Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 NBA Lottery Mock Draft

Can you believe it's already draft time? We're just coming off an excellent Finals that saw the Warriors claim their 4th NBA title, and the energy here in the Bay Area has been so great that I'm not even bummed that I ended up being one game off in my series prediction. Now, the draft can take so many twists and turns after a surprise move or a trade or two, so it's nearly impossible to predict.

Thus, I'm only going to attempt a projection of the lottery selections, and this is an expectation of what will happen as opposed to what the picks should be, in my opinion. I touched a bit on how certain players might fit each team during my post trade deadline power rankings, and I'm going to continue to look at the big picture for each team.

1. Minnesota: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky PF/C

The decision at the top reminds me of the situation last year, with a player who has played internationally possessing more two-way potential competing with a similarly positioned Duke player who is more offensively polished. And like Andrew Wiggins last year, I've been a fan of Towns since the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit when he only went by "Karl," and I view him as a bigger version of his teammate on the Dominican national team: Al Horford. He's the rare total package as a good athlete who can defend, score in the post, shoot, and pass, and he's a good fit on a young, talented Timberwolves roster, either as a 4 next to Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng or as a 5 next to Kevin Garnett and the Euro-stashed Nemanja Bjelica. Either way, Wiggins and Towns can be a dynamic pairing that have been on track to star together.
These two might mess around and save a franchise.
2. Los Angeles: Jahlil Okafor, Duke C

The Lakers do have a strong history of centers, and although a young big man pairing of Okafor with Julius Randle isn't the best fit, it's hard not to view him as the best available player here. You can't teach size, and the Blue Devil has an innate ability to score inside. He's not a great athlete, but he has poise in the face of double teams, superb footwork, and consistent, huge hands. I've compared him to Al Jefferson along with many others due to his lack of mobility or overall intensity on defense, but his rebounding on that end might be the most concerning. Regardless, you know what you're getting, and they just need to add consistent talent to a roster lacking it, especially since you don't know what you can get in free agency and last year's #7 pick had the worst case scenario of getting knocked out for the year in the first game.

3. Philadelphia: D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State PG/SG

While it is true that no one ever knows what Sam Hinkie is going to do next in his quest for acquiring the best assets to give his team a shot at greatness, I think Russell should pretty clearly be the guy here. The Sixers is an analytically driven team that desperately needs help in the backcourt and shooting overall, and the sharpshooting Russell has numbers that jump off the page. I still think he's more James Harden than Stephen Curry like I said in February, but either way works on this roster that has a lot of size and defense already. Emannuel Mudiay would make a lot of sense as he fits the mold of a tall point guard who can't shoot like they've had, but I think that would be more likely if they trade back a couple of spots.
I was skeptical on him as a PG at first, but his passing ability is innate.

4. New York: Kristaps Porzingis, Sevilla PF

Deciding to withdraw from last year's draft, where he would've been draft in the middle of the first round, has turned out to be an excellent decision after he's progressed so well over the past year in his preparation for a move to the States. Porzingis still needs to add some more strength, but he measured out even bigger than expected with a 7' 6" wingspan at 7' 1.25" (without shoes) and 230 pounds. His offensive skill at that size draws obvious comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, but with a mix of Chris Bosh due to his frame, mobility, and defensive potential. It's not just that he can effortless shoot 3's at that size, it's his quick release that comes along with his shotblocking ability. Once he does add more upper body strength, he'll be better able to defend man to man and make the most of his inside post moves. Add it all together, and you get a skilled 4 man with defensive ability to put between Carmelo Anthony and long-rumored free agent signee, Greg Monroe, in the Triangle Offense. That is, unless New York trades back to add a veteran and still get one of the later that they curiously worked out despite not being elite prospects like Trey Lyles, Frank Kaminsky, and Cameron Payne. Emannuel Mudiay was my first thought when the lottery results came out due to Phil Jackson's preference for big point guards, but he doesn't necessarily fit the Triangle as well as someone like Russell would.

5. Orlando: Justise Winslow, Duke SG/SF

I was so close to putting the next guy on the list here for the offensive firepower, but Winslow just seems like the type of high character, defensive minded player that Orlando covets. His surprisingly good outside shooting as a freshman to go with that defensive versatility should allow him to play in all kinds of lineups on the wing with Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, and restricted free agent Tobias Harris. A popular comparison is Jimmy Butler, but I don't think he's as skilled of a creator as that. You're hoping that the shooting is real so that he can become Kawhi Leonard, but I feel like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the most similar player, which is not something you want to turn down.

6. Sacramento: Mario Hezonja, Barcelona SG/SF

Who knows what's going on in California's capital right now, with George Karl meddling in personnel affairs just a few months after being hired. Since ownership has final say on decisions, there's no way DeMarcus Cousins gets traded, but I do think Ty Lawson is definitely in play to reunite with Karl for something like Darren Collison and either Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas. If not, this pick could definitely be Emannuel Mudiay as the franchise point guard, but for now, I'm going with another wing, especially since they've explored more playing time for Rudy Gay as a smallball 4. My first impression of Hezonja was a slightly smaller, more athletic Danilo Gallinari with his fiery confidence, straight-line drives, and tremendous shooting ability. With a closer look, I see a bit of J.R. Smith to him with his impressive dunks, no-conscience shooting, inconsistent defense, and questionable attitude. Hezonja might not be as good of a creator, but I do think he has one of the highest ceilings in this draft, overall.
Hezonja just might be my favorite player in the draft.
7. Denver: Emmanuel Mudiay, Guangdong PG

This would be a tremendous boon to get Lawson's replacement at PG and one of the top prospects without having to move up. Mudiay has excllent size to complement his point guard skillset, and I do think that he can become an acceptable shooter. His upside could mean he's off the board much sooner, especially if there are trades, in which case one of the wings that are still available is likely the pick with Gallinari and Wilson Chandler in the last year of their deals.

