Re-Drafting the 2015 NBA Draft Class

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2020

Re-Drafting the 2015 NBA Draft Class

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    If there's ever a draft that proves the entire process is a crapshoot, it's 2015. Sure, the No. 1 overall pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, has lived up to his billing, and a few other All-Stars have emerged. But many of the lottery picks from that year—Mario Hezonja, Cameron Payne, Emmanuel Mudiay—are either out of the league or barely hanging on at minimum contracts.

    Meanwhile, several second-round picks have emerged as some of the best players from this draft class, including Josh Richardson and Montrezl Harrell. Just five years after the fact, it's a stretch to find enough players still on NBA rosters to fill out even the first round of a redraft, but any draft that included Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Devin Booker isn't all bad.

    The players taken in this draft have had careers all over the place in terms of expectations and results. Jahlil Okafor, once seen as a possible top overall pick, is coming off the bench for the Pelicans. Harrell and Richardson are playing big roles on contenders. Out of any draft this century, no redraft may look as different as this one.

    For this exercise, team needs were not taken into account, and the best player available was selected throughout.


    Epidemiologist and Asst. Professor of Quantitative Theory and Methods at Oxford College of Emory University, Zach Binney, and Carl Bergstrom, Professor of Biology at the University of Washington, join The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss what it's going to take to allow the return of the NBA and professional sports in general. They break down the possible benchmarks that might need to be hit in terms of case numbers and quantity and types of testing, procedures that will need to be put in place for the athletes, coaches and staff and possible locations and conditions that will enable safe game play.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    As shaky as most of the 2015 lottery was, Karl-Anthony Towns definitely deserved his spot as the top pick. The Kentucky big man came in strong out of the gate, winning Rookie of the Year and establishing himself as an ideally skilled big man for the second half of the 2010s and beyond.

    Towns has remained one of the West's top centers since then, getting better every year as a three-point shooter while holding steady as a double-double threat. His defense has been an issue since his rookie season, but what he brings on the offensive end more than makes up for it. It's been enough to net him two All-Star appearances and an All-NBA selection in his first five seasons, and the Timberwolves rewarded him with a five-year, $158 million extension in 2018.

    The Timberwolves have only made the playoffs once in Towns' first five seasons and are still in the midst of a rebuild under new team president Gersson Rosas. But Towns is going to be their franchise cornerstone for years to come.

    Actual pick: Karl-Anthony Towns

    Towns' actual draft spot: 1st, Minnesota Timberwolves

2. Los Angeles Lakers: Devin Booker

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Devin Booker, Towns' former teammate at Kentucky, has proved to be a gifted scorer in the NBA and was named to his first All-Star team this season as an injury replacement. He's filled up the box score every season from his second year on and has improved through his first five seasons as a playmaker beyond his scoring.

    The primary knock on Booker throughout his career has been the Suns' lack of team success, which has led many to question whether he's simply an empty-calories scorer. But the franchise hasn't exactly been well-managed in that time, and Booker is talented enough that it's not hard to see him flourishing on a better team. As it is, he's still as dependable a scorer as they come.

    Actual pick: D'Angelo Russell

    Booker's actual draft spot: 13th, Phoenix Suns

3. Philadelphia 76ers: Kristaps Porzingis

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    At his best, Porzingis has a strong case to be the best player in the 2015 draft. What drops him: consistency and injury concerns. Even beyond the torn ACL that kept him out most of the 2017-18 season and all of the 2018-19 season, he's missed games throughout his career with other injuries and hasn't played more than 70 games in a season since his rookie year with the Knicks.

    Still, a 7'3" center who can shoot threes and protect the rim is a rare commodity. Before his 2018 knee injury, Porzingis was having a career year, shooting 39.5 percent from three and averaging career highs of 22.7 points and 2.4 blocks per game.

    During his season on the sidelines, Porzingis requested a trade from New York, disagreeing with the direction of the organization, and was dealt at the 2019 deadline to the Dallas Mavericks. His first season in Dallas was up-and-down as he worked his way back from the knee injury, but it's clear he still has the potential to be a dynamic second option next to fellow Euro star Luka Doncic.

    Actual pick: Jahlil Okafor

    Porzingis' actual draft spot: 4th, New York Knicks

4. New York Knicks: Myles Turner

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    The Pacers have remained competitive in the years since the breakup of the Paul George-Roy Hibbert teams of the early 2010s, and Turner's development has been a big part of that. He's grown into an outstanding rim protector and improved shooter, hitting 38.8 percent of his threes last season.

    Indiana has made the playoffs every season since drafting Turner, and he's started at center in all of those runs. He had a particularly strong showing in the first round of the 2018 playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when they took the eventual Eastern Conference champions to seven games.

