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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.

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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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