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NBA AM: Taking Stock of The 2015 Draft Class

The top of the 2015 NBA Draft has been rounding out for weeks, but the next tier of guys is taking shape as well.

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Taking Stock of The Field:  For most of last season, the 2014 NBA Draft class was lauded as being stocked at the top with potential stars and while the sample size on some is smaller than others, the pundits may have been right. Top overall pick Andrew Wiggins has been everything advertised. Before tearing his ACL, Jabari Parker was looking the part as well. While the true value of a draft class usually isn’t known for three to four seasons, the 2014 class has lived up to most of its hype.

If you liked that class, the 2015 class could do you one better. For months the talk about Duke big man Jahlil Okafor being the top pick has been a constant. Supporters of Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns have been making their case for his top pick candidacy and then there are the two point guards in Emanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell who are just as worthy of top pick talk.

While the next tier of players may not offer as much star power, it could offer ready-to-play players that could fill that second guy role many of the teams drafting in the top 14 may be missing. Here are a few of them:

Justise Winslow – Duke SF 6’7″ 229

If you have been watching the NCAA tournament, it’s easy to get excited about what Winslow could be in the NBA. The best way to describe his game is he’s a utility knife player. He is stellar with the ball, on defense and at creating for himself and others. When it comes to second-option players, Winslow might be the best on the board, in much the way Andre Iguodala was in his prime. The trap on Winslow is believing he can shoulder a team on his own; that is where his issues might leave you wanting. When it comes to the first second-tier guy taken, Winslow could be the best of the bunch.

Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky C 7’0″ 244

The phrase “ready-to-play” is best used on Cauley-Stein – tough, physical, mature and ready to contribute. Cauley-Stein might be the best defensive player in the class and the fact that he’s shown a willingness to play at a high level with others only helps his case as one of the best second-tier options in the class. Some will try to make the case that Cauley-Stein is a tier-one player and that’s a mistake. It’s easy to look the part at Kentucky, but in the NBA, Cauley-Stein is better suited as the guy next to the guy and he could be really good in that role.

Mario Hezonja – Barcelona SG 6’8″ 200

Unless you are a diehard hoop head or watch a lot of international basketball, Hezonja is likely a mystery. However, he is a very solid prospect and could be one of the more ready-to-contribute guys in the class. Hezonja won’t blow you away with his work ethic or his on-court demeanor, but he loves to dunk and he can flat out shoot it. Like most on this list, Hezonja is not the guy you want to build a team around, but when it comes to second or even third options, especially on the offensive end Hezonja is going to be hard to pass on. The knock on Hezonja is that he’s a little selfish and likes to showboat, but in the NBA that’s allowed, especially if you are consistent. Hezonja might have a few more warts to his game than some teams like, but it’s hard not to see what he is as a player and think he could help a team needing some offensive punch.

Kristaps Porzingis – Sevilla PF 7’0″ 220

Porzingis could be the most appealing second-tier guy on the board, mainly because his ceiling may be higher. It’s hard to say what international players are going to be at the next level. Trainers and scouts that have had him on the radar for awhile believe his ceiling could be very high and the Dirk Nowitzki comparisons get tossed around a little too effortlessly for a kid that hasn’t really done anything yet. But when talking about the “dare to be great” pick, Porzingis might be the guy. A realistic approach is that he could be a solid contributor on a good team, especially in time. The optimistic approach is he could be a first option star-level player. The draft process is going to be interesting for Porzingis, mainly because it’s unclear how good he could really be. But for now, we’ll put him in the tier-two pile with lots of promise and potential.

Stanley Johnson – Arizona SF 6’8″ 243

Johnson’s detractors point to his below the rim game and the fact that he hasn’t been a great finisher at Arizona. Those are fair criticisms, but the thing about Johnson is he may be the best perimeter defender coming into the NBA since maybe Ron Artest and, with his size and physicality at such a young age, he is going to be tempting for teams in the lottery that are missing a defensive mind-set. His offensive game isn’t nearly as appealing as say Winslow’s, but his ability to lock guys up on the perimeter is going to be hard to pass on. Equally his game at the NBA level, where there is more spacing and organization, should play to Johnson’s strengths. He is a physical monster and as a second-tier option that’s very appealing, because the offense often develops in time whereas being a solid and physical defender is hard to teach, especially in an era where perimeter guys are all about scoring.

Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin PF 7’0″ 242

Kaminsky has put on a show in the NCAA tournament and has really made a strong case for lottery consideration. The big question for Kaminsky is where will he play in the NBA? He is clearly big enough to be a stretch five-type center, however he’s not a great athlete and his foot speed leaves a lot to be desired. However, his footwork, hands, passing ability and toughness are going to get him drafted. He’s also a heck of a shooter. Some have said the worst case for Kaminsky is New Orleans big man Ryan Anderson, who is more of a spot up three-point shooter. The best case might be Pau Gasol. There are so many similarities to Kaminsky’s game and Gasol coming into the NBA. Neither are highly thought of on the defensive end, both are super skilled offensive players and both have a motor that is uncanny. Gasol is a future Hall of Famer, so that ceiling may be too high for Kaminsky, but in the draft game when you are trying to determine a players ceiling Kaminsky might have a lot more appeal, especially as teams sit with him and get him in their gym and working with their coaches.

In every draft class in recent memory, there have been one or two players who have gone massively higher than expected. For the purpose of the discussion today, we’ll call them the dark horses – the players that could surprise on draft day because their upside or their fit might be too good to pass on especially for teams drafting in the 6 to 14 range.

Myles Turner – Texas C 6’11” 242

Turner wasn’t incredible at Texas this year, but there are things about his game that are very appealing at the next level. He can be a game changer on both ends of the floor. He is an aggressive player with a high basketball IQ and his size and versatility make him interesting, especially for teams that have pieces on the roster already. When it comes to utility big men with upside, Turner might be the best of the bunch. The problem with going all in on Turner is he could easily be a boom or bust player. The one saving grace for Turner is Texas has a long history of underwhelming seasons for players that have turned in exceptional NBA players. Turner is one of those guys that may be significantly better than his college season might indicate and he likely get a long look from teams in the lottery mainly because he has all the tools to be an interesting NBA player, even if he only delivers on what we know today.

Sam Dekker – Wisconsin SF 6’9″ 229

Like Kaminsky, Dekker has put on a show in the NCCA tournament. He is a knock down shooter with a crafty offensive game. His length can cause problems for opposing players. The problem for Dekker is he is not an elite athlete and at the next level his game may not translate as well. There is risk with Dekker in the lottery. He might be the best guy of the “ready-to-play” bunch, or he may end up being simply a solid rotation player on a good team. NBA teams value winners and guys that can play in the clutch and that’s certainly something Dekker has shown in the tournament, but when the players get bigger, stronger and faster, is he going to be that kind of guy in the NBA? There is no doubt that Dekker gets drafted and likely gets drafted pretty high, but this pick is likely as hit or miss as they come. Dekker embodies what the NBA has been seeking with an increased age limit – the ability to really look at a prospect – and Dekker has been thoroughly scouted and scrutinized.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Arizona SF 6’7″ 212

Like Turner, there is a lot that translates to the NBA for Hollis-Jefferson. In any other draft he might be significantly higher, but given the appeal of both Winslow and Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson comes in as maybe the third or fourth best option at his position. This could mean he slides into the late teens or early 20s unless he bumps someone in front of him down. There is a very solid mix of athleticism, defensive mindset and the ability to make shots that could put him higher in the discussion than currently ranked. When it comes to dark horse candidates, Hollis-Jefferson becomes interesting.

Cameron Payne – Murray State PG 6’2″ 180

There is a lot to like about Payne and he could be one of the serious sleepers in this process. Payne hung solid numbers at Murray State and as a small school kid, he may not have been scouted as seriously as some of the others that played in the Tournament. NBA teams scout everyone, but top level executives don’t get nearly as involved, which is why so many smaller school kids climb up draft boards later in the process and blow up at the next level. Payne could be one of those guys on both sides – he could go substantially higher than his 20s ranking now and once teams see him up close, their opinions could change dramatically.

Christian Wood – UNLV PF 6’11” 220

The darkest of dark horses could be UNLV’s Wood. There is a lot to like about his game at the next level. He is extremely long in a John Henson kind of way. He has a great handle for a big, and he creates a lot of problems with his ability to put the ball on the floor in the pick and roll game. Wood is very raw, but as we have seen in the draft process over the past few years, potential trumps skill, especially in the five to 14 range of the draft. Wood could be a very interesting prospect, especially if he is on the board in the teens. It’s doubtful that Wood climbs into the top 10 discussion, but he is going to be an interesting prospect to watch.

The NBA Draft Combine is set for May 12 in Chicago, and will feature five-on-five games. Players invited to the Combine are under no obligation to play in the games, however those “bubble-type” guys may be better served showcasing themselves in the games. Teams value competition in the process too.

Basketball Insiders’ Yannis Koutroupis posted his latest NBA Mock Draft yesterday; here is how he sees the field playing out.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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