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The NBA Draft Look-Back: 2015

Ben Nadeau checks out the 2015 NBA Draft to find the hits, sleepers and misses.

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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?

The Hits

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.

The Misses

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.

Michael Jordan said no.

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…

The Sleepers

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.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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