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NBA PM: 2015 Draft is Loaded With Big Men

The 2015 NBA Draft features many talented big men, including possible No. 1 overall pick Jahlil Okafor.

Alex Kennedy

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2015 Draft is Loaded With Big Men

The NBA was once a league full of dominant big men, but that’s no longer the case. Now, we’re in the golden age of point guards and many teams around the league have a star-caliber floor general running their offense rather than a star anchor in the paint. Elite big men are such a rarity these days that the NBA recently removed the center position from the All-Star ballot.

That’s why the 2015 NBA Draft is so special. This has the potential to be one of the best classes of power forwards and centers in recent memory since there are a number of talented big men who will likely be top picks.

Seven big men are currently projected to be lottery picks: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis, UCLA’s Kevon Looney, Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, Texas’ Myles Turner and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.

In addition, other big men such as Kansas’ Cliff Alexander, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson, Florida’s Chris Walker, Arkansas’ Bobby Portis, Syracuse’s Chris McCullough, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson and UNLV’s Christian Wood are currently projected by DraftExpress to go in the first round as well.

The big men in this draft are certainly talented, but Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress also believes that the lack of top point guard prospects is opening the door for a lot of bigs to potentially go in the first 30 picks.

“I think that part of the reason why you’re seeing so many big men in our top 30 is because this is a really weak class for point guards,” Givony told Basketball Insiders. “There might be one point guard in our top 20 right now and maybe two in the first round, period. That just leaves a lot of spots open for the four other positions, including power forwards and centers. I think that’s why we’re seeing some of these bigs [in the top 30]. But it’s a nice class for big guys too. I do think this draft, as a whole, is much better than advertised so far.”

Okafor is one of the most skilled center prospects to enter the league in years. He’s incredibly gifted on the offensive end, with exceptional footwork and post moves. He seems like an NBA veteran with all of his moves and countermoves, and he says his footwork comes from jumping rope and doing drills, which he started at a young age. He also has a very high basketball IQ, and he has studied film of elite big men such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan since he was 15 years old. He has an NBA body at 6’11, 270 lbs. and a 7’5 wingspan, which is impressive for an 18-year-old. His skills have been on display in his freshman year at Duke, as he’s averaging 17.1 points on 64.6 percent shooting from the field as well as 7.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and one steal. NBA talent evaluators are drooling over Okafor and believe he has superstar, franchise-cornerstone potential. He’s currently the frontrunner to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and Givony believes he has the highest ceiling of any center in this class.

In most drafts, Towns would probably be the top overall selection, but he’ll likely have to settle for top three in this draft. The 19-year-old from Kentucky is extremely well-rounded and he has all of the physical tools to be a great big man, at 7’0 with a 7’3.5 wingspan and a 9’5 standing reach. It remains to be seen if Towns will be a power forward or a center at the next level since he’s so versatile, but he seems to have the two-way skills and size to thrive in the NBA. While Towns isn’t as gifted offensively as Okafor, he is the better defender of the two. As a freshman at Kentucky, Towns has averaged 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in just 18.8 minutes, which are excellent numbers in limited minutes. On most teams, Towns would be the star, but Kentucky is loaded with talented players and he’s splitting time with Cauley-Stein and Johnson, who are currently projected to be first-round picks as well. Towns isn’t as NBA-ready as Okafor, but there’s no question he has amazing upside.

Porzingis has drawn rave reviews from NBA talent evaluators who have watched him play. He hasn’t gotten as much attention as some of the top NCAA prospects since he’s playing overseas, but don’t be surprised if he solidifies himself as a top pick once he shows what he can do during the pre-draft process. Porzingis is still a work in progress since he hasn’t been playing at a high level for very long and he’s only 19 years old, but he is skilled, versatile and capable of making an impact on both ends of the floor. Porzingis is 7’1 and potentially still growing. However, he’s still very skinny at 220 lbs. (the size of many guards) so he will need to bulk up significantly. Due to his build, he’s projected to be a power forward in the NBA. Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports wrote a great article about Porzingis in which he’s described by his international coach as “a cross between Andrea Bargnani, Pau Gasol and Ersan Ilyasova.”

Looney is 6’9.5 with a 7’3 wingspan and he has turned heads with his excellent motor, rebounding skills, defensive intensity and willingness to do the dirty work. As a freshman at UCLA, he has averaged 14.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. He needs to continue to work on his offensive game and develop some post moves, but he seems like he could be solid on the glass and on the defensive end in the NBA. At only 18 years old, he still has plenty of time to work on his game and grow as a player.

