On Tuesday night, Minnesota lucked into the top spot in the 2015 NBA Draft lottery. Yes, they had the most ping pong balls, but 25 percent is hardly a sure thing. The Lakers earned the No. 2 choice, avoiding the drop outside the top five that would have earmarked their pick to Philadelphia, who earned No. 3 instead. Philly also missed out on the top-10 protected Heat pick, who landed in the No. 10 spot.
But instead of going through the coterie of deferred picks for later years, let’s focus on next month’s NBA Draft in Brooklyn. Specifically, who do the Timberwolves take with the top slot?
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky Freshman, C/PF
Towns was one of the best defenders in the country last season, averaging 4.4 blockers per 40 minutes. He’s got great timing, and enough north-south mobility to get back after showing high on the pick-and-roll. Defense is what sets Towns apart from his peer in the race for No. 1, and the T-Wolves, who gave up more points per possession than any other team last season, could definitely use his presence at the five or four-spot on the front line.
Offensively, he’s turnover prone, and he doesn’t have the best foot work despite the mini-hook he can hit with either hand. As a 15-year-old on the Dominican Republic U17 team, he reportedly connected on 46 percent from downtown, according to Draft Express, and he connected on 82 percent of his attempts from the stripe. He’s got a fluid stroke, and that’s a good foundation for a possible stretch four move after he gets the basics in the paint down.
But Towns is comfortable with the ball, and will improve on the offensive end. It’s on defense where he’ll most immediately help Minnesota, and that’s why he’s got a higher upside than the No. 2 pick on most boards.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Jahlil Okafor, Duke Freshman, C
He could be one of the best low-post scorers in the NBA before he turns 21, and like L.A.’s No. 5 pick last season, Julius Randle, he won’t struggle to score the ball on the block. But he can’t defend like Towns, and that’s what the Lakers sorely need. He’s the most polished offensive player in the Draft this year, and a can’t miss prospect at the NBA level, combining smarts, touch around the hoop and a big body (6-foot-11, 270 pounds).
But he’s not the defensive force Towns is usually because he’s just not as engaged at that end of the floor. With a dearth of offensively-oriented big men in NBA these days, centers are primarily used as rim-stoppers, and Okafor isn’t that. But he can get buckets. We’re not sure if there will be enough balls to go around between Okafor, Kobe and a recovering Randle, but the Lakers would be fools to pass him up if Minney goes with Towns at No. 1.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State Freshman, PG/SG
Elite guard that’s 6-foot-5 in sneakers and around 193 pounds soaking wet. He’s also got some reach, going past 6-foot-9 like 2014 ROY runner-up Victor Oladipo. He made more than 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season for the Buckeyes, and that was with most opponents keyed up to stop him and him alone.
Then again, he’s not as athletic as someone like Justise Winslow, despite a more natural instinct for the guard position, with Winslow as a more of a traditional wing. He’s bulky enough (and he’ll get wider) and with a long enough reach to spend time at either guard position, but getting into the lane and exploding to the rim will never leave you agog. He could struggle against bigger, stronger and more quick players at the next level, so if Hinkie and Co. really expect him to carry the offensive burden maybe they look elsewhere, or trade down for some second rounders (giggles).
4. New York Knicks: Emmanuel Mudiay, Guangdong CBA rookie, PG
The overseas pick. The Knicks missed out on the top two big men, which might mean they trade down, but Mudiay has some pro experience unlike his fellow rookie brethren. He matched up against Stephon Marbury in the CBA Finals after a few of his fellow American journeyman went down, but he’s not a terrific shooter even though he navigates the pick-and-roll well.
But he’s a mystery, which can sometimes prove fruitful Don’t put it past Phil Jackson to trade this spot, and pick up some players who might fit better with his triple-post scheme. Knicks fans are already feeling depressed, so placing another burden on the teenager’s shoulders in Manhattan after a historically awful 2014-15 season, might not make a lot of sense. Phil has some decisions to make before June 25, but Mudiay showed enough in a very limited role with Guangdong, he could entice some to trade away some pieces Phil can use.
Still, rough night for New York.
5. Orlando Magic: Mario Hezonja, Barcelona, SG/PG
The Barca wing is unknown to the vast majority of casual basketball fans, and even some hardcore NBA heads are probably stumbling over his last name. But he’s been on the NBA’s radar since he signed his first pro deal as a 14-year-old in his native Croatia. Since then, he’s played in the top leagues in Europe in mop-up duty for Barca and ACB. But he showed out enough in the 2011 Jordan Invitational, NBA scouts are already familiar with his game.
Before the draft, Uproxx’s resident Florida expert and diehard Magic fan, Ashley, told us they’d probably fall somewhere between sixth and eighth and draft a European. He was damn close, but Mario is pretty legit, with a skill-set that’s thrust him into the top five in our first mock. Still, it’s hard to shake a European player with zero big-time college basketball experience or a lot of reps under his belt even for Barco (he was only recently called up to come off the bench). He can drift on defense and his over-zealous approach to offense has rubbed the more conservative basketball community the wrong way. In other words, he’s just like other 20-year-olds.
6. Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky Junior, C
DEFENSE, clap-clap-clap, DEFENSE. “Trill” is someone you’ll want to watch run back on defense. He’s that combination of length, agility and grace that makes you marvel at what the human body can do on a basketball court.
He doesn’t have much of an offensive