The 2015 NBA Draft is roughly 350 days away, but it’s never to early to begin forecasting who the top prospects will be. Who will be No. 1?
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The players projected in the first round will change drastically over the next year, as will the order in which the teams will select, but that does not mean it is too early to project which players might fall into the top draft slots. Entering the 2014-15 collegiate season, the following 30 players made the cut:
1 | Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke (6’11”, 270 lbs) – Barring a serious injury, Okafor is the most likely candidate to be selected first overall in the 2015 Draft. Nearly 7-feet and long, Okafor has a terrific touch inside and could be a defensive pillar for Duke next season. The MVP of the U17 FIBA World Championships, and member of the gold medal winning team USA at the U19 World Championships, will upgrade the center spot for nearly every team in the league, especially a lottery team in need of an elite prospect.
2 | Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, SMU (6’5″, 190 lbs) – With Mudiay’s commitment to SMU, he became the highest touted recruit in the short-lived Larry Brown era. Unfortunately, Mudiay has since announced he will sign a one-year, $1.2 million contract with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. Deciding to cancel his collegiate opportunity, there were concerns over Mudiay’s eligibility as a freshman.
Blessed with 6-5 size and a long wingspan, Mudiay will be a star in the collegiate game next year. He has tremendous court vision and an ability to slash and score in the paint. Expanding his range to the NBA 3-point line should be a priority for the point guard next season. It will be a surprise if he is not among the first few players selected in 2015, though his development will be closely watched in China.
3 | Myles Turner, C, Texas (6’11”, 240 lbs) – Turner is the highest touted Texas recruit since Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Both mentioned players have gone on to become perennial All-Stars, and it is not beyond reason to have similar expectations for Turner, who has a game very similar to Aldridge. Turner is able to stretch defenses with a jump shot that extends out to the 3-point line, while showing an ability to score in the paint as well. He is also a gifted shot blocker, though he needs to add strength, and will be highly sought after on draft day next year.
4 | Cliff Alexander, PF, Kansas (6’8″, 255 lbs) – Alexander is a power player, plain and simple. A Chicago native, Alexander’s game resembles a slightly smaller Julius Randle, who recently was drafted seventh overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. Outside of the paint, Alexander’s game is a work in progress, though he will excel in scoring in the paint and collecting rebounds. He is not quite the prospect Randle was (at least at this point), but he should still be in contention for a high lottery pick in 2015.
5 | Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona (6’7″, 240 lbs) – The highest ranked wing prospect entering the 2014-15 collegiate season, Johnson is a terrific slasher and rebounder from the small forward spot. Still developing a consistent outside jump shot, he fits well in a rotation with McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson that will share scoring opportunities while also being one of the top defensive backcourts in the country. His numbers may be underwhelming in comparison to the other top prospects (largely due to a deep Arizona roster), though there is a lot to like about his game. He is very similar to Kawhi Leonard.
6 | Justice Winslow, SF, Duke (6’6″, 215 lbs) – Winslow has potential to slide into the wing scorer role vacated by Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood’s departures to the NBA last season. Next to Okafor and Tyus Jones, Winslow will be relied upon for outside shooting and scoring on the drive next season. He has good size for an NBA small forward and should impress as part of a Duke team that will likely be a top-five team for most of next season.
7 | Karl Towns, Jr., C, Kentucky (7’0″, 248 lbs) – Towns is a face-up center with deep shooting range. A participant at the past two Nike Hoop Summits, Towns has impressed with his ability to score from all around the floor while also changing shots inside due to his length. Competing in a deep post rotation at Kentucky next year, Towns likely wins plenty of minutes due to his ability to produce offensively. If he can prove he is more than just an outside shooting big man, he could go as high as the top three in next year’s draft.
8 | Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas (6’7″, 200 lbs) – Oubre will challenge Johnson and Winslow to be the first wing prospect selected in next year’s draft. Oubre is a catch and shoot player who can also finish above the rim. At 6-7, Oubre offers the ability to defend multiple positions. Slightly eccentric, Oubre could become a favorite among scouts next season.
9 | Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia (6’7″, 195 lbs) – The top international prospect in the 2015 class, Hezonja had a chance to be a lottery pick in the 2014 Draft a few weeks ago. Perhaps the best outside shooter in the draft, Hezonja also offers the ability to distribute from the off-guard position and some ability to finish above the rim. The biggest question marks surrounding Hezonja’s game come on the defensive end. He could be a rich man’s Rudy Fernandez at the NBA level.
10 | Tyus Jones, PG, Duke (6’1″, 191 lbs) – After Mudiay, Jones is the most highly regarded point guard in the freshman class. Jones is a true point guard who can score off the dribble and set up his teammates. He reminds me of a more explosive Trey Burke. Forming a “big three” of sorts at Duke next season, Jones will form a pick and roll tandem with Okafor next season, and be among the top 20 in the country in assists per game. Duke was without a true point guard for much of last season, which leaves Jones a place to come in and begin to operate immediately.
