: Goran Dragic
Worst-Case Comparison: Brandon Knight
D'Angelo Russell turned heads this year with his crafty ball skills. Though not a high-flyer or explosive athlete, he beat defenses with basketball IQ, precision moves and execution.
Like Goran Dragic, Russell is a scoring point guard who can create shots with the ball and make them playing off it.
He isn't a defensive stopper, and chances are he won't ever compete for the league's assist title. But Russell projects as a dangerous offensive weapon who can manage an offense or take it over.
However, Russell also has the tendency to attempt tough shots and passes. If he struggles with inefficiency in a lead role, Brandon Knight comes to mind as a worst-case outcome.
For his career, Knight has shot 41.7 percent and averaged 2.7 turnovers per game. In terms of offensive production, he put up similar numbers to Dragic, who made $20 million more in free agency.
Russell will undoubtedly average big numbers; whether he gets paid like one of the premier players in the league could come down to his consistency, shot selection and decision-making.
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers, C
Best-Case Comparison: Al Jefferson
Worst-Case Comparison: Greg Monroe
With an outstanding back-to-the-basket game, Jahlil Okafor will make his money in the post, where Al Jefferson scored more points than any player in the league last year, according to NBA.com.
The 6'11", 275-pound Okafor ultimately possesses similar size (Jefferson is 6'10", 289 lbs), strength, footwork and touch.
Rarely does Jefferson or Okafor take a shot with two hands on the ball. Their arsenals consist of power moves, spins, up-and-unders, drop steps, hook shots, push shots and turnarounds.
Like Jefferson, Okafor also doesn't stand out as an impact rim protector or explosive athlete.
If his defensive and athletic limitations hold him back, we could be talking about a one-way big man similar to Greg Monroe—a fundamentally sound post player and an above-average passer.
There is no doubt Okafor is more skilled and polished one-on-one, but quicker, longer and bouncier bigs could make it tough for him to separate and execute.
Still, we'd bet on Okafor's best-case projection of Jefferson as the likelier outcome.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks, PF
Best-Case Comparison: Pau Gasol
Worst-Case Comparison: Andrei Kirilenko
Most of the predraft buzz surrounding Kristaps Porzingis stemmed from the idea that we haven't seen anyone like him. At 7'1", he's flashed three-point range, mid-range scoring, above-the-rim finishing and defensive versatility.
Porzingis has showcased Pau Gasol-like ball skills and touch, as well as the length and foot speed to provide rim protection and defensive versatility.
"There's a lot of comparisons to [Pau Gasol]," Knicks president Phil Jackson told the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. "I think the structure of their bodies is very similar, and the activity level, how they run, their athleticism, is similar. ... This young man [Porzingis] has better range perhaps than Pau does, a natural three-point shooter, but that's the natural evolution of the game at this time."
Porzingis made 42 threes in 50 games on a respectable 35.9 percent last year in Europe. His shot-making ability and mechanics suggest improvement will come in time.
At the very least, we should be able to see some Andrei Kirilenko in Porzingis, whose mobility is likely to translate to steals and blocks.
There was also a point in Kirilenko's career when he averaged 15 points or more for three straight seasons. He wasn't a polished offensive scorer, but he was capable of making jumpers, attacking and finishing off cuts.
Worst-case scenario, Porzingis should be able to provide complementary offense and defensive playmaking like Kirilenko.
Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic, SG/SF
Best-Case Comparison: Tracy McGrady
Worst-Case Comparison: J.R. Smith
With 6'8" mismatch size for a wing, as well as some ridiculous above-the-rim bounce, Mario Hezonja matches up with Tracy McGrady physically and athletically.
He also comes with a built-in jumper that should immediately threaten defenses from outside.
Whether he can match McGrady's impact and production will come down to how much he develops as a one-on-one scorer. Hezonja can make difficult shots, but he's had trouble creating high-percentage looks against a set defense.
If he continues to have trouble, expect the J.R. Smith comparisons to start rolling in. Like Smith, Hezonja settles for a ton of jumpers including long twos and deep threes.
Decision-making and shot selection can be problematic for Hezonja, but like both Smith and McGrady, he is loaded with natural talent. Depending on how he manages it, Hezonja could end up looking like a streaky sixth man or one of the game's most dynamic two-way weapons.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings, C
Best-Case Comparison: DeAndre Jordan
Worst-Case Comparison: Nerlens Noel
Willie Cauley-Stein will immediately enter the NBA as one of the league's most athletic big men. Even if he struggles to add offensive polish, he'll still have the chance to emulate Nerlens Noel.
