The Palestra Back Medium Sized Draft Board

For some reason, nothing in 2015 can be ordered or ranked. It has to be POWER ranked.

For apparently the same reason, no one lists the top players in the draft or picks a top 50. Nope, if you’re going to rank your top prospects, you’ve got to call it a BIG BOARD.

I don’t buy into that. I’ve got my favorites, but it’s a decent sized board. It’s a medium board. I’m humble. I don’t need to walk around, showing everyone how big my board is. It’s a good board, and besides, it’s more about how you use your board than the size of it.

So here it is, my totally acceptably sized board.

TIER 1

(My tiers work simply like this: I have no problem picking for need within a tier, but not from one to the next. The gap between tiers is large enough for me to ignore how a guy fits with your current team.)

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

kat man

After spending most of the year behind Jahlil Okafor in most people’s minds, Towns used the NCAA Tournament to launch into the seemingly unanimous top spot. I think a small part of his rise has simply been the snowball effect of everyone jumping onto his bandwagon, but it is deserved.

He showcased his skills on both ends of the floor as his Wildcats reached the Final Four. Against Notre Dame, Towns scored 25 points on 10-13 shooting. He scored from both blocks, over both shoulders. On defense, he commanded the paint. On the season, he shot 81% from the foul line, displaying a touch that will translate to an effective mid-range game at the next level.

In the NBA, he’ll play center and be quicker and more athletic than his counterpart every single night. He’s big, strong, agile, and has a surprisingly smooth stroke.

He is the best shot at an franchise player in this draft.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 45%

Chances of being a bust: 8%

NBA Comp: More athletic Al Horford

TIER 2

2. D’Angelo Russell

When you’d watch Russell at Ohio State, he’d have certain plays that would jump off the screen at you. Step back threes. No look dishes. Killer crossovers. SPIN PASSES!

russ pass

It’s the plays between the flash that meant the most for me. Russell’s game is built around fundamental foundations that will make him effective in the league. You can’t teach someone to pass or shoot at Russell’s level. His basketball skills are unmatched in this draft class. Others have the body and the athleticism to carry them at the next level. Russell isn’t a schlub of an athlete. He won’t blow by every defender or jump over anyone, but he has enough to allow his elite passing and shooting to be effective.

He’s a true point guard, who can score and find buckets for others. That position may be the most stacked in the entire league, but Russell is poised to join that class.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 33%

Chances of being a bust: 12%

NBA Comp: Damian Lillard, but more well-rounded

3. Mario Hezonja

mario_hezonja_5

Head back over to the Blogdan Blogdanovic Foreign Players Report for all my Hezonja-related gushing.

Just be ready for a day in the next three years when a friend texts you “GET TO A TV BECAUSE (Mario Hezonja dunked the best dunk ever/has made 12 threes in a game/punched someone twice his size in the throat)”

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 35%

Chances of being a bust: 25%

NBA Comp: Bradley Beal on cocaine

4. Stanley Johnson

Stanley Johnson

Of every player in this draft, Stanley Johnson is the one I’m higher on than most scouts. I love his game. That may have something to do with this play, which is the first thing I think about when I hear his name:

Based on the regular season, Johnson was viewed as a surefire top 10 pick. His NCAA tournament play changed that a bit. After a big game (22 points) against lowly Texas Southern, Johnson struggled in the Wildcats next three outings. Against Ohio State, Xavier, and Wisconsin, he shot 7 for 26, for a combined 22 points. People began to label him as a passive freshman, or worse, someone who disappeared in games. But over the larger sample size of the season, Stanley Johnson proved to be quite the opposite. He scored in double figures in 24 of Arizona’s 30 regular season games. On his worst shooting night of the regular season (a 1 for 9 job vs UCLA), he was able to get to the line 7 times and grab 10 rebounds. He affects the game in so many ways. Even when he isn’t scoring, his defense is top notch and he does the little things.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 25%

Chances of being a bust: 3%

NBA Comp: A rich man’s Luol Deng

5. Justise Winslow

winslow

Winslow has most of the tools to be great and every single tool to be a solid NBA player.