8. Detroit: Stanley Johnson, Arizona SG/SF

Rumor has it that Hezonja landing in Detroit is the preference for both parties, but Detroit would likely need to trade up for that to happen. If they stay put, the best wing available is most likely, which is Johnson here, and his defensive toughness should endear him to Stan Van Gundy, although his outside shooting needs to become more consistent. The effortless acquisition of Ersan Ilyasova filled the need for a stretch 4 on the cheap, so I'd be surprised if this pick was a big.

9. Charlotte: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin PF/C
Kaminsky's shooting and size could complement Zeller well.

There are all kinds of reports about Michael Jordan becoming enamored with another unathletic again, and Charlotte's surprising run of moves begin to point in this direction. Erasing the mistake of Lance Stephenson by taking on the longer contract of Spencer Hawes wasn't ideal, but at least it also led to getting Jeremy Lamb on the cheap. Following that up by trading Gerald Henderson in the last year of his contract with Noah Vonleh, whom they must not have been in love with when he fell into their lap at #9 last year, for Nicolas Batum was a curious move since he is in the last year of his deal and is naturally a 3 like MKG. It is solid value, though, and now there are no obvious needs on the team with the addition of three shooters, which allows for MJ to take his guy despite the slight reach.

10. Miami: Devin Booker, Kentucky SG

This isn't the best scenario for Miami since they need a forward more than a guard on the wing, but with the suddenly shaky contract situation surround Dwyane Wade, any talent is welcome. Having him, Goran Dragic, and Luol Deng all eligible for free agency is unenviable given their Luxury Tax situation, and I don't really see how they can put themselves in position to chase the major free agents next year even with the salary cap spike due to the lack of Bird Rights for Hassan Whiteside. They could try some cap acrobatics like giving Dragic the max this summer with the biggest possible decrease next season (7.5%) before the max raises after that in order to still guarantee him about $17 million more than anyone else, but there's still a long way to go. Either way, shooters are always valuable, and Booker is the youngest player in the draft who is often compared to J.J. Redick for his smooth stroke, movement without the ball, and potential to be a decent defender within team concepts.

11. Indiana: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky C

Larry Bird called him a $100 million player and wants to replace Roy Hibbert so that the team could play faster, so this would likely be a dream scenario to secure arguably the best defender in the draft. Soon to be 35 year old David West's contract situation leaves a lot of front court uncertainty with Hibbert still deciding on his $15.5 million option. Cameron Payne has gotten some buzz at this pick, but I think it's a big like WCS, his teammate Trey Lyles, or Myles Turner since the latter two can both stretch the floor a bit.

12. Utah: Trey Lyles, Kentucky PF

I've gone back and forth between the bigs and wings available since there's no obvious hole with Utah's impressive young core, and this is a spot that could be targeted for a trade, as well. As it stands, I'm projecting Lyles' ability to shoot with range a bit because I like his athleticism as the third big behind Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Once Dante Exum physically matures, surround him with Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, and this front line will be scary. They could possibly use a wing defender, but I think a shooting big is the pick here.

13. Phoenix: Myles Turner, Texas PF/C

Don't sleep on Turner as a potential All-Star down the line.
Much like Utah, there isn't a clear hole on Phoenix's talented young roster; they just have more projects. They're likely to match any Brandon Knight in restricted free agency given the price to bring him in, and I think they feel good about their wings along with Eric Bledsoe. That leaves a big, especially since Brandan Wright is a free agent, and although Alex Len took a big step forward this year next to the underrated Markief Morris, I think adding depth there is the way to go. When a prospect with the potential that Turner has on both ends is available this late, you take on another project. He's like Towns and Porzingis a bit in that they can all rack up the blocked shots while also shooting with range.

14. Oklahoma City: Kelly Oubre, Kansas SG/SF

They've reportedly had a "promise" with Cameron Payne for quite some time now, but that didn't stop him for working out for other teams. I think he'd make sense to join a stacked roster as the long-term backup point guard who can also play with Russell Westbrook, especially since D.J. Augustin is going to be a free agent next summer, but I feel like a rare lottery pick for this perennial contender will be a swing for the fences. Oubre's stock has been volatile all year with consistency and attitude issues, which doesn't usually sound like an OKC pick, but he has some of the best tools in the draft and fills a better need. Having a strong shooting stroke along with elite athleticism and a wingspan of 7' 2.25" at 6' 7" is rare, and he flashed good passing and defense when Bill Self trusted him with minutes. In some ways, this would make the Josh Huestis and Andre Roberson picks redundant, but they were late first rounders and still haven't filled the need for a starting 3-and-D shooting guard who can also slide up to the 3 to backup KD and play alongside him when they go small. With minutes being in short supply on their talented roster, anyway, I think they can take this chance.

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