    Actual pick: Kristaps Porzingis

    Turner's actual draft spot: 11th, Indiana Pacers

5. Orlando Magic: D'Angelo Russell

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    It took Russell a while to become the player many thought he would become when the Lakers took him No. 2 overall. He never quite fit in there in his first two seasons, and Los Angeles sent him to Brooklyn in 2017 as a salary dump.

    But when he got to his second stop in the NBA, Russell blossomed into an elite scorer, making his first career All-Star team in 2018-19 and helping lead the Nets to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

    After that breakout season, the Nets let him go in free agency to make room for Kyrie Irving, agreeing to a sign-and-trade with the Warriors for Kevin Durant. Russell put up good numbers in Golden State, averaging 23.6 points and 6.2 assists per game and shooting a career-high 37.4 percent from beyond the arc. But there was a widespread belief around the league that the Warriors signed him simply as a future trade chip—and sure enough, they sent him to Minnesota at this year's trade deadline.

    Playing alongside close friend Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, Russell continued to perform well before the season was shut down. The Timberwolves believe they finally have the second star to put alongside Towns—even if Russell took a roundabout path to get there.

    Actual pick: Mario Hezonja

    Russell's actual draft spot: 2nd, Los Angeles Lakers

6. Sacramento Kings: Josh Richardson

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    Richardson fell to the second round but quickly became an integral rotation piece for the Heat, becoming a starter in his third season. He's proved to be a strong wing defender capable of scoring and handling the ball.

    Richardson was traded to Philadelphia last summer in the Heat's sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler, and he continued to play well when healthy for the Sixers. He's averaged 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as arguably the fourth scoring option in Philly.

    Actual pick: Willie Cauley-Stein

    Richardson's actual draft spot: 40th, Miami Heat

7. Denver Nuggets: Montrezl Harrell

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    Another second-round success story, Harrell found a role early on with the Rockets as an energy big, and he really began to flourish in 2017-18 after a trade to the Clippers. Along with Lou Williams, he formed a formidable one-two punch off the bench and played a key role in the Clippers' surprising run to the playoffs last year.

    Harrell has continued to excel in his role this season with the new-look Clippers, which has him set up for a major payday this offseason in free agency.

    Actual pick: Emmanuel Mudiay

    Harrell's actual draft spot: 32nd, Houston Rockets

8. Detroit Pistons: Norman Powell

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    Continuing a run on second-round picks making huge jumps in a redraft is Powell, who has taken full advantage of the Toronto Raptors' best-in-the-league player-development program to turn into a consistent rotation player.

    He had three consecutive games of double-digit scoring in last year's Eastern Conference Finals to close out the series against the Milwaukee Bucks, and Toronto subsequently won its first title in franchise history.

    With Kawhi Leonard gone, Powell has stepped comfortably into a bigger role this season, nearly doubling his previous career high by averaging 16.4 points per game and shooting 39.8 percent from three.

    Actual pick: Stanley Johnson

    Powell's actual draft spot: 46th, Milwaukee Bucks (traded to Toronto Raptors)

9. Charlotte Hornets: Larry Nance Jr.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Nance was a late first-round pick of the Lakers but quickly proved he belonged in the NBA. He battled injuries early on in his career in Los Angeles, which limited his effectiveness, but a 2018 deadline-day trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers gave him a much-needed change of scenery.

    Once in Cleveland, Nance played a role in the Cavs' fourth straight run to the Finals and has continued to produce in a bigger role following LeBron James' departure that summer.

    Actual pick: Frank Kaminsky

    Nance's actual draft spot: 27th, Los Angeles Lakers

10. Miami Heat: Justise Winslow

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    If not for injuries, Winslow would go much higher here. The Boston Celtics so coveted him that they reportedly offered Charlotte four first-round picks to move up to take him at No. 9, but the Hornets turned down the offer and took Frank Kaminsky instead.

    Winslow's calling card in the NBA has been his hard-nosed defense, but his shooting stroke is also much improved in recent years. Miami traded him to Memphis for Andre Iguodala at the 2020 deadline—he has yet to play a game for the Grizzlies as he continued to battle a back injury.

    Actual pick: Justise Winslow

    Winslow's actual draft spot: 10th, Miami Heat

Late Lottery

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    11. Indiana Pacers: Terry Rozier

    Over his first four years with the Celtics, Rozier grew into a quality bench guard. He's started all 63 games this season after signing a big free-agent deal with Charlotte, putting up career highs of 18.0 points and 4.1 assists per game.