Cauley-Stein is in his third season at Kentucky, and he’s currently 21 years old. Despite the fact that he stayed in school for several years, which tends to hurt a prospect’s stock, he’s still being projected as a lottery pick. At the very least, he seems like a lock to be a mid-first-round selection (barring injury, of course). Cauley-Stein may never be an elite two-way center, but he should be a very good rim protector in the NBA. He’s currently averaging 8.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Last year, he averaged 2.9 blocks as well. His recent 21-point, 12-rebound, five-steal, three-block performance against No. 6 Texas seemed to help his stock. A team that needs an interior defender will have to consider selecting Cauley-Stein, who is a legit seven-footer with a 7’2 wingspan and 9’2 standing reach.

Turner is only 6’10, but he more than makes up for that with his 7’4 wingspan. The 18-year-old was one of the top recruits in the country and he’s playing at Texas, averaging 11.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in 19.9 minutes off of the bench. He recorded five blocks in two of his first five college games and he projects to be a very good rim protector. In addition to his shot blocking, he is a talented shooter – a combination that NBA teams will love. Turner is also a very efficient player with a high basketball IQ. It was a bit concerning to see Turner struggle in his matchup against Kentucky last week, but he could become a very good big man if a team develops him and utilizes his skill set correctly.

Kaminsky had his coming out party last year during the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 16.4 points and had a monster 28-point, 11-rebound outing against No. 1 Arizona. Last season, he finished in the Big Ten’s top-12 in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and blocks. Many teams fell in love with Kaminsky during the tournament last year (he was named his region’s Most Outstanding Player) and hoped he would enter the 2014 NBA Draft, but he decided to return to school for his senior year. That’s looking like a good decision, as he’s averaging career-highs in points (16.4), rebounds (8.9), assists (2.2), blocks (2.2), steals (1.3), field goal percentage (54.5 percent), three-point percentage (43.8 percent). In other words, he has been fantastic and is helping his draft stock. He’ll be 22 years old on draft night so he doesn’t have the upside of some of his peers, but he seems like a lock to be a first-round pick since teams are in love with his well-rounded game.

Throw in Alexander, Harrell, Johnson, Walker, Portis, McCullough and Wood among others and it’s clear that this class has quite a few quality big men, after last year’s draft featured a lot of talented perimeter players. Quality bigs are usually hard to find, but not in the 2015 NBA Draft.

What About Mudiay?

Emmanuel Mudiay is widely regarded as the top non-center prospect in the 2015 NBA Draft, and there’s a chance that he could be the first overall pick depending on how he does during the pre-draft process and what that specific team needs.

As Basketball Insiders’ Yannis Koutroupis recently pointed out, Mudiay’s stint in China may be coming to an end earlier than initially expected due to a sprained ankle and the fact that Mudiay has nothing left to prove overseas.

During his time overseas, he showed that he can play at a high level against professionals, averaging 18.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.8 steals with a 25.6 PER. Now, there’s a good chance he’ll return to the U.S. and start preparing for the draft as soon as his ankle gets healthy.

This is similar to what Dante Exum did last year after his high school season ended in Australia. He spent much of the year training individually in Los Angeles and preparing for the draft process, which didn’t hurt his stock at all as he was selected fifth overall by the Utah Jazz. If anything, the mystery surrounding Exum actually helped him because talent evaluators fell in love with his potential and focused on that more than anything.

For more on Mudiay’s skillset, which teams could pick him in the draft and more, be sure to check out Koutroupis’ full article here.

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

The Best of the Undrafted Players

David Yapkowitz breaks down the best players who weren’t drafted in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Ben Wallace, Raja Bell, Avery Johnson, David Wesley, John Starks; those are just a few former NBA players who didn’t hear their name called on draft night, yet went on to have pretty impressive careers.

Each year there are a few undrafted players who end up making a team’s roster and turn out to be solid contributors. This past season, players like Ron Baker of the New York Knicks, Yogi Ferrell of the Dallas Mavericks, and Derrick Jones Jr. of the Phoenix Suns went undrafted in 2016 yet ended up as regular rotation guys for their teams. In Ferrell’s case, he became a starter.

With the 2017 NBA Draft come and gone, here’s a look at some of the top undrafted players who might be able to strengthen a team’s roster.

