Now that all college and international prospects have declared, it’s time for a pre-lottery mock draft. The NBA Draft Lottery will take place on May 19 and the actual draft is on June 25.
1) Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns, C – Kentucky
The Timberwolves battled with injuries all season and finished with the worst record in the NBA, and there’s no doubt that the immediate impact of Karl-Anthony Towns will only help that team drive further in the right direction. The world saw what he could do as the Kentucky Wildcats marched their way through an undefeated regular season all the way to the Final Four. At 6’11, 250 lbs, Towns is a force to be reckoned with – a frame like a rock that’ll absorb the ball in the post before executing a strong move to the hoop.
Minnesota ended the regular season dead last in the league ranks in defensive rebounding, and were bottom five in total rebounding and blocks, three categories that Towns would likely help improve straight away. Plus, who doesn’t love personality like this?:
2) New York Knicks – Jahlil Okafor, C – Duke
If you can’t be first, it doesn’t hurt to be second. In almost any other draft year, a player of Okafor’s caliber would be the first name out of Adam Silver’s mouth. Unfortunately, Karl-Anthony Towns will likely take that spot, though many believe it’s possible Okafor makes the jump.
Nevertheless, Okafor is an incredible post player with an offensive skill set many compare to Tim Duncan in his time at Wake Forest. A dominating presence on offense, Okafor showed that he has a strong work ethic and is extremely coachable. Like Towns, Okafor is 6’11, but the Chicago native has 20 lbs on the former and is sitting at 270 lbs. Like the Timberwolves, the Knicks were awful in the rebounding category last year, finishing second-to-last in both defensive and total rebounds, something Okafor is well equipped to change. Unless New York plans on trading down, Okafor is the prize.
3) Philadelphia 76ers – D’Angelo Russell, PG – Ohio State
Earlier in the month, I wrote about the Big Ten draft prospects who were likely to enter the draft, and Russell was one of them. Ever impressive, Russell is stuck in a two-horse race for third place – with him and Emmanuel Mudiay being the candidates. Russell is well worth the top three claims, showing his versatility as a freshman at Ohio State. He had an up and down two tournament games, scoring 28 in his first but just nine in his second (on 3-19 shooting), but is still perhaps the most promising guard in this draft class.
Russell is a good shooter, which should help the 76ers, who finished last in FG%, second-to-last in 3FG% and 24th in the league in assists. Russell may be an immediate and more effective Michael Carter-Williams for the 76ers, something most fans would be just fine with considering the Syracuse product earned Rookie of the Year before being dealt to Milwaukee this season. He could go third or fourth, but if Philly takes the risk, it’ll almost certainly pay off.
4) Los Angeles Lakers – Emmanuel Mudiay, PG – Guangdong Southern Tigers
Not many players choose to take the route that Emmanuel Mudiay has – opting to play overseas in China over playing one year in college before earning his eligibility. After all, the NBA rules state that all draft prospects must be at least one year removed from high school – it never specifies between college or professional basketball in a different country. Nonetheless, when Mudiay announced he wouldn’t be attending SMU in Texas (like was originally planned) and would join an international team for a year, some were surprised, others not so much.
Mudiay signed a one-year deal worth just over a million dollars with the Guangdong Southern Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association. In December he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for a few weeks, but made enough of a recovery to play 10 regular-season games and two more in the playoffs. In those games, Mudiay averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.6 steals a game:
No question Mudiay has the talent to play at the next level, but he has to remain injury free to stay a lock as a top four pick.
5) Orlando Magic – Justise Winslow, SF – Duke
Justise Winslow is a unique player because of the variety he brings to the wing position. As a freshman, Winslow was part of a contingency that led the Duke Blue Devils to another national title. After winning the title in Indianapolis, Winslow decided to move on. He may not have gotten the attention that Okafor did, but he was certainly as valuable.
The 6’6, 222 lb forward has great durability and can maintain high energy all game, and his motor may even help him reach another level of play if he can continue his style in the NBA. After Arron Afflalo was traded away, a body like Winslow would fit in nicely.