    12. Utah Jazz: Kelly Oubre Jr.

    Oubre's playing time was inconsistent early on in Washington, but he broke out after being traded to Phoenix midway through the 2018-19 season. Now, he's entrenched as the starting small forward on a surprisingly competitive Suns team.

    13. Phoenix Suns: Richaun Holmes

    As one of the many second-round fliers the Sam Hinkie-era Sixers took, Holmes was a solid backup big man for four seasons before signing last summer with Sacramento, where he has started and continued to play well.

    14. Oklahoma City Thunder: Willie Cauley-Stein

    Cauley-Stein didn't live up to being a top-10 pick in Sacramento, although he had a strong 2018-19 season, his first as a full-time starter. He split this season between Golden State and Dallas.


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    15. Atlanta Hawks: Pat Connaughton

    The Nets took Connaughton, an athletic forward from Notre Dame, in the second round in 2015. After not playing much in his first two seasons with Portland following a trade, he showed signs of improvement in 2017-18 before leaving to sign in Milwaukee as a free agent. He's now a solid role player on the NBA-best Bucks.


    16. Boston Celtics: Delon Wright

    Wright spent most of his time in Toronto as a well-regarded but little-used bench guard and had his best stretch of play of his career after being traded to Memphis in a deal for Marc Gasol. He signed with Dallas last summer.


    17. Milwaukee Bucks: Tyus Jones

    A Minnesota native, Jones didn't live up to expectations after being drafted by the Timberwolves. He's been better in his second stop, playing a more consistent role off the bench with the Memphis Grizzlies this season.


    18. Houston Rockets: TJ McConnell

    McConnell went undrafted in 2015 but caught on with the Sixers, one of a handful of Sam Hinkie's "Process" gambles that paid off. He's going to stay in the NBA for a decade-plus doing exactly what he's been doing, first in Philadelphia and now Indiana: providing defensive toughness in the backcourt.


    19. Washington Wizards: Kevon Looney

    The Warriors took Looney late in the first round after winning the first championship of their current run. He's been in and out of the lineup with injuries since then but is an effective backup center when healthy.


    20. Toronto Raptors: Royce O'Neale

    Another undrafted success story, O'Neale played his first two professional seasons in Germany and Spain before catching on with the Jazz, where his role has steadily increased over the past three seasons.


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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    21. Dallas Mavericks: Bobby Portis

    Portis has carved out a career in the league as a scoring big man; sort of a frontcourt version of a high-usage bench guard.


    22. Chicago Bulls: Cedi Osman

    The Turkish forward didn't play much in his rookie season in Cleveland, when the Cavs were still contending, but he has become a consistent starter and solid scorer and outside shooter since LeBron James left.


    23. Portland Trail Blazers: Jahlil Okafor

    During the 2014-15 college season, Okafor was seen as a possible No. 1 pick before Towns overtook him. A disappointing start to his career in Philadelphia laid bare that his skill set as a back-to-the-basket big man was somewhat out of step in today's NBA. Still, he's found a nice role as a bench big in New Orleans the last two seasons.


    24. Cleveland Cavaliers: Trey Lyles

    The Jazz liked Lyles' skill set as a stretch 4, but he didn't produce consistently through his first four seasons in Utah and Denver. Lyles signed with the Spurs last offseason and has started most of the season in San Antonio.


    25. Memphis Grizzlies: Frank Kaminsky

    The former Wisconsin star went No. 9 overall to Charlotte. As an NBA player, he's proved to be a capable three-point shooter but little else.


    26. San Antonio Spurs: Christian Wood

    Wood went undrafted out of UNLV and bounced around between the Sixers, Hornets, Bucks and Pelicans before finding what looks to be a long-term home this season in Detroit. He had recently moved into the Pistons' starting lineup when the season was suspended.


    27. Los Angeles Lakers: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

    Hollis-Jefferson is an athletic forward who has yet to translate his physical tools into consistent production. His best season with the Nets came in 2017-18; he's now a reserve with the Raptors.


    28. Boston Celtics: Treveon Graham

    Graham went undrafted and spent a year in the G League before signing with the Hornets. He appears destined for a long career as a backup 2-guard.


    29. Brooklyn Nets: Willy Hernangomez

    The Spanish center made his NBA debut with the Knicks in 2016-17 after being taken in the second round by Philadelphia in 2015. He's had a respectable career as a fourth big, first in New York and now in Charlotte.


    30. Golden State Warriors: Emmanuel Mudiay

    Mudiay was heavily hyped coming into the draft after making the controversial decision to forego college and play a season in China after high school. He's still in the league—currently in Utah—but hasn't come close to living up to the hype of a No. 7 overall pick.