In the draft process, two question marks have cropped up, though not necessarily without answers.

The first came at the combine, when he measured only 6’4 in socks. Those of us hoping he’d be a small forward in the NBA we’re puzzled, since now we know he’s shorter than D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. There’s two simple words that explain away this concern: Draymond Green. Draymond measured under 6’6 in socks when he was at the combine, but has found success not only as a power forward, but as the center in the Warriors hellish super small ball lineup. I, for one, hope we’re headed to a time when positions matter less. There’s true point guards and true centers. Everyone else just plays basketball.

The other question surrounds Winslow’s mental toughness. On the “Rights to Ricky Sanchez” Podcast, NBA Scout Elan Vinokurov called Winslow a “space cadet”, citing instances when Coach K benched his freshman for defensive lapses or mental mistakes. He reminded us that before Winslow exited the phone booth for his Superman-esque March Madness run, he struggled with focus and basketball instincts during the regular season. Will a back-to-back in Sacramento and Utah lead to a series of brain farts for Winslow? Will he be inconsistent enough to worry you? Or does  the space cadet take off at the worst time possible, with blunders in playoff games?

I think with the right coaching (he clearly improved under one year with Coach K) and the right motivations, he’ll be fine.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 29%

Chances of being a bust: 5%

NBA Comp: Jimmy Butler

6. Jahlil Okafor

Studio portraits Duke Men's BasketballJon Gardiner/Duke Photography

These NBA Finals were an interesting case study about the center position. The Warriors took control once they sent theirs (Andrew Bogut) to the bench and the Cavs were most successful when theirs (Timofey Mozgov) was utilized correctly.

The media seems to want the center position to fail and die about as fervently as anything this side of Saturday Night Live, but the big fellas are still around. The last team to win the title with a center leading the way? Probably the 2007 Spurs (Yes, #TimDuncanIsACenter).

Since then, the 5 spot has been a wasteland. Dwight Howard was king of the block for several years, before his body broke down and he refused to mature. Now, the center position has been a bit marginalized. Small ball rules the land, but that could mean an opportunity for Okafor. He enters the league with a chance to be one of the best centers in the next three or so years.

As for his actual ability to do so, I’m confident but have questions. His game is as polished as any 19 year old big we’ve seen in a long time. However, that’s a low bar. He has post moves, with both hands, and when he can face and put his back to the basket, for sure. In college though, I worried about how often he tried to use his strength and size to bully his way to the hoop. Imagine a college defensive end who is incredibly successful bull-rushing to the quarterback. When your opponents get bigger and stronger, you’ll need to develop your other moves more in. Good luck scoring on the Marcin Gortats of the world by just lowering your shoulder into them. Alas, he’s young and has the hands and feet to steer away from that. It will take more time than people are assuming, but he’ll be among the best offensive centers in the game well before his 25th birthday.

On the defensive end, he struggles. I tend to sympathize with Okafor defensive apologists more than not, given that at Duke he was often the only guy over 6’6 on the court, and Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones used certain games to practice their bullfighting techniques (Ole!). Casual observers saw him getting beat more often than you’d like, but he was being asked to do a lot. He’s not Willie Cauley-Stein and never will be, but there’s an average defender inside Jahlil Okafor.

At the end of the day, if Nik Vucevic can put up 19-11 per night, Jahlil Okafor will be a force to be reckoned with.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 40%

Chances of being a bust: 14%

NBA Comp: A healthy, reliable, and slightly more effective Brook Lopez

TIER 3

 7. Emmanuel Mudiay

mudiay

Like Hezonja, my Mudiay thoughts are over in the Blogdan preview.

I may not be more excited to see any player from this class play next season. The Mudiay Experiment will have ripple effects on the age limit and one-and-dones in college.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 27%

Chances of being a bust: 18%

NBA Comp: On a spectrum between John Wall and Michael Carter-Williams, he leans to the Wall side

8. Kristaps Porzingis
zing

Once again, I’ve already written about Porzingis (last one of those, the rest of this post is new thoughts!).