Johnathan Motley

Johnathan Motley was the best player on a Baylor team that was a No.3 seed and made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 17.3 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting and pulled down 9.9 rebounds per game.

At 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds, Motley is definitely in the mold of a versatile wing player who can play multiple positions and thrive and in today’s NBA. What he needs to do, however, is improve his outside shot. He shot only 28.1 percent from three-point range. One crucial aspect for hybrid forwards is to be able to step out and hit long range jumpers.

His stock often fluctuated in various mock drafts; some had him going in the first round, others in the second. Per The Vertical’s Shams Charania, Motley signed a two-way contract with the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

P.J. Dozier

P.J. Dozier was one-half of South Carolina’s star duo that helped propel them to a Cinderella run to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. The other half, Sindarius Thornwell, had his name called, but at the end of the night, Dozier was still waiting.

Only a sophomore, Dozier was the second leading scorer for the Gamecocks with 13.9 points per game. He was always projected to go in the second round on most mocks and perhaps he came out a bit too early. The talent is there though.

He can have success as a team’s combo guard off the bench. He will need to work on his shooting though. He shot only 40.7 percent from the field, 29.8 percent from three. He’ll be in summer league with the Los Angeles Lakers, and from there will hope to entice a team to bring him to training camp.

Melo Trimble

Melo Trimble might have been one of those players that needed to strike while the iron’s hot. Two years ago, he was talked about as a probable first-round pick had he declared for the draft after his freshman year at Maryland. Instead, he stayed until his junior year and his stock fell.

He actually turned in an impressive junior campaign with 16.8 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He shot a respectable 44.4 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three-point range.

Trimble will play summer league with the Philadelphia 76ers, and like most undrafted free agents, will look to turn his performance into a training camp invitation. He probably projects to be a backup point guard should he find a place in the league. He had first round and possible lottery talent before, however, so maybe all he needs is an opportunity.

Devin Robinson

In today’s game, where teams put a premium on versatile, do it all type players who can play multiple positions, Devin Robinson certainly fits that description. Robinson is a long, athletic forward who can step out and hit outside jumpers while locking up his opponent’s best wing scorer.

Florida had a surprisingly solid run in the NCAA Tournament and Robinson was a big part of that. His junior year, his best year yet, saw him average 11.1 points per game on 47.5 percent from the field and 6.1 rebounds. He showed a much improved outside shot, connecting on 39.1 percent of his looks from downtown. In the tournament, he upped his averages to 28.3 points on similar shooting percentages.

Robinson will be in summer league with the Washington Wizards, a team that often times lacked production off their bench last season. Depending on how he performs in summer league, don’t be surprised to see him on the Wizards roster come opening night.

Nigel Hayes

Playing in the shadow of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in years past, Nigel Hayes was given an opportunity as a senior at Wisconsin to show what he could do as the focal point of an offense. His numbers didn’t jump off the page, but he did play well enough to be given a shot at making a team’s roster.

His 14 points per game were good enough to tie teammate Ethan Happ for the second leading scorer on the team. As a power forward, he was actually the second leading assist man with 2.7. One area he’ll need to improve on to make an impact in the NBA is his outside jumper. He shot 39.6 percent from three his sophomore season. This year it was down to 31.4 despite taking a similar number of attempts (2.5 and 1.9 respectively).

Hayes looks to be one of those players in between positions. He lacks the quickness and range to thrive at small forward but is a bit undersized at the NBA level for power forward. He is an incredible energy player, though, and players like that have been able to carve out nice careers. He’ll be in summer league with the Knicks, and given their current state of affairs, they need all the help they can get.

L.J. Peak

In the mock drafts that projected him to be drafted, L.J. Peak was most likely going to be a second round pick. That’s not to say he doesn’t have first round talent. He’s a big guard that can play both guard positions.

Despite Georgetown’s futile record this season, Peak was a standout. He was the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.2 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field. He was also their top playmaker, dishing out 3.5 assists. In the NBA, he most likely can find a role for some team as a combo guard off the bench. He only shot 32.7 percent from the beyond the arc, however, so if he wants to make an impact in the league that’s one area he’ll need some work.

