With March Madness and "One Shining Moment" behind us, it's finally NBA Draft season. The 2015 draft class has many potential all-star prospects in the lottery and is littered with quality talent throughout the rest of the first round.
It is particularly loaded with talented big men, forwards and wings, which are pressing needs for many teams. The NBA is currently loaded at point guard, so it's the perfect year for there to be few tantalizing players at that position.
Below is a list of my current top 30 prospects. Keep in mind that the draft evaluation process is only beginning. My big board is extremely fluid from top-to-bottom, so approximate range of players and analysis should be weighed more than the specific ordering.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns: 7'0, Center, Kentucky, 19 years old
The 7'0 big man has outstanding potential as a defensive player, with the athleticism to defend both centers and power forwards. Towns bites on pump fakes and fouled at too high a rate, but that is to be expected from a young, eager shot blocker. He should develop into a defender that can stay on the floor since he has superb timing on his block attempts.
Though Towns showcased high-end potential as a low post scorer and passer, his entire offensive repertoire wasn't put on full display as he can also stretch the floor with his shot. With a clean release, it won't be long before Towns is a scoring threat from all areas of the floor.
2. Justise Winslow: 6'6, Wing, Duke, 19 years old
Winslow is an excellent all-around player with few weaknesses. The 6'6 wing hustles on every play with timely help defense, dives to the floor and blocks from behind in transition. Winslow will be able to defend three positions, which gives him immense value in the switch-heavy NBA.
Winslow must improve as a shooter, but his mechanics need only minor corrections on the top of his release. He has flashed smooth footwork in tight spaces and is a terrific passer for his position, especially in the screen game. At the least, Winslow will develop to be a high-end glue guy and consummate teammate, but his upside far exceeds his floor if he corrects his jump shot.
3. Jahlil Okafor: 6'11, Center, Duke, 19 years old
Okafor is an elite low post scoring prospect. With pristine footwork and counters, he is guaranteed to have a long career in the NBA.
But he slips to the three spot on my board because of warts in his game that can't be ignored, such as his defense, free throw shooting and perimeter scoring, all of which make him tough to fit onto many rosters.
4. D'Angelo Russell: 6'5, Guard, Ohio State, 19 years old
Russell is the prototypical modern point guard due to his physical tools, positional versatility, ankle-breaking handles and knockdown jumper. He shined throughout the entire season, making one highlight play after another.
About the only thing holding him back is his lack of explosiveness and an elite first step with the dribble, but most players with his overall skill set turn out to be successful players.
5. Emmanuel Mudiay: 6'5, Guard, DR Congo, 19 years old
Mudiay's feel for the game is off the charts. He epitomizes what you look for in a playmaking point guard, with his height, advanced ball handling maneuvers and a sense of space that can't be taught. Mudiay still makes errors, but that is to be expected from most young floor generals. He also does a supreme job of using his ball handling to create space for himself, especially in the pick-and-roll by changing speeds to attack the rim.
However, Mudiay's upside as a scorer is limited unless he can improve on his poor jump shot mechanics. He's just 19 years old, but there are multiple issues with his form that need a major overhaul. If Mudiay does improve his jumper, he could become the best guard in this class since he is a superior finisher and defender over Russell.
6. Willie Cauley-Stein: 7'0, Center, Kentucky, 21 years old
Cauley-Stein could someday be in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation on a yearly basis because of his elite athleticism and shot blocking capabilities. The 7-footer receives flack for his inability to score on the low block, but it's a meaningless conversation when he won't be used in that role as the fourth or fifth option on the floor. If anything, NBA spacing will make him a lethal threat in the pick-and-roll, where he has already shown he can excel with high-flying dunks. It's more important for Cauley-Stein to set better screens than it is for him to add low post moves.
7. Kristaps Porzingis: 7'0, Power Forward, Latvia, 19 years old
With a lanky build, it might appear that Porzingis is too thin for the NBA, but his wide shoulders are reminiscent of Joakim Noah as a teenager. Porzingis doesn't compare much to Noah as a player, but concerns about his body are overblown, provided he has the work ethic to hit the weights and add muscle.
Porzingis will get pushed around inside until he changes his body, so he is a long-term project. But teams will be willing to wait for him, since he's a sharpshooting big man that can drive closeouts and finish above the rim or from mid-range. Porzingis is the NBA's ideal stretch forward, and he also has potential as a rim protector due to his long wingspan and leaping ability.
8. Mario Hezonja: 6'8, Shooting Guard, Croatia, 20 years old
Hezonja is a knockdown three-point shooter who also drives to the basket like a bull. The Croatian has made a habit of dunking with fierceness, but he'll need to work on his off hand or savvy veterans will overplay him to his right. Hezonja's athleticism also pops up defensively, though he still needs to play with more discipline.