6) Sacramento Kings – Willie Cauley-Stein, C – Kentucky
Another Kentucky prospect who never failed to impress, Willie Cauley-Stein is a hard worker who knows how to protect the rim; pair Cauley-Stein with DeMarcus Cousins, and the Kings easily have one of the most versatile sets of big men in the league.
Cauley-Stein may not be known for his point production (just 8.9 per game last year), but he has stepped up his offensive efficiency each season while consistently making an impact on the defensive end of the floor as well.
The Kings were in the bottom three in blocks per game last season, and Cauley-Stein would predictably help fill that void while backing up Cousins when needed. There’s some debate about whether the 7-footer actually gets drafted this high, but he has shown that it’s certainly possible.
7) Denver Nuggets – Mario Hezonja, SF – Croatia
In the next line of hot shooting Croatians, Mario Hezonja enters the draft after playing with FC Barcelona in the Euroleague and the ACB. As athletic as he is, Hezonja has made a case for himself as one of the top international names this year:
He could have entered the draft last year, the first year he was eligible, but chose to wait and now it seems to have paid off. Herzonja is 6’8, 200 lbs, which is encouraging for teams looking for a big shooting guard, and he can run the floor well while working his feet. With enough work and a consistent attitude, Hezonja could become an offensive weapon for any team.
8) Detroit Pistons – Stanley Johnson, SG – Arizona
To me, this is a match made in heaven. Johnson is coming off his freshman year at Arizona where he averaged almost 14/6/2 in about 28 minutes a game. At 6’7, 237 lbs, Johnson isn’t afraid to body up and play to his size. He’s a true competitor who will do whatever it takes to succeed in the NBA.
The Pistons relied on Reggie Jackson to come in and make an immediate impact, but adding Johnson to the puzzle would give Detroit another option at SG or SF, where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is still waiting to bloom. If Johnson can get an NBA mentality in his head and start playing as smart as he plays hard, Detroit will be making the right decision.
9) Charlotte Hornets – Kristaps Porzingis, PF – Latvia
If Porzingis actually drops this far, the Hornets are getting quite the deal. Another big man who can shoot, the 6’11 Latvian has three-point range and the ability to put it on the floor. He’s not as filled out as he could be, but if he can get a little bit stronger, he’s on the right track. He’s solid on defense and can run the floor well, making him an asset in the modern game:
The Hornets currently have Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Noah Vonleh on the books at the 4-spot, but Porzingis would be a welcome addition to a team that badly needs an offensive spark. The Hornets thought Lance Stephenson might have provided that, but it turns out that deal completely backfired, leaving only free agency and the draft as places to find new talent.
10) Miami Heat – Frank Kaminsky, PF – Wisconsin
Kaminsky was also featured in my Big Ten draft prospects piece, and after his performance in the national title game and throughout the season, it’s easy to see why. For his body type, Kaminsky runs the floor pretty well and can create off the dribble, which is useful given his range. He has great skills in the post on offense and is passable down there on defense, but lacks the strength and athleticism of a Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor.
The Heat could use someone like Kaminsky, especially if he can spread the floor and find shooting space like Chris Bosh before him. Other than Bosh, Miami relied on Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Hassan Whiteside in the frontcourt (Josh McRoberts was hurt almost all year), two of whom you could argue would be under Kaminsky in the pecking order. The 10th pick is probably the highest Kaminsky will go, but it may be the best place for him.
11) Indiana Pacers – Myles Turner, C – Texas
Roy Hibbert hasn’t exactly performed to the level that Pacers fans and staff expected alike, so adding a 7’0, 240 lb Texas native would be a crowd pleaser for sure. Turner is long and athletic and can run the floor far better than Hibs, though Roy is far stronger than Turner is currently. At Texas, Turner showed his range from outside the arc and around the rim, making him a coveted offensive weapon without the immobility often associated with a player his size.