He’s set to go to summer league with the Houston Rockets. Depending on what roster moves the Rockets make, it will be tough for Peak to make the final team. They already have two guards capable of playing both guard spots off the bench in Lou Williams and Isaiah Taylor. Taylor’s contract isn’t guaranteed, but he probably has the inside track due to his familiarity with the team. In any case, a strong summer showing should lead Peak to a training camp invite with another team, if not the Rockets.

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NBA PM: Losers Of The 2017 NBA Draft

Who were the two parties who came out of draft night worse off than they went in? Spencer Davies explores.

Spencer Davies

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As the book closes on the 2017 NBA Draft, the league takes a bit of a break before going full throttle into the free agency portion of the off-season.

Before we get there, though, Basketball Insiders will take a look at the winners and losers of Thursday’s draft to get you caught up. Our own Benny Nadeau already took care of the former, so this piece will focus on the two parties who came out of the night worse off than they did going into it.

Early Entrants Going Undrafted

The amount of talent in this year’s draft class was undeniable, so those that decided to come out of college too soon instead of returning to school for another year suffered tremendously.

Let’s take a look at some notable undrafted players that entered as underclassmen:

Kobi Simmons

Simmons was an interesting story this past season with the Arizona Wildcats. It was a difficult one-and-done season for Simmons, as he had trouble converting on the perimeter (33 percent) and contributing anything other than scoring.

In the first couple of months as a freshman, he was basically an every game starter and played at least 28 minutes per game for the team. As the year wound down, though, the 6-5, 175-pound shooting guard barely saw the court, and the time he was given came during blowouts.

His decision to enter the draft was questionable and a gamble, and most teams saw it the same way. Luckily for Simmons, he was reportedly able to come to an agreement with the Memphis Grizzlies on a free agent contract.

P.J. Dozier

A player that surprisingly didn’t get selected was P.J. Dozier from South Carolina. In his sophomore season, the 20-year-old swingman took on a much heavier workload and dramatically improved his game on both ends of the floor.

Dozier was one of the best defenders in the SEC and in the entire NCAA, as well as an aggressor on offense. He was not bashful and took his new role in stride. Over the course of one year, he attempted six more field goals per game and upped his three-point success by 8.5 percentage points.

He also snatched almost two more rebounds per game and averaged nearly two steals for the Gamecocks. Dozier going undrafted was a head scratcher, but the Los Angeles Lakers made sure he landed on his feet with a deal.

Isaiah Briscoe

Briscoe is more of a hybrid type with a bulky build for a backcourt player. In two seasons under John Calipari at Kentucky, he was pretty consistent with his game as somebody who will give you a little bit of everything.

He’s not particularly a good shooter, but he can get some rebounds and dish it out to make the right plays. You’ll see that with when he’s playing for the Philadelphia 76ers in Summer League.

Antonio Blakeney

Blakeney—a sophomore guard from LSU—proved that he can shoot the basketball and be a pure scorer (17.2 points per game) when given the opportunity, but what about the defensive end of the floor? He’ll need to work on that, as well as his all-around game that won’t make him a one-dimensional threat.

He hasn’t received an offer from a team yet, but he’ll likely get a chance to showcase his talents in either Orlando or Las Vegas.

The trend here seems obvious—if you’re a shooting guard and haven’t gotten at least three years of college experience, it may not be wise to declare. Executives understand that they need players with the “do-it-all” quality and not just pure scorers that can’t bring more than one or two skills to the table.

Chicago Bulls

Over the past week, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Jimmy Butler and his future with the Bulls. There were rumors all over linking him mainly to the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the dark horse candidate to land the All-Star was the one to pull the trigger.

After the first selection in the draft was made, the Minnesota Timberwolves came to an agreement with Chicago that reunited Butler with his former coach of four years, Tom Thibodeau. The deal came a few weeks after an exit interview regarding the team’s direction that reportedly went well.

The 27-year-old’s trainer didn’t hide his displeasure about the move, but it’s understandable from the perspective of VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, who strived to “set a direction” for the franchise.

However, what they received in return for Butler was not nearly enough for a man that is just now entering his prime as one of the best two-way players in the game today. In exchange for Butler, the Wolves sent Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine to Chicago. Furthermore, the Bulls were able to move up nine spots in the draft, but it cost them their 16th pick to do so.

LaVine is as exciting as a player as any young talent in the NBA, but he’ll enter the season coming off a brutal ACL tear that ended his year prematurely. It will probably be a little while before the 22-year-old sees the floor, and, as the centerpiece of this trade, it’s definitely risky not knowing how he’ll respond to the injury.

