With the lottery order set, and the combine over, we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of where the top players in this year’s NBA Draft will land. Minnesota won the lottery, and will wind up with the last three No. 1 picks on the roster, after trading for Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett in the Kevin Love deal. The Los Angeles Lakers jumped up to No. 2, which will allow them to take either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, depending on what the Timberwolves decide. Meanwhile, the Knicks dropped out of the top three, despite losing a franchise-worst 65 games.
How do we see things shaking out at next month’s NBA Draft? Here is our mock first round:
1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns, PF, Kentucky
The consensus top two picks in the 2015 NBA Draft feel eerily similar to those in the 2014’s Draft. Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, both Duke products, are the more polished offensive weapons, but last year’s top pick Andrew Wiggins, and our projected No. 1 for 2015, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, are superior athletes, better defenders, and have higher upside. While Okafor has a vast array of post moves, Towns is no slouch in that regard, and he is a far better free throw shooter (81.3-percent vs. 51-percent). Anyone who watched the Houston Rockets-Los Angeles Clippers playoff series knows the value of a big who can knock down shots at the line. Minnesota can also plug Towns in at the power forward spot, where he can fit in alongside solid centers Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. Having a year to spend with Kevin Garnett can’t hurt either.
2. Los Angeles Lakers – Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
We’re sure the Lakers will be fine with Okafor falling to No. 2. Byron Scott will be able to pair the Duke star with last year’s first rounder, power forward Julius Randle, who went out for the full season after suffering a broken tibia in the opener. Okafor and Randle gives L.A. an exciting young frontcourt, and Okafor’s NBA-ready skill set should be attractive to a Lakers team that likely wants to compete during the final years of Kobe Bryant’s career. While pairing Bryant with a dynamic young point guard could entice the Lakers, plugging in Okafor at center is probably too good of an opportunity to pass up.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – D’Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State
If the 76ers ever want to move out of the “tank” phase of Sam Hinkie’s rebuild, they need to add some top talent to the backcourt. Bringing in the best point guard in college basketball last season would be a good start. Russell has the size to play at the point or at shooting guard, can score from all over the floor, has a solid jumper, and makes some of the most beautiful passes you’ll ever see. He is not the most impressive athlete in the draft, but his vast skill set and basketball IQ more than makes up for it. Adding Russell to a roster that already features Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and eventually European star Dario Saric would really help give the future of this franchise some shape.
4. New York Knicks – Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Guangdong Southern Tigers (China)
Knicks fans were devastated about falling all the way to fourth in the draft, and thus probably missing out on one of the draft’s coveted big men, Okafor and Towns. However, if they stay in this spot and don’t trade down, they should still wind up with a very good player. After foregoing a year at SMU to play in China (and make a cool $1.2 million), Mudiay is a bit of a mystery, but by all accounts, he is a dynamic playmaker who can get to the hoop at will. Mudiay is not a great shooter, but a good coach can teach shooting. He can’t teach the athleticism that Mudiay possesses.
5. Orlando Magic – Justise Winslow, SF, Duke
While Okafor is the most recognizable star of the 2015 national champion Duke Blue Devils, Justise Winslow may have been Mike Krzyzewski’s best player during the team’s NCAA Tournament run, during which he averaged 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Winslow may be the most tenacious wing defender in the draft, and brings loads of energy and athleticism to the floor. While his offensive game is very raw, and he struggled to shoot at times last season, he knocked down eight of his 14 threes in the NCAA Tournament. Winslow would be a quality addition to the young, athletic Magic roster.
6. Sacramento Kings – Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
The Kings have needs across the board, which makes taking a center here seem a bit strange, but Cauley-Stein could be a very nice complimentary player for DeMarcus Cousins. While Cousins improved defensively in 2014-15, he is not the type of rim protector that his fellow former Wildcat, Cauley-Stein, projects to be in the NBA. This pick would also allow Cousins to play primarily at the four spot. Drafting a top center here is also insurance for Sacramento, should they trade away Cousins or eventually lose him to free agency.
7. Denver Nuggets – Mario Hezonja, SF, FC Barcelona (Spain)
Hezonja, the talented 6-foot-8 Croatian swingsman, may be a bit of a project, but he is the type of risk that the Nuggets can take right now as they rebuild. By all accounts, he has one of the best shooting strokes in the draft, and the athleticism to put the ball on the deck and take it to the rim. Some mock drafts have him going as high as five to the Orlando Magic, so depending on how the Nuggets front office views him, he could be a strong value pick here in the middle of the lottery.