He can shake up the draft, either by going shockingly early or making a slide into the mid-lottery.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 30%

Chances of being a bust: 32%

NBA Comp: Um…pass? His game is pretty unique.

9. Willie Cauley-Stein

WCS

Willie Cauley-Stein has the physical tools to be a quicker, more versatile Tyson Chandler or DeAndre Jordan. The only real question remains, if you make that type of player leaner and more versatile, does that take away from his ability to anchor a defense? He’ll be able to switch onto guards and wings easier than any other 7-footer, but is that enough of an elite skill to move the needle a significant amount?

He’ll always be limited offensively, but if he becomes one of the best defensive players in the NBA (which he can), he’s worth a top ten pick.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 18%

Chances of being a bust: 8%

NBA Comp: Quick footed Tyson Chandler

10. Bobby Portis

Bobby-Portis-SEC-Player-of-the-Year

Bobby Portis has a lot going for him. He’s big and skilled. He’s got a great motor. His name is perfect for re-enacting this scene:

But, at the end of the day, when evaluating a player from the SEC, the most important stats and video are going to come against Kentucky. No other team is throwing out future NBA big men like Coach Calipari. It’s a small sample size, but Portis’ season and career numbers dip against Big Blue (as expected). In four career games, Portis averaged 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds against Kentucky, compared to 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds last season and 15.0 points and 7.9 rebounds for his career. That dip isn’t quite large enough to be jarring, especially considering Portis was surrounded by Michael Qualls (a likely 2nd round pick before tearing his ACL) and a bunch of nothing. For him to still be able to manage those numbers is impressive.

Widening the lens, in other games against elite opponents/centers, Bobby Portis has been a beast. This includes a 18 and 7 game (his sixth game ever as a freshman last season) against Gonzaga, 21 and 15 against NBA prospects Jordan Mickey and Jerrell Martin and LSU, and 18 and 14 against the talented UNC bigs in this year’s NCAA tournament.

He brings a lot to the table. He’s big and strong at 6-11, 242 lbs. He shot 37% from long range in his career (on only 62 attempts, but his 74% free throw percentage proves he can stroke it for his size). He isn’t an elite athlete and he’s been known to stray away from the basket a bit, but I really like his ability to function in a fluid offense. He’s an NBA big capable of banging on the boards with just about anyone and moving away from the block without the ball. Portis can be your small ball center or battle inside when things slow down.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 15%

Chances of being a bust: 10%

NBA Comp: Derek Favors, with a dash of LaMarcus Aldridge

TIER 4

11. Kelly Oubre

Oubre has the look, physical skills, and jump shot of an NBA star. It would have been nice of him to, ya know, show a little something to that effect in his freshman year at Kansas. He’s not NBA ready, by any means. If you’re looking to win now, he’s not your guy. But if you’ve got a coach who’s willing to develop talent, Oubre is 6’7 with a silky outside shot and a 7’2 wingspan.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 24%

Chances of being a bust: 26%

NBA Comp: More athletic Chandler Parsons

12. Trey Lyles

When Grantland’s Zach Lowe detailed the new kind of forward so many NBA teams are looking for, the Draymond Green Swiss Army Four, I thought immediately of Lyles. Like Green, he has no elite skill. He is not a shooter, a scorer, or particularly adept at one area on defense. He does everything well, just nothing exceptionally. You can plug him into almost any lineup. He’ll allow coaches flexibility with regards to match-ups, on both ends of the floor.