While Dunn could have plenty of promise as the starting point guard of the future, his rookie season in Minnesota left a lot to be desired. The only defense of his inclusion as one of the key pieces in this transaction is being a top five pick in last year’s draft with untapped potential.

With the seventh overall selection, Chicago drafted Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona. In his lone season under Sean Miller, the seven-footer was a key cog in the Wildcats’ run in the PAC-12 and NCAA tournaments.

The talent is clearly there as a sharpshooting stretch four or five, but with Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic already in the mix at power forward, the fit may be a problem. He could see some time at center, but remember, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, and Joffrey Lauvergne are holding down the fort there, too.

Markkanen’s situation will all depend on if qualifying offers are made to Mirotic, Felicio, and Lauvergne.

To add the cherry on top of the Bulls’ rough night, they excited some fans of the organization when they took Jordan Bell out of Oregon early in the second round. That hope quickly diminished when the Golden State Warriors paid $3.5 million for the pick, and Chicago agreed to send him to the Bay.

Bell was one of the sexier names in the draft for a good reason, but the money was more important to the Bulls, who will have some more decisions to make this summer with their veterans on the roster likely not wanting to be a part of the rebuild.

Without their superstar of the last three years, and still with an inexperienced head coach like Fred Hoiberg to develop the young talent brought into the organization, it’s going to be a little while before basketball is king again in the Windy City.

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Hawks Didn’t Expect John Collins To Fall To 19

Newly-minted Atlanta Hawks GM Travis Schlenk had a relatively easy decision drafting John Collins at 19.

Buddy Grizzard

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During Travis Schlenk’s first NBA Draft as Atlanta GM, fortune smiled as center John Collins of Wake Forest, a player rated highly on Atlanta’s draft board, fell to the 19th pick.

“Through the whole week, we had guys ranked, and he was the highest guy there,” said Schlenk to assembled media at the Omni Hotel, adjacent to Philips Arena. “We thought he’d go a little higher. We had a couple options on the board to move back, but once we saw that John was going to be there, we didn’t entertain any of those.”

Schlenk added that Atlanta also tried to move up but was unable to execute a trade.

“We did have some conversations about trying to move up,” said Schlenk. “We had one player that we targeted that we really wanted to move up for but were unable to do so.”

The process of building the team’s draft depth chart was collaborative, Schlenk added, which meant Collins’ selection was by consensus rather than by decree. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was among those whose input factored into the selection.

“I have a lot of faith in the group that was here before I got here,” said Schlenk. “They’ve been a huge asset to me coming in here in the middle of this process. As I’ve stated all along, I view Coach Bud and I’s relationship as a partnership. It doesn’t do us any good to take a guy that he doesn’t like, so he’s got a voice in it for sure.”

Schlenk was asked about areas where Collins needs to improve and didn’t shy away from questions about his defense.

“That was kind of the knock on him at Wake Forest,” said Schlenk. “But a lot of times, especially in college — when you’re the main focal point — you’ll see the best offensive player doesn’t want to get in foul trouble so he can stay on the floor. We interviewed him in Chicago. That’s what he said: “Coach Manning said, ‘Don’t get in foul trouble, I can’t afford to have you off the court.'”

The Hawks GM also talked about Collins’ shortcomings as a shooter.

“One of the first things we’re going to work on with him is a jump shot,” said Schlenk. “In college, all his scoring came in the post. And he’s got a good post game. We just need to extend his range out, especially the way we play and the way the league’s going.”

But overall, Schlenk was extremely positive about the opportunity to add a player with the upside of Collins, a player who is far from a finished product.

“Last year you saw his athleticism, and then the big jump that he’s made from his freshman year to his sophomore year,” Schlenk said. “Obviously, being the most improved player in the ACC, you see the growth he’s made. And he’s still a 19-year-old kid, so there’s still a lot of room to grow.”

In the second round, Atlanta selected shooting guard Tyler Dorsey, who shot 56 percent from three and averaged 23 points during Oregon’s run to the Final Four. The Hawks also selected 6-10 French center Alpha Kaba of Mega Leks, a likely draft-and-stash candidate. With Collins’ youth and lack of polish, it may take some time to judge Schlenk’s first draft. But fortunately for him, the decision was a relatively easy one since the team didn’t expect Collins to fall all the way to 19 where Atlanta could grab him.

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