Draft labels are extremely tricky, ask anybody. Even for the absolute best talent evaluators, pre-draft workouts and collegiate analysis can only approximate as-close-as-possible guesses. Sure, there were shoo-ins for stardom like LeBron James and Karl-Anthony Towns – that list is impossible to cover, obviously. But for as many Dwyane Wade-like future Hall of Fame draftees, there are just as many Andrew Wiggins-lite disappointments, Damian Lillard-ish rises and out-of-nowhere Nikola Jokic-esque surprises.
The point – and it’s not revolutionary but must be said given the instant-labeling job done by most, both fans and media alike – is that judging players after just one or two years in the NBA is mostly unfair business. But at Basketball Insiders, it’s time to turn the clock back to peek at 2015’s wild draft night. With nearly five full seasons between their life-changing selection and today’s stoppage, slightly more accurate observation can be done at long last.
So, we’re sorting the 2015 NBA Draft into three buckets:
A. The Hits
B. The Misses
C. The Sleepers
D. Jury Is Out
The idea is simple: Relative to their draft position, five years later, has the player reached, exceeded or fallen short of expectations? Which franchises found gems in the rough? How many wish they could turn back time?
Karl-Anthony Towns, No. 1
Yeah, Towns is a hit. The two-time All-Star averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists on 50.8 percent from the field in 2019-20, a career-best in the former category. As a court-stretching unicorn, Towns is nearly unguardable on the offensive end. Although the looming center hasn’t reached the second round of the postseason yet, it makes his pairing with the next name even more interesting…
D’Angelo Russell, No. 2
After bouncing around in Los Angeles (and playing second fiddle to the Kobe Bryant retirement tour), Russell landed in Brooklyn, ended the Nets’ playoff drought and reached his first-ever All-Star Game. Despite a strange season that resulted in being swapped for Kevin Durant and Andrew Wiggins within eight months, Russell has shown strong perseverance. The 24-year-old tallied 23.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game before he was paired up with one of his best friends in the entire world.
Will the newly-formed duo take the Timberwolves to grand heights or are they just empty calories?
Kristaps Porzingis, No. 4
The Latvian’s bitter breakup with New York was less than ideal for all parties involved, but Porzingis has found himself right at home in Dallas. Teamed with wunderkind Luka Doncic, the seven-footer was slowly rounding back into form with the Mavericks after missing the entire season to rehab in 2018-19. With an All-Star appearance under his belt already, Porzingis, should he stay healthy, is poised to re-cement his status as a league-wide unicorn sooner rather than later.
Devin Booker, No. 13
Unsurprisingly, Booker is a close friend of both Towns and Russell – and remains similar in other ways too. The 23-year-old sharpshooter has panned out incredibly so far… except for those pesky team successes. But baby steps, right? Phoenix locked the guard down with a max contract in 2018, a deal he’s certainly made good on already. At 26.1 points and 6.6 assists per game, Booker is well on his way to becoming a mid-season staple – but now it’s up to him to get the Suns back in the playoff picture.
Montrezl Harrell, No. 32
The first and only non-lottery hit selection goes to… Montrezl Harrell, the Los Angeles Clippers’ bonafide glue guy and all-around menace. After struggling to make the court for Houston during his first two seasons, Harrell has been a growing revelation in each successive campaign. Last year, Harrell finished in third place for Sixth Man of the Year voting and got even better in 2019-20. Through 63 games, the bench spark plug averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds over just 27.8 minutes per contest. If not for Lou Williams, Harrell might have some NBA-awarded hardware by now.
Jahlil Okafor, No. 3
It’s difficult to truly penalize franchises for whiffing up top – just as it’d be equally unfair to trash Philadelphia for not drafting the international unknown in Porzingis instead here. Be that as it may, Okafor had his list of worries coming out of college – but the collect-em-all Trust The Process franchise missed a handful of times in that era. For a 76ers team that had lottery-jumping misfortune, they had little choice but to go with Okafor. And, in his first season, the center showed promise at 17.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, those numbers came without Joel Embiid on board and, quickly, Okafor fell out of favor and, eventually, out of Philadelphia entirely. Later, Okafor made a pitstop in Brooklyn before moving onto New Orleans. As of late, the 6-foot-10 scorer has done well to keep himself in the NBA, but any formerly–made progress has stalled out once more.