9. Stanley Johnson: 6'8, Small Forward, Arizona, 18 years old
Johnson has the potential to be a stud on the defensive end of the floor, since he can lock down multiple positions. Unfortunately he isn't always mentally engaged, which is why he gets bumped down a bit on the rankings. When things don't go his way offensively, he can lose focus on defenses and miss rotations.
This also shows up offensively, since he's not the best decision maker. Johnson does a terrific job of dribbling at difference paces when probing in the pick-and-roll with advanced moves and accurate passes, but he has a tendency to force plays that aren't there, especially floaters from mid-range. Johnson shot the ball well from three-point range, but he has a low release that takes away from an otherwise seamless form.
10. Frank Kaminsky: 7'0, Power Forward, Wisconsin, 22 years old
Frank the Tank's collegiate career ended with a crash landing loss to Duke, but the National Player of the Year still showed why he's a deserving lottery selection.
With a diverse set of ways to score, Kaminsky will certainly have a role in the NBA for a long time. He has outstanding footwork and a knockdown perimeter jumper that make him a threat from multiple areas on the floor. He's not a very good defender, but he plays hard to deny low post positioning and focuses on his team rotations.
11. Myles Turner: 6'11, Center, Texas, 19 years old
Turner was misused under Rick Barnes, but despite the faulty fit, he managed to showcase his talents with the Longhorns. Turner is a giant, at over 240 pounds with a long wingspan. This makes him unique in that his bread-and-butter offense comes from the perimeter. He was streaky from behind the arc, but his picturesque form and efficient clip from the free throw line suggests he'll develop into a great shooter.
Turner also does a good job of using his massive frame to protect the rim. He'll need to work on improving his lateral quickness in the pick-and-roll, but his high basketball IQ should help make the transition easier.
12. Jakob Poeltl: 7'0, Center, Utah, 19 years old
Poeltl will get paid for his potential as a lockdown defender and rim protector, but he also has soft touch and mobile feet on the offensive end. It wouldn't be surprising if the native of Austria someday was considered one of the steals of the 2015 draft, especially if he can develop a reliable mid-range jump shot.
13. Bobby Portis: 6'10, Power Forward, Arkansas, 20 years old
Portis brings quality skills in nearly every attribute you look for from a big man, including his post game, passing, shooting and defense. Overall, the 6'10 big man has very few notable weaknesses. Portis also plays enthusiastically by wearing his heart on his sleeve, with screams to pump up the crowd and his teammates.
He is a safe bet to be a solid role player in the NBA, though his ceiling is unclear.
14. Trey Lyles: 6'10, Forward, Kentucky, 19 years old
Lyles brings an intriguing mix of tools to the table, especially as a shooter off the dribble. He must prove that he can catch-and-shoot, but few players with his size and length can attack the rim or pull up as well as he does. Lyles could also be a mismatch nightmare from either forward position, since his pristine footwork and passing from the low post will easily translate to the next level.
15. Zhou Qi: 7'1, Center, China, 19 years old
Zhou has immense skill on offense, with nice touch and the athleticism to throw down alley-oops. Zhou likely won't declare for this year's draft, since Chinese players don't make the jump until they turn 22, but this is probably for the best, since his 19-year-old rail thin frame would prevent him from playing effective defense for the next couple of years. His 7'6 wingspan gives him excellent shot blocking potential.
16. Kelly Oubre: 6'7, Small Forward, Kansas, 19 years old
Oubre is as fluid as they come in transition, but he lacks skills in half-court situations despite having an unblockable three-point shot. He has flashed the ability to drive against closeouts, but he must improve as a ball handler and use his off hand. Oubre lacks creativity with the ball, but he's quite good at timing his cuts, so he has slashing potential. However, it appears that he goes through the motions, which shows in his lapses on defense, poor decision-making and hesitancy to pass the ball.
17. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: 6'7, Small Forward, Arizona, 20 years old
If Hollis-Jefferson had a reliable jump shot, he'd be a lottery pick. Unfortunately, he has the worst jumper of all wing prospects. Despite that, he brings plenty of other positive attributes that make him a tantalizing prospect, including top-notch athleticism, versatile defense and nifty passing. If he can develop even an average mid-range jumper, then he'll have a long career in the NBA as a lock down defensive-oriented role player.
18. Cameron Payne: 6'2, Point Guard, Murray State, 20 years old
Payne has elite shiftiness and is a creative off-the-dribble scorer, despite being undersized. The sophomore does an excellent job of playing at different speeds, especially in the pick-and-roll, where he was a lethal playmaker. Payne's shot selection improved this past season, but his efficiency could stand to rise in a clearly defined role.
19. Kris Dunn: 6'4, Point Guard, Providence, 20 years old
Dunn is alluring prospect, with great size and shifty ball handling skills that'll make your jaw drop to the floor. But he often soars out of control after trying to do too much. Though he's a playmaker that can create space with his dribble, he hasn't developed a reliable jumper. Dunn's promising physical tools also show up defensively, since he has excellent lateral quickness, but his lack of fundamentals hinder his production. Dunn has major warts as a prospect, but is a project that could exceed his expected mid-round value.