With Hibbert and David West potentially gone next year, the long-term logical move would be to draft a big man for cover, and Turner fits the bill just fine. He has room to develop and get bigger, and can learn to work more aggressively. If he stays healthy (like a lot of players), he could make an impact next year, although he’s likely more of a project.
12) Utah Jazz – Kelly Oubre, SF – Kansas
Another one and done at Kansas, Oubre made a decent impact with the Jayhawks, though his minutes wavered at times. The 19-year-old averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in his freshman year and helped lead Kansas to another NCAA Tournament appearance, where they bowed out to Wichita State. He can shoot and has good size at 6’7, 204 lbs, but needs to improve his handling before he can extend his game to creating off the dribble.
Utah has Gordon Hayward at SF, but may be able to get away with Oubre at SG, where they could use an explosive player. He’s a projected lottery pick and could go anywhere in the 11-15 range, but doesn’t have everyone buying in:
— Wally Szczerbiak (@wallyball) April 1, 2015
13) Phoenix Suns – Trey Lyles, PF – Kentucky
I liked Trey Lyles to Indiana before Myles Turner came along, so Phoenix drafting Lyles in a “best available” situation makes good sense. Another player whose minutes varied slightly, Lyles was still an impact player as he was able to work it inside and out of the post and put it on the floor as well.
The Suns have the Morris twins at PF, but could still use a player of Lyles’s size. Like many in his class, he needs to get stronger and learn to come harder at the rim, but those things are teachable – if he’s willing to put in the work. Phoenix wouldn’t be the worst place for Lyles to grow.
14) Oklahoma City Thunder – Jerian Grant, PG – Notre Dame
Amid a coaching change and the continuing question of Kevin Durant’s health, the Thunder have a decent draft pick, and someone like Jerian Grant would fit perfectly with their personnel. An athletic wing with a hot hand, Grant has learned to facilitate and play with an offensive intensity of a player like Victor Oladipo in his last season at Indiana. He’s tough and he has got great handles, and will hopefully get the minutes he needs to push his athleticism even more.
Durant will hopefully be back and healthy by the start of next season, and Grant could be a nice prospect off the bench on a supremely talented team. Right now, he needs to prove his consistency in both mid- and long range shooting and continue to get stronger, but the Thunder would have a moldable prospect in their hands, even at 22 years old.
15) Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets) – Sam Dekker, SF – Wisconsin
I really like Sam Dekker to Atlanta, if it happens. He’s another athletic wing player who can shoot and drive with confidence. At his best, he’s a versatile offensive spark plug who can create off the dribble and finish at the rim with authority; his problem, though, is that he’s not extremely consistent and can struggle to get out of a slump.
Atlanta has DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha at SF, so Dekker would definitely be competing for minutes (assuming Carroll returns) and would have to put in quite some time working on his craft to be more effective. He proved his worth at Wisconsin through three years, and will now need to do the same once drafted, no matter the team.
16) Boston Celtics – Bobby Portis, PF – Arkansas
Brad Stevens was incredibly successful in his first season as head coach of the Celtics, and will now have the opportunity to add to his arsenal of different players with different skill sets. Portis is big but is another player with good range on offense, as well as the ability to work around the post. He’s not the most athletic of defenders, but his size is still an advantage.
The Celtics have plenty of talent at the PF position, but Stevens has the ability to work a number of different players into separate lineups and still find success, so there’s reason to believe Portis could see the floor.
17) Milwaukee Bucks – Kevon Looney, PF – UCLA
Looney is an incredible athlete who uses his size to every advantage. He’s an incredible rebounder, and should be with a 9’2 reach and a 7’3 wingspan when he’s only 6’10, 210 lbs. He’s working on his range but is very tough and stretches inside and out. He’s not as strong as he could be and his offense needs improvement, but Looney is a solid pick and especially this late in the round:
Grabbing Looney would add another long athlete to Milwaukee’s stable of them. The Bucks are still a work in progress and will be very much looking forward to the return of Jabari Parker next season, and Looney would be a nice addition.