Mario Hezonja, No. 5
Although Hezonja once believed he could’ve gone No. 1 overall in another scenario, his NBA career has yet to really breakout. He was unable to find consistent time down in Orlando and only took a one-year stint with the Knicks after that. Now in Portland, Hezonja has stuck around – but how many more chances will he get? It’s unfair to call this a total miss, however, given the slew of tough picks following the Croatian’s selection: Willie Cauley-Stein, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson and…
Frank Kaminsky, No. 9
Hot off a run to the NCAA title game, Frank Kaminsky (and teammate Sam Dekker) found himself rising up draft boards fast in April of 2015. And why shouldn’t he have? At Wisconsin, the seven-footer averaged 18.8 points on 41.6 percent from three-point range. But Kaminsky’s professional career never really took off, stuck behind a slew of veterans in a middle-of-the-pack playoff chase. Made even worse in hindsight, the Celtics were allegedly so desperate to net Justise Winslow that they offered six draft picks (including four first-rounders) to Charlotte.
Cameron Payne, No. 14
It was one thing for the Thunder to take a point guard in the lottery with Russell Westbrook onboard already – but then they promptly buried him on the depth chart and traded him a year later. On a team with heavy postseason expectations, Payne still doesn’t make much sense years down the road. Payne last played nine games for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018-19 and has since appeared in China and the G League.
Just before the country-wide shutdown, the guard notched 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.3 blocks over three games for the Texas Legends. Maybe this story isn’t over just yet…
Larry Nance Jr., No. 27
Richaun Holmes, No. 37
Josh Richardson, No. 40
Pat Connaughton, No. 41
Norman Powell, No. 46
The Jury Is Out
Kelly Oubre Jr., No. 15
Terry Rozier, No. 16
Bobby Portis, No. 22
This category was hand-tailored for our three recipients today: Kelly Oubre Jr., Terry Rozier and Bobby Portis. If the measurement for success is dependent on securing the bag, this trio has already done so. In fact, in 2019-20, the group combined to make $50.5 million. And, all things considered, they’re pretty important and reliable contributors for their franchises, albeit ones that find themselves outside the postseason picture during this stoppage.
Moreover, they all needed changes in scenery before truly blossoming too.
Oubre, never quite able to break from the three-headed monster of John Wall-Bradley Beal-Otto Porter Jr., had a career-year for Phoenix in 2019-20. Tallying 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals, Oubre genuinely looked like an intriguing piece alongside Deandre Ayton and the aforementioned Booker. Will the high-flying scorer continue to grow in his new role?
Elsewhere, Rozier – first stuck behind Isaiah Thomas and then Kyrie Irving – made waves when he publicly looked toward greener pastures last summer. As the Hornets’ starting point guard, Rozier has put up a solid line of 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists on 40.7 percent from three-point range – but he also got outshined by former second-round selection Devonte’ Graham for most of the year as well.
Portis, once most famous for busting Nikola Mirotic’s face in a scuffle, did well to earn a bruising, hard-working reputation in Chicago. The Bulls eventually dealt Portis in lieu of ponying up a huge contract, but the power forward has shown flashes of strong paint prowess. Earlier this season, the 25-year-old big man laughed at the idea of an early buyout in New York and it makes sense – Portis has always bet on himself. He’s seen a decrease in both minutes and games started with the tumultuous Knicks but he’s got gritty-role-player-on-a-championship-contender written all over him.
Drafting is hard.
That should go without saying, but given the landscape of instant judgment, it can’t be repeated enough. From overseas tape, maturity, positional fit, roster fit, growth and a million other factors, draft picks just don’t pan out at times. The Timberwolves and Lakers get credit for not getting reckless, but the 76ers shouldn’t be criticized for not doing so either. Just as the Knicks and Phil Jackson looked shrewd for the outside-the-box thinking on Porzingis, surely, then, Jordan would love to rewind time and take the Celtics’ mega-offer.
But the draft is a fickle beast and there’s always time to rewrite your narrative one final time.
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