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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 Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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