He won’t pop off your TV screen, but you’ll be glad to have him. He’s bringing a lot more to the table than he’ll ever take off of it.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 9%

Chances of being a bust: 12%

NBA Comp: Thad Young

13. Frank Kaminsky

What is there left to say about Frank Kaminsky? He has basketball skills. So did Adam Morrison (Gasp!). If he’s put into the right situation (Indiana, Phoenix, OKC, Atlanta, and Houston would make sense), he’ll be successful. If not, he’s always going to be a 7-footer who can shoot. Not many of those around.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 10%

Chances of being a bust: 20%

NBA Comp: The best version of Spencer Hawes you can imagine (I swear this is a compliment)

14. Montrezl Harrell

In one of the first posts of Palestra Back’s storied history, I predicted Harrell would strong arm his way into being a top 5 pick this year (among other predictions which, well…maybe don’t go back and read those. Damn. Too late). Some of his struggles this season diminished those opinions, but much of what I said is still true. The man is the size of a mutated ox and moves like a luxury SUV. He needs to shoot fewer jump shots, play defense, set solid screens, run the floor, dunk the ball, dunk the ball and dunk the dang ball.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 13%

Chances of being a bust: 5%

NBA Comp: Kenneth Farried, injected with the part of Blake Griffin’s brain that just makes him want to dunk on everyone

15. Jerian Grant

I peeked at Grant’s jump to the next level a bit before, and I’ll rehash some of that here. His biggest knock is that he’s almost 23 years old (he’s older than Anthony Bennett!). Scouts worry when a guy that age doesn’t dominate teenagers at the college level. But didn’t Jerian Grant just dominate for an entire season? 17 points and 7 assists per game, playing in the best conference in America, is pretty damn good. I like him as a versatile cog in a good backcourt. He can be a scoring point guard. He can play some 2 guard. He can be your third guard off the bench.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 20%

Chances of being a bust: 17%

NBA Comp: A little bit of Dwyane Wade, a little bit of Shaun Livingston, and a sprinkle of Kemba Walker

16. Cameron Payne

I’m totally OK with agreeing that Payne will be a solid starting point guard in the NBA. He’s great on the pick and roll, but doesn’t have the size, strength, or athleticism to be more of a factor.

I’m more than OK with creating a great nickname for him. Shouldn’t we all be calling him “Presidential” Cam Payne? Fans could bring “Payne 2016” signs to the games and wear buttons and whatnot. This idea is so good, I might sneak him higher on the board before the draft.

UPDATE: It’s come to my attention that I’m less clever than I think, and that Cam Payne already considers “The Campaign” to be his nickname. That’s not bad, but it only really works when written. I like my idea better and will continue to use it.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 5%

Chances of being a bust: 16%

NBA Comp: Slightly smaller Goran Dragic

17. RJ Hunter

RJ can shoot the ball, though he’s skinny and we’re not sure what else he can do. On top of that, “he can shoot the ball” ignores the fact that he struggled with the long ball all season, posting just 30% this year. Let’s stick with the excuse that he was faced with double teams all year at lowly Georgia State and instead just watch his dad fall off that stool a hundred more times:

ron hunter

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 14%

Chances of being a bust: 23%

NBA Comp: Danny Green

18. Sam Dekker

He’s a big small forward who knows how to to play the game and can shoot it. Most teams need those. But he doesn’t do anything special, and he has a tendency to disappear. If he develops one of his skills to an elite level or just brings a layer of consistency to his game, then he’s got value.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 18%

Chances of being a bust: 22%

NBA Comp: Trevor Ariza

19. Myles Turner

Yeah, he’s got the body and he’s developing the skills he’ll need in the NBA, but they had to teach him how to run. THEY NEEDED TO HIRE A RUNNING COACH TO TEACH HIM HOW TO RUN.

Only two things scare me, and one is a team I like drafting Myles Turner.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 28%

Chances of being a bust: 38%

NBA Comp: He’s a rim protector who can shoot, which is rare BUT HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO RUN.

20. Justin Anderson

He’s got great size for his position (6’6, and a thick chest) and he defends his brain out. On top of that, the absolutely bonkers shooting season he just had (45% from downtown) indicates one of three things:

  1. He’s figured something out and taken a leap into a new class of shooters
  2. He had a reverse RJ Hunter season and will regress towards the mean (which is still very good)
  3. It was something he ate!

He’s going to be a Spur someday, which is perfect, and the entire world will hate themselves for letting that happen.

Chances of being a multiple time All-Star: 17%

Chances of being a bust: 10%

NBA Comp: Danny Green (but even better on defense)

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

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