18) Houston Rockets (via New Orleans Pelicans) – Devin Booker, SG – Kentucky
A guard with great range, Booker had a successful year at Kentucky and proved his efficiency on the offensive end. He might be the best shooter in the draft and can defend pretty well at 6’6, 195 lbs. He’s an average athlete and needs to get better at creating off the dribble, but his spot shooting is pure and a threat when hot.
James Harden and Jason Terry have done very well for Houston this year; Harden especially with the MVP candidacy so many have clamored for, and rightly so. Booker would fit in as a good shooter on a team that likes to shoot threes, but he needs time to grow other parts of his game.
19) Washington Wizards – Tyus Jones, PG – Duke
Tyus Jones was perhaps the most underrated of the Duke freshman trio consisting of Okafor, Winslow and Jones, but his ability is there, as evidenced by his standout performance in the title game. He’s a great natural point guard and has good vision and passing ability. He has a good feel for the game and can score at an average level, but could improve his jump shot and driving.
Washington has John Wall at point guard, but Jones could be the steady backup the Wizards need behind Wall. With Otto Porter coming into his own, Washington could have a nice young bench duo if Jones pans out.
20) Toronto Raptors – Cameron Payne, PG – Murray State
The Raptors would be getting a steal with Cameron Payne at the 20th pick. Hailing from Bartlett, TN, Payne spent his last two seasons at Murray State in the PG spot, running the Racers’ offense. He’s smart and can see the floor well, and is improving on offense in terms of scoring. Payne needs to add some muscle and get a better first step, but will be looking to prove his worth to his new team.
Kyle Lowry runs the show up north, but Payne could improve in the offseason to a level where he sees the floor. If he’s still available this late in the draft, it’s worth the pick.
21) Dallas Mavericks – Montrezl Harrell, PF – Louisville
Montrezl Harrell was one of the most aggressive college basketball players I’ve ever seen, and in a good way. At 6’7, 243 lbs, Harrell plays over his size with an explosiveness often unmatched by his opponent. He has learned to shoot decently well and works the boards with excellent leaping and high energy. Harrell is shorter than the average PF, but is developing in his role and has the ability to grow into a new spot:
Dallas relied on veterans Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire and Charlie Villanueva at power forward, so someone like Harrell might be a breath of fresh air and a useful role player. The 21st pick might be too high, but Dallas may be uneasy about passing up someone like Harrell.
22) Chicago Bulls – Delon Wright, PG – Utah
Delon Wright hasn’t made much noise as a draft prospect out of Utah, but is worth a look as a late first-rounder. At 6’5, 178 lbs, he has got good size and also works the floor well on offense. Solid on defense, Wright continues to show athleticism with multiple steals as a result of his quickness. He’s a little old at 23 years old, but that’s not as big a deal when you’re picking later in the first round.
Derrick Rose is obviously there at point guard in Chicago, but we all know about Rose’s injury history, and the futures of Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich are uncertain. Wright wouldn’t be a bad option as Chicago could use depth in this spot, and there may not be a better value at this point than him.
23) Portland Trail Blazers – Christian Wood, PF – UNLV
In just two years at UNLV, Wood established himself as an elite defender who works the glass extremely well. He doesn’t score at a high level, but he can run the floor and is athletic enough to cover for mistakes. Again, he’s another player who needs more muscle, but could develop into an asset for a team like Portland.
Right now, the Trail Blazers are in danger of losing LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, and seeing as he’s the only true PF listed on the roster, Wood would make a good choice for a temporary replacement. Wood could make a solid impact off the bench if Portland were to take the chance.
24) Cleveland Cavaliers – R.J. Hunter, SG – Georgia State
R.J. Hunter is a popular choice at the 24th pick, and it’s easy to see why. He’s an incredible shooter and might have the best range in his draft class; plus he’s effective in a number of offensive areas and is smart on the ball. He’s long and defends well, constantly reaching to disrupt the defender, and has learned to hit the boards, too:
Cleveland is working with J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert as a part of the NY trade, as well as Matthew Dellavedova, but Hunter could step in and prove a smooth stroke off the dribble or spotting up. Hunter is a safe pick in this position.
