Annotated 2015 NBA Draft Big Board: The Lottery

Since I only got to touch on three top prospects this season, I wrote a bunch of words to accompany my first big board. I am still sorting through the rest of the draft, but my lottery rankings are more-or-less set in stone at this point, so I thought I’d share them in preparation of tonight’s championship game:

1. Karl Towns
Position: PF/C
Height: 6’11” Weight: 250
School: Kentucky
NCAA Stat Comp: Chris Bosh

I was an early member of #TeamTowns when I ran the numbers on the high school all-star games (a surprisingly decent indicator of NCAA success, at least this season) and noticed that while Jahlil Okafor hardly ever blocked shots, Towns did so in bunches. He also displayed a versatility to his game unmatched by the top-ranked Okafor.

Although I waffled on this debate throughout the year, Towns’ strong play in the final months of the season affirmed my convictions and even swung the popular consensus in favor of Towns. The Towns/Okafor debate raised interesting discussion about the evolving role of centers today’s NBA. RealGM’s Johnathan Tjarks tackled this well recently, as did Warriors beat writer Ethan Strauss in < 140 characters:

Towns is not a perfect prospect. He’s not especially athletic or fleet of foot, which caps his potential at both ends. But his overall package as a 7-footer who can protect the rim, shoot, pass, and score inside makes him a rather safe bet at #1. I expect that Towns will have an impact similar to that of Chris Bosh or Al Horford who both, in my estimation, provided the returns of a solid #1 pick.

Karl Towns (Fr.) 7’0” .627 12.7 2.1 0.9 4.3 2.6 19.5 ?
Chris Bosh (Fr.) 6’11” .634 11.6 1.6 1.3 2.6 3.0 20.2 20.6
Al Horford (So.) 6’10” .615 11.7 3.0 1.6 2.7 17.5 19.0

2. D’Angelo Russell
Position: PG/SG
Height: 6’5” Weight: 180
School: Ohio State
NCAA Stat Comp: James Harden

Like Towns, I made my love for D’Angelo Russell known throughout the season. As an admirer of flashy passing, I was instantly drawn to Russell: a willing, smart, and exceptional passer.

D’Angelo can score too, dropping 22.7 PTS/40 on high efficiency as a freshman, and his size and STL rate lend some optimism to his defensive potential. There are valid concerns about his ability to get to the rim and finish at the NBA level, which could preclude him from being a Harden-level superstar. D’Angelo has a slim downside as the next Jerryd Bayless, a vaguely similar player who too was an explosive scorer as a freshman.

D’Angelo Russell .479 .441 .756 6.7 5.9 1.9 0.4 3.4 22.7
Jerryd Bayless .489 .407 .839 3.1 4.5 1.1 0.1 3.3 22.1

Russell is comfortably superior statistically, and possesses a confidence and feel for the game can’t be quantified. I suspect that he is closer to the ranks of Harden, Manu Ginobili, or Stephen Curry.

3. Jahlil Okafor
Position: C
Height: 6’11” Weight: 270
School: Duke
NCAA Stat Comp: Kevin Love

When a player begins the year as the “consensus top pick”, it’s only natural to poke holes in his game. While dwelling on Jahlil Okafor’s ugly defensive deficiencies, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that he was one of the best low-post scorers in NCAA history as a freshman. His non-shooting hurts, but Jah’s size, hands, footwork, and touch around the rim make his low-post offense likely to translate to the NBA.

Jahlil Okafor (Fr.) .641 11.3 1.7 1.0 1.9 3.3 23.0
Kevin Love (Fr.) .644 14.4 2.6 0.9 1.9 2.7 23.6

The Kevin Love comparison might seem silly on the surface, but I actually like it. They are quite different as players, obviously, but I could easily envision Okafor having a career just like Love’s: put up gaudy numbers on non-playoff teams, face criticism over his lack of defensive effort and acumen, and earn a reputation as a quasi-superstar who isn’t totally conducive to winning.