8. Detroit Pistons – Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Balancesto Sevilla (Spain)
With the plan to build around center Andre Drummond in place, moving on from Josh Smith and his 9-for-37 start to the season from beyond the arc was very understandable. Detroit could also lose power forward Greg Monroe to free agency. If that happens, filling the power forward spot with a 7-foot-1 player like Porzingis, who can step out and hit the three, seems like a no-brainer. At 19, Porzingis is still a work in progress around the hoop and on defense, but with an eraser like Drummond at the rim, he could step in at the four and develop the other parts of his game under Stan Van Gundy.
9. Charlotte Hornets – Stanley Johnson, G/F, Arizona
With the 2014-15 flameout of big free agent acquisition Lance Stephenson, the Hornets can definitely use another dynamic two-way player at the wing. 19-year old Arizona star Stanley Johnson fits the bill. At 6-foot-6, 242 pounds, Johnson can defend a number of positions, and brings a very versatile skill-set to the floor. Johnson would add some good size to Charlotte’s backcourt, with Kemba Walker at the point guard spot, and at 19, he is a very high-upside pick this early in the draft.
10. Miami Heat – Myles Turner, C, Texas
Myles Turner probably didn’t quite live up to expectations during his one season at Texas, after being a top 10 recruit in the 2014 class. Turner played 22 minutes per game for the Longhorns, averaging 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. However, Turner’s 6-foot-11 frame and diverse offensive skill set makes him a very interesting prospect in this year’s draft. If everyone stays healthy, the Miami Heat have a very intriguing starting five with a number of veteran players, and could bring Turner along at an appropriate pace. With his shooting ability, Chris Bosh is not a bad player to learn from, and he could potentially make an interesting frontcourt pair with elite rim protector Hassan Whiteside.
11. Indiana Pacers – Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame
This is earlier than most college seniors go in the draft, but after a fantastic final season in which Notre Dame broke through to the Elite Eight, Jerian Grant is one of our favorite guards in this class. He is a very good, clutch shooter, an incredibly underrated athlete, and should be able to play either guard position in the NBA, which would allow Indiana to line him up alongisde George Hill, and potentially replace him at some point. Having a Fighting Irish star in Indianapolis certainly wouldn’t hurt as far as bringing in fans are concerned, either.
12. Utah Jazz – Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin
The Jazz already have two very talented young bigs in power forward Derrick Favors, who quietly put up 16 points and eight rebounds per night in 2014-15, and Rudy Gobert, one of the league’s best young rim protectors. Kaminsky has a totally different skill set from those two, with his ability to score from any spot on the floor, and his solid handle and passing ability, and could make for an interesting pair with both of those existing Jazz frontcourt players. Frank the Tank can slide in at the five in an offensive lineup, and spread the floor at the four when Gobert is in for defense. Kaminsky should pose some very interesting match-up problems for many teams, like he did in college.
13. Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky
After totally changing around its point guard-heavy roster at the trade deadline this season, the Suns still have a need at the two to go along with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Devin Booker is not an elite athlete, but he might be the best pure shooter in the draft, after knocking down over 41-percent of his shots from three point range in his one season at Kentucky. The thought of seeing Booker shoot open transition threes in Phoenix’s up-tempo system could be very attractive to the Suns and their fans.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder – Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin
Perhaps more than any other team in the NBA, the Thunder need to win right away. With Kevin Durant’s free agency looming, it would behoove Sam Presti to give new head coach Billy Donovan as much pro-ready talent as possible. Wisconsin breakout star Sam Dekker certainly fits the bill. Dekker is a dynamic athlete with the ability to play either forward spot, and he is developing as a pretty good shooter from the outside. Donovan should be able to plug him right into the rotation as an athletic spark off the bench, for a team that should have a ton of firepower going into next year. Teams with Durant and Russell Westbrook don’t normally have the chance to pick in the lottery, so this is a very unique opportunity for OKC to land a very talented player.
15. Atlanta Hawks – Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas
When the Brooklyn Nets agreed to a pick swap here in the Joe Johnson deal, most probably didn’t envision the Hawks finishing first in the Eastern Conference in 2015. Of course, Mike Budenholzer helped build a strong roster of second tier all-stars and role players who fit perfectly into his system, and now they’re in a battle with the Cleveland Cavaliers with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. With the 15th pick, we like the Hawks to bolster the small forward spot with Kansas’ Kelly Oubre, a high upside wing with a solid shooting stroke and great athleticism. Oubre didn’t produce as expected at Kansas, but would enter a very good, stable situation with the veteran-laden Hawks.