20. Tyus Jones: 6'1, Point Guard, Duke, 18 years old
Jones went off for 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, leading the Blue Devils to victory in the National Championship with pull up jumpers out of the pick-and-roll. But Jones isn't going to have success in the NBA as a go-to scorer; that success will primarily be due to his playmaking and instincts. He has a stellar first step that he uses to manufacture open looks for his teammates. Jones has his size working against him, but should be able to become a competent game-manager.
21. Jerian Grant: 6'5, Point Guard, Notre Dame, 22 years old
Grant will be a very good floor general at the next level because of his ability to play at different speeds, change directions quickly and make accurate passes off the dribble. Grant's fast first step bodes well for his ability to create in half-court situations, though he'll need to add upper body strength to battle inside, which was a problem in college.
22. Sam Dekker: 6'9, Forward, Wisconsin, 20 years old
Dekker is versatile and can play both forward positions in the NBA. He's an inconsistent three-point shooter, as proven by his performance in the title game, but when he gets hot, his dribble drive game opens and becomes even more dangerous.
Dekker is a jack of all trades, but a master of none, which could limit him to being just a role player. He possibly has higher upside depending on his usage in a particular system.
23. Jarell Martin: 6'9, Forward, LSU, 20 years old
Martin is built like a freight train with the mobility of a Corvette. Martin can both plow through defenders like a bowling bowl or flash around them with crossovers and spin moves. The big man shot just a hair over 30 percent from three in his two years at LSU, but has sound fundamentals that he should build on.
Despite his skills driving closeouts, Martin can get careless with the ball by putting his head down or by making head-scratching passes. He had an awful assist-turnover ratio and will need to play in control to win the trust of his coaching staff. And though he has versatile defensive potential, his lack of length may hinder his ability to defend most power forwards and rebound well at his position.
24. R.J. Hunter: 6'5, Shooting Guard, Georgia State, 21 years old
College prospects that shoot less than 30 percent from three usually don't get touted as shooting specialists, but Hunter is exactly that because of his ability to hit shots from all over the court off the catch, the dribble or screens. Once he isn't receiving the full attention of college defenses, Hunter could flourish as a shooting specialist.
25. Devin Booker: 6'6, Shooting Guard, Kentucky, 19 years old
Booker has textbook range from the perimeter, which led to a 41 percent three-point mark as a freshman. However, he had major struggles shooting off the dribble, largely due to his slow first step and lack of athleticism. It's possible that Booker will be nothing more than a specialist at the pro level, so his development as a ball handler and defender will be key in determining how much he plays.
26. Kevon Looney: 6'9, Forward, UCLA, 19 years old
With a long wingspan, Looney is a spectacular rebounder for his position and has the potential to be a versatile defender. He complements these skills with floor-spacing and solid court vision. But Looney could be a one-trick pony unless he dramatically improves on his dribble drive game and natural touch. Looney is an intriguing prospect, but his thin frame and lack of athleticism may hold him back from being anything more than a situational backup.
27. Montrezl Harrell: 6'7, Power Forward, Louisville, 21 years old
Few athletes play with as much intensity and passion as Harrell did in his three years at Louisville. The high-motor forward showcased elite explosiveness and is one of the best finishers at the rim in the draft. However, Harrell will be limited as an energy bench player unless he can add a jumper or become an elite rebounder.
28. Caris LeVert: 6'7, Guard, Michigan, 20 years old
LeVert has improved significantly over his three years at Michigan, with his positional versatility being his most appealing trait. The 20-year-old can play both guard positions and small forward, which could be of value for a team looking for an auxiliary talent. LeVert is a knockdown spot up shooter and he has a rapid first step, but he hasn't developed a mid-range jumper or the finishing ability to make scrambling defenders pay.
29. Demetrius Jackson: 6'1, Point Guard, Notre Dame, 20 years old
The ball slows most players down, but Jackson somehow gets faster when he has it. Despite playing at lighting speed, Jackson also remains polished and in control of his dribble His assist totals likely would've been much higher had he not played next to Jerian Grant, but Jackson isn't just a passer, since he's a gifted shooter from three and mid-range. Another year at Notre Dame could boost Jackson's draft position, since he'd be the team's full-time point guard.
30. Christian Wood: 6'11, Power Forward, UNLV, 19 years old
Whichever team drafts Wood will have a project on their hands, but he could be worth it. At 19 years old, Wood is raw, but he has excellent potential as a rebounder and as a shot blocker. He must add strength and become more engaged mentally, but the untapped potential is there. Wood is a streaky shooter, but if he finds consistency he could be a threat to drive closeouts.
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