Like Noel, Cauley-Stein's quickness, leaping ability and motor translate to blocks, steals, putbacks and finishes. Meanwhile, their lateral foot speed allows them to switch onto guards out on the perimeter.
But if Cauley-Stein can add some bulk, he could end up looking a little more like DeAndre Jordan—a rim protector and more valued interior anchor.
Additional muscle could also go a long way toward Cauley-Stein's offensive development.
Jordan isn't much of a shot-creator, but his power and explosiveness lead to routine easy buckets and a shooting percentage over 60 percent every year.
As one of the rare bigs who can jump as high as Jordan, a few productive years in the weight room could turn Cauley-Stein into a legitimate offensive asset—even without post moves or shooting range.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets, PG
Best-Case Comparison: John Wall
Worst-Case Comparison: Michael Carter-Williams
With terrific 6'5" size, change-of-direction quickness and above-the-rim athleticism for a ball-handler, it's tough not to think of John Wall when watching Emmanuel Mudiay carve up a defense.
While they're built similarly in terms of physical tools and burst, they also share most of the same strengths and weaknesses. Both are exceptional in the open floor with tremendous baseline-to-baseline speed, and they can create shots for themselves or teammates from just about any angle on the floor.
If Mudiay can slowly improve his jumper and extend his range—just like Wall did—he'll have the potential to emerge as one of the toughest covers in the game.
However, Mudiay's shooting touch is awfully shaky, as are his decision-making instincts. In China, he made just 27 of 47 free throws and 13 of 38 threes while turning it over 3.3 times per game. Mudiay was even less efficient in summer league, where he shot just two of 14 from deep and coughed it up five times per game.
Worst-case scenario, Mudiay resembles Michael Carter-Williams, who also offers mismatch height and serious leaping ability (41-inch max vertical)—as well as a terrible shooting stroke (25.2 percent from three) and a high turnover rate (career 3.7 turnovers per game).
Mudiay is guaranteed to put up big numbers—the question is whether they will come in the form of winning production or empty production.
Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons, SF
Best-Case Comparison: Jimmy Butler
Worst-Case Comparison: Shabazz Muhammad
At 6'7", 245 pounds, Stanley Johnson has a textbook NBA body, as well as strong defensive tools and the ability to score from all three levels. He's flashed three-point shooting, mid-range scoring and big-finish potential.
Johnson's game and best-case outlook scream Jimmy Butler—a two-way wing who's developed into a go-to player. Johnson still has a ways to go, but he shares Butler's skill set in terms of attacking and creating jumpers off the dribble.
On the downside, Johnson lacks explosiveness and often leans on his strength, something Shabazz Muhammad often did before getting to the pros. And like Muhammad, Johnson lacks playmaking ability as a passer and discipline at the defensive end.
Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets, PF/C
Best-Case Comparison: Troy Murphy
Worst-Case Comparison: Kelly Olynyk
A lack of strength, speed and athleticism put a slight cloud over Frank Kaminsky's outlook. He isn't likely to develop into a go-to scorer or disruptive rim protector.
But if Kaminsky is ultimately able to maximize his talent, he could resemble someone such as Troy Murphy in his prime.
From 2006 to 2010, Murphy made 419 threes while shooting at least 38 percent from deep each year. He also managed to average double digits in rebounding during two of those seasons.
Kaminsky's projected role and game are ultimately both similar to Murphy's.
However, if Kaminsky struggles to maintain a strong shooting percentage and presence under the boards, he could end up looking more like Kelly Olynyk—another skilled, inside-out big who also suffers from physical and athletic limitations.
Olynyk can make shots from a number of different angles, but he's not a plus defender or rebounder. Worst comes to worst for Kaminsky, he settles in as an offensive-minded reserve who's used mostly for his jumper.
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat, SF
Best-Case Comparison: Kawhi Leonard
Worst-Case Comparison: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
At 19 years old, Justise Winslow's physical tools and athleticism are a bit ahead of his skills and fundamentals.
If he fails to sharpen his off-the-dribble game and jumper, we should be talking about a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist type of competitor.
Like Kidd-Gilchrist, Winslow has the ability to impact games with his defense and motor. He can guard two to three positions and doesn't necessarily need the ball to make his presence felt.
However, if Winslow begins to improve his one-on-one game and shooting stroke, there is Kawhi Leonard-like potential to hit.
Leonard has developed into a strong mid-range scorer and a fairly consistent three-point shooter while maintaining his reputation as a two-way wing.
The next step for Winslow is ultimately becoming a bigger threat with the ball as a shot-creator.