25) Memphis Grizzlies – Justin Anderson, SF – Virginia
Coming out of the University of Virginia, Justin Anderson spent three years growing into the defensive stalwart he has become. He’s 6’6, 222 lbs and is incredibly athletic, not to mention his growth in mid-range this season. He can’t necessarily create the most off the dribble, but he’s experienced and NBA ready.
Jeff Green is the current option for Memphis at SF, and Anderson would just be padding to an already solid squad. However, the Grizzlies are aging and it would be wise to get some more fresh talent in that can make a name for themselves.
26) San Antonio Spurs – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF – Arizona
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was on the fence about declaring for the draft, but eventually decided on going and may reap the rewards of being a late first-round pick. He’s strong and poised as a 20-year-old, and penetrates well in transition and off the dribble. Defensively, he more than holds his own and can guard both a spot up and down due to his strength and athleticism. In fact, he might be the best wing defender in the draft.
San Antonio would be a good place for someone like Hollis-Jefferson to emerge as a rookie solely because of the talent he’ll be around and the system he’s placed in. He has got good handles but really needs to work on his shot, and the Spurs have options being so late in the draft, but at least he has got some people high on him:
— Dave Miller (@coachdavemiller) April 21, 2015
27) Los Angeles Lakers (via Houston Rockets) – Jarell Martin, PF – LSU
The Lakers have the benefit of a second first-round pick this year (assuming they keep the first one), and someone like Jarell Martin would help increase their frontcourt presence. Martin is just 6’9, 241 lbs, but is as athletic as they come and can play down a spot. He runs the floor, is consistent at the rim, and has good rebounding ability. Martin needs to work on his perimeter game and add size, but he’s on the way.
The Lakers will hope to have Julius Randle fully active next year at this spot, but Martin could be a useful option anyway. Often times this late in a round it’s common to draft the best available, but Martin would at least fit well in purple and gold.
28) Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers) – Cliff Alexander, PF – Kansas
Cliff Alexander had an interesting freshman year at Kansas, playing inconsistent minutes and ultimately missing a good part of the end of the season, including the NCAA Tournament, due to eligibility issues. Nonetheless, he has the body of a big man for just 19 years of age, with good strength and a big wingspan. While talented, Alexander is very raw and needs a good amount of instruction:
Self said Cliff Alexander isn't to blame for what happened this season. #kubball
— JayhawkSlant (@JayhawkSlant) April 14, 2015
Like the Lakers, Boston will have already drafted once in the first round and can use this pick in a similar “best available” situation. Depending on who the Celtics draft the first time around, they may go in a different direction; however, Alexander remains a good option for late in the first round.
29) Brooklyn Nets (via Atlanta Hawks) – Terry Rozier, PG – Louisville
One of the scrappiest players in this class, Rozier consistently shows his strength and uses length to his advantage. He has a good jump shot and plays both ends of the floor. Quick for his size, Rozier penetrates and finishes well at the rim. He can be inconsistent and turn the ball over too much, but improving his basketball IQ will only help.
The Nets have sported Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack as their point-guard duo, though Rozier could fall anywhere between late first round and early second round. Brooklyn may be wise to take a player with the skill set that Rozier possesses, combined with his physicality.
30) Golden State Warriors – Robert Upshaw, C – Washington
For the last pick in the first round, it makes sense that the Warriors go with a player like Robert Upshaw. After one year at Fresno State and one year at Washington, Upshaw declared for the draft and is one of the biggest prospects in the draft. He finishes strong at the rim and is fairly athletic, but doesn’t have a soft touch and has had disciplinary issues in the past.
Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli get the majority of the minutes for Golden State, but Upshaw would be a cheap alternative to possibly work in as a third option. Nothing is set in stone, but Upshaw has an upside that’s big enough to assume he could sneak into the end of the first round.