4. Emmanuel Mudiay
Position: PG
Height: 6’5” Weight: 200
Team: Guangdong Foshan
NCAA Stat Comp: John Wall

This draft’s most intriguing mystery box is Emmanuel Mudiay, an SMU commit who opted to play in China amidst academic issues. I honestly have no idea what to take away from a 12-game sample in the Chinese Basketball Association, but Mudiay’s stats do look good. Combined with his impressive showings during the high school all-star circuit, it appears that his #2 RSCI ranking was fairly accurate, putting him in the tier of Towns and Okafor. I don’t have enough information on Mudiay to confidently place him ahead of three freshmen who dominated the NCAA, but he projects as a median between Tyreke Evans and John Wall, which justifies taking gamble on him in the top five.

Emmanuel Mudiay (CBA) .512 .342 .581 7.9 7.5 2.0 0.1 4.1 22.8
John Wall (Fr.) .509 .325 .754 4.9 7.5 2.0 0.6 4.6 19.1
Tyreke Evans (Fr.) .514 .287 .711 7.4 5.3 2.9 1.1 5.0 23.6

5. Justise Winslow
Position: SF
Height: 6’7” Weight: 225
School: Duke
NCAA Stat Comp: Vince Carter

Justise separated himself from the glut of wing prospects in the 5-10 range by going on a late-season tear and leading his team to the national championship game. The first thing that stands out about Winslow is his incredible physique and athleticism at such a tender age. The kid is a fucking stallion. Now that Winslow is putting up stats to match his eye test, he slides easily into to the top five. There are some caveats to his performance this season; he’s done a lot of damage as a small-ball PF and in transition, neither of which are likely indicative of his NBA future. For those reasons, the Vinsanity comparison may be a bit extreme, but I do see Justise as a version of Andre Iguodala or Kawhi Leonard at the next level.

6. Stanley Johnson
Position: SF
Height: 6’7” Weight: 235
School: Arizona
NCAA Stat Comp: Caron Butler

There is a lot to like about Stanley Johnson, but his game lacks punch of the top five prospects. Johnson is rock solid statistically, and his high school ranking and status as the leading scorer/key defensive stopper for a great college team bode well for him. StanJohn projects out as a versatile forward who can guard the opposition’s best player, but with his bland game I see him as dangerously straddling the thin line between Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder.

Stanley Johnson (Fr.) .478 .371 .739 9.1 2.3 2.1 0.6 3.0 19.4
Jimmy Butler (Career) .525 .383 .773 7.4 2.3 1.5 0.6 1.4 16.3
Jae Crowder (Career) .581 .350 .683 10 2.4 2.5 1.2 1.4 19.3

7. Willie Cauley-Stein
Position: C
Height: 7’0” Weight: 240
School: Kentucky
NCAA Stat Comp: Taj Gibson

Cauley-Stein is essentially the anti-Okafor; a rare rim-protector with lateral quicks, but zero back-to-the-basket game. He is in the top ten for the same reason Jah is not #1 overall, he is a defensive destroyer at the most high leverage defensive position. Willie’s versatility on D and potential as a lob catcher have drawn comparisons to Tyson Chandler and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, which gives you a good idea of his variance as a prospect.

8. Mario Hezonja
Position: SG/SF
Height: 6’8” Weight: 200
Team: FC Barcelona
NCAA Stat Comp: Francisco Garcia

I would like to dive deeper into Hezonja and the other international guys at some point, but Mario seems like a sexy enough mystery box to take a gamble on in the top ten. He is 6’8”, a plus athlete, an accurate shot-maker, and a gifted distributer. That is an awfully intriguing offensive package. There are lingering concerns about his defense and his attitude, but he is pretty clearly a lottery value. It was difficult to find a proper NCAA comparison for Hezonja, but based on scouting reports I’d wager that he has upside as Joe Johnson 2.0.

9. Kelly Oubre
Position: SF
Height: 6’7” Weight: 200
School: Kansas
NCAA Stat Comp: Robert Covington +

I admittedly didn’t see much of Oubre this season, in part because he received inconsistent playing time in his one season at Lawrence (21 MP/G). Oubre has great physical tools and decent stats as a frosh, so I doubt a GM would regret rolling the dice on him here.