11 | Caris Levert, SG, Michigan (6’6″, 185 lbs) – John Beilein is churning out NBA prospects, and Levert will be the next in line after Burke, Stauskas, Robinson and McGary have all been selected over the past few years. Levert was arguably a better scorer last season than Nik Stauskas, and he should see his scoring numbers increase next season with Stauskas out of the picture. The first non-freshman on this list (among college players), Levert should be a 20-point scorer for the Big Blue next season. As an NBA prospect, he could become the next OJ Mayo.
12 | Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky (7’0″, 230 lbs) – Cauley Stein surprisingly opted to return to Kentucky for his junior season, even though he was a likely late-lottery selection. He returns to a crowded frontcourt rotation where he will likely split minutes with Karl Towns at the 5-spot. His offense has developed slower than anticipated, but it does not change that fact that Cauley-Stein is an elite shot blocker and rebounder, especially on the defensive side of the ball. A team who selects him between 10-15 next season may be lauded for the decision.
13 | Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky (6’10”, 250 lbs) – A third Kentucky player on this list in the jam-packed Wildcat frontcourt, Lyles offers a different skill set than Cauley-Stein and Towns. He shows a mix of power and finesse to his game, with the ability to make shots from the college 3-point line. Think of Lyles at Kentucky in a similar fashion as Terrence Jones a few years ago. If he can show he can be a go-to offensive option as a freshman on a stacked roster, Lyles’ stock could skyrocket.
14 | Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville (6’8″, 240 lbs) – Perhaps the most surprising withdrawal from the 2014 NBA Draft was Harrell. 6-8, but strong, Harrell is one of the best rebounders and shot blockers from the power forward position. Entering his junior year, there will be raised expectations to develop an outside jump shot and a larger portion of the Louisville offense. Next to guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, Harrell will be looked upon to be the low post option for the Cards. Can he handle it? If so, he is a top-ten pick. If not, he might as well be Mason Plumlee.
15 | Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia (7’0″, 215 lbs) – Following his withdrawal from the 2014 NBA Draft, there was immediate speculation that Porzingis could be a top-five pick in 2015. After a slight overreaction, it is time to pump the brakes a bit on Porzingis. He shows the rare ability to handle the ball as a 7-footer and is an above-average outside shooter. He can block shots at an above-average rate, though he is physically very raw. At this stage, he is very similar to Meyers Leonard. An increased role overseas, when matched with efficient and effective performance could push him up draft boards with vigor, but for now he sits as a mid-first round prospect next year.
16 | Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona (6’7″, 220 lbs) – A Michael Kidd-Gilchrist clone, Hollis-Jefferson has the potential to be the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. A hybrid forward, RHJ (is that a thing yet?) desperately needs to add to his offensive game, as he is still very raw entering his sophomore year. Focusing on his ball handling and corner 3-point shooting should aid his draft stock to push him into the lottery. Playing on a deep Arizona squad, he needs to take the step out of anonymity.
17 | Jabari Bird, SG, California (6’6″, 200 lbs) – Bird hopped on the NBA Draft radar after last season’s Maui Invitational. Plagued by a series of nagging injuries during his freshman season, Bird returns to Berkley as the go-to scoring option. A true shooting guard with NBA size and length, Bird looks poised to take the next step towards making the NBA. He is a better prospect than Cal alum and Blazers guard Allen Crabbe.
18 | Chris Walker, PF, Florida (6’10”, 220 lbs) – Walker entered the picture at Florida too late last season, as there were issues surrounding his eligibility. A power forward with shooting range, Walker will step into the frontcourt next to Dorian Finney-Smith and be expected to score offensively. 2015 could be a breakout year for Walker and push him up draft boards.
19 | Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas (6’10”, 235 lbs) – Portis had a good first year at Arkansas, where he is the lone prospect with any sort of NBA buzz. This season, Portis should see an increase in post touches down low and at the elbow, which should boost his scoring and playmaking opportunities. A blue-chip high school recruit, Portis needs to be stronger down low on the glass and when defending other big men. His game shows similarities to Thomas Robinson.
20 | Andrew Harrison, PG, Kentucky (6’5″, 215 lbs) – Harrison is an enigma of a prospect. He was expected to steal the show at Kentucky, along with his brother, and lead the Wildcats to greatness (remember the 40-0 shirts?). Unfortunately, Harrison’s feel for the game was not as elite as anticipated. For Harrison to remain in the first round picture next season, he needs to focus on cutting his turnovers in half and increasing his 3-point shooting percentage. For now, he is only tentatively slotted above his brother.
21 | Wayne Selden, SG, Kansas (6’5″, 230 lbs) – Next to Wiggins and Embiid, Selden was lost in the shuffle at Kansas last year. Returning as a sophomore, Selden has a chance to shine as the team’s top perimeter scorer. A gifted outside shooter, Selden should look to attack off the dribble more often to show scouts a more balanced offensive game. Defensively, Selden should not hurt the team, but he could do more on that end to solidify his first round draft projection.
22 | Aaron Harrison, SG, Kentucky (6’5″, 218 lbs) – The other Harrison from Kentucky is a more polished offensive player to this point, as shown by his series of clutch outside shots during the Wildcats’ Final Four run in 2014. With 3-point shooting as his calling card, Harrison is almost assured a place in the NBA, though his game is more limited than his brother’s to this point. By showing he can distribute more often to teammates, he may rise back into lottery contention.
23 | Kasey Hill, PG, Florida (6’1″, 181 lbs) – Hill served last season as Scottie Wilbiken’s backup in Gainesville. An All-American as a senior in high school, Hill should impress in his ability to run the show for Billy Donovan as a sophomore. Coming off the bench as a freshman for Florida, Hill had a good assist and scoring rate, but is poised for a breakout year. By this time next year, it may seem ridiculous that Hill was rated this low.
24 | Nigel Williams-Goss, PG, Washington (6’3″, 185 lbs) – Williams-Goss enters his sophomore year at Washington ready to run the show. While likely sharing ball handling responsibilities with Andrew Andrews, Williams-Goss should prevail as the superior option because of his ability to shoot the ball in addition to his passing ability. Showing he can defend other point guards will be a key to showing scouts he belongs in the first round of next year’s draft.
25 | Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin (6’8″, 230 lbs) – Dekker is often compared to Chandler Parsons, though the comparison is not completely accurate. Dekker still needs to become a better outside shooter, show the confidence to be a scorer, and improve as a ball handler. He shows a terrific basketball IQ and should fit well into any system that selects him. His stats will be far from gaudy playing at Wisconsin, though his instincts and above-average athleticism are very intriguing. He remains a favorite of analytic-driven scouts.
26 | Delon Wright, PG, Utah (6’5″, 180 lbs) – The brother of Dorell Wright, Delon runs the show for Larry Krystkowiak at Utah. Wright is a good ball handler and outside shooter, but he could still refine his craft to increase his draft stock. Wright is a terrific rebounder from the guard position, and he pesters opposing Pac-12 guards with his on-ball defense. Wright has potential to be a top-20 pick in 2015.
27 | Brice Johnson, PF, North Carolina (6’9″, 210 lbs) – Projecting Johnson as a first-round pick in 2015 takes a bit of projection. Seeing a starting role in the absence of James Michael McAdoo, Johnson could explode in similar ways as former Tar Heel John Henson. Like Henson, Johnson excels as a shot blocker and rebounder with a decent mid-range game. Offensively, Johnson is not a polished as Henson was at this stage, as he has virtually no low post offense. If he can show the ability to be a two-way player, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that he could be a top-10 pick.
28 | James Blackmon, Jr., SG, Indiana (6’3″, 185 lbs) – An incoming freshman for Tom Crean, Blackmon, Jr. will likely start in the Hoosier backcourt next to Yogi Ferrell. Given Ferrell’s ability to score in a plethora of ways at the collegiate level, Blackmon, Jr. should see time attacking against many team’s second best defenders. Slightly undersized at 6-2, Blackmon, Jr. needs to hone in on being a defensive stopper and an efficient offensive player in year one. His ceiling might be Gary Harris.
29 | RJ Hunter, SG, Georgia State (6’5″, 180 lbs) – First there was Lillard, and then there was Elfrid Payton. Every year, a relatively unknown prospect emerges from an unusual mid-major program and rises dramatically up draft boards. While he is not a point guard like Lillard and Payton, look for RJ Hunter to be this year’s candidate. Hunter is a tremendous outside scorer and shooter who can also rebound from the guard position. It is not inconceivable to think he could lead the country in scoring next year. Keep an eye out for him this season.
30 | Jordan Mickey, PF, LSU (6’8″, 235 lbs) – While Jarell Martin was graded higher as a recruit, Mickey proved he was the superior freshman last season at LSU. Mickey made his impact as a shot blocker and rebounder last season on an improving LSU squad. Given Johnny O’Bryant’s departure to the NBA, Mickey should see an increase in post touches and rebounding opportunities, which could vault him squarely into the mid-first round picture. With Australian phenom Ben Simmons committing as a power forward in the 2015 incoming class, this season may be Mickey’s only chance to prove he is a first-round talent.
Next five: Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame / Marcus Foster, PG, Kansas State / Terry Rozier, PG, Louisville / Alex Poythress, SF, Kentucky / Kaleb Tarczewski, C, Arizona
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