10. Myles Turner
Position: PF/C
Height: 6’11” Weight: 240
School: Texas
NCAA Stat Comp: Chris Mihm

Myles Turner was one of the surprises of the early going, as I noted in my earlier write-up on the Turner/Okafor/Towns triumvirate. I also posited that how they “perform in league play and into March Madness will likely determine whose name is called first,” which turned out to be true. This is bad news for Myles Turner, whose offensive efficiency cratered badly in Big 12 play. Turner’s TS% dropped 8% from the time I wrote that article to Texas’ unceremonious exit from the NCAA tourney, and his 8/38 from 3pt range in the Big 12 basically wipes away his edge as a prospect. Turner is also not the most fluid athlete, and much has been made (probably too much) about his lumbering gait. His statistical similarities to former Longhorn stiff and draft bust Chris Mihm doesn’t help.

Myles Turner (Fr.) .513 .274 .839 11.8 1.1 0.5 4.7 18.3
Chris Mihm (Fr.) .503 .300 .684 13.4 0.8 0.5 3.8 19.9

But Myles is still a 6’11” teenaged rim-protector with a feathery shooting touch. It could also be asserted the Turner’s, shall we say, less-than-desirous situation at Texas hurt his draft stock. Texas’ guards couldn’t pass, and Myles was often paired up with a lane-clogging big man like Cam Ridley or Prince Ibeh. To make matters worse, the recently-canned Rick Barnes is an awful coach who had no idea how to utilize Turner. I have faith that he will be better than Chris Mihm, but it is clear that his Anthony Davis-like non-conference dominance was but a dream.

11. Kristaps Porzingis
Position: PF/C
Height: 7’1” Weight: 216
Team: Balancesto Sevilla
NCAA Stat Comp: Channing Frye

As I mentioned regarding Hezonja, I don’t know a ton about this year’s international crop, so I am willing to defer to the scouting consensus on Porzingis, which places him in the top ten range. That said, I am rather bearish on Kristaps. He is extremely slight of frame, and his weak rebounding and shot-blocking numbers are not a good look for 7’0” prospects. Draft-modeler extraordinaire Layne Vashro tweeted out Kristaps’ eery statistical likeness to Andrea Bargnani, and what is more worrisome is that even the most positive scouting reports fail to distinguish him from Bargs in any meaningful way.

12. Jakob Poeltl
Position: C
Height: 7’0” Weight: 230
School: Utah
NCAA Stat Comp: Brendan Haywood +

Poeltl is the opposite of a sexy pick, but he satisfies all the pre-requisites for an NBA center. Poeltl is a 7’0” giant who rebounds, blocks shots, finishes well at the rim, and shows good hands and footwork as the roll man in the PnR. Fittingly, his freshman year stats compare to boring yet effective big men such as Robin Lopez, Steven Adams, and Brendan Haywood.

13. Frank Kaminsky
Position: C
Height: 7’0” Weight: 242
School: Wisconsin
NCAA Stat Comp: Brad Miller

Frank “Nowitzky” Kaminsky is an old prospect with valid translation concerns, but skilled, floor-stretching 7-footers are too rare to pass up in the lottery. The Wooden Award recipient was legitimately the best player in the NCAA this season, as evidenced by his ownage of arguably the top two NCAA frontcourts (Arizona and Kentucky) in consecutive games. Kaminsky is reminiscent of Brad Miller and more recently Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, who has given Boston a nice return from this same draft slot.

14. Kris Dunn
Position: PG
Height: 6’3” Weight: 205
School: Providence
NCAA Stat Comp: Jamaal Tinsley +

Kris Dunn was tough for me to get a handle on, as he looked like Marcus Smart at times and Andrew Harrison at others. To that point, Dunn’s first ~ 800 NCAA minutes were basically a disaster before his breakout junior year, and his exorbitant TOV rate as an upperclassman remains a huge wart. I think a team can risk the downside of a #14 pick bombing at the expense of legitimate upside, and Dunn has that. He is a big, strong, athletic guard who is a skilled and prolific passer and an awesome man defender. If he can improve his shooting and decision-making, a big “if” (just ask Michael Carter-Williams fans), it’s not entirely out of the question that he becomes a better pro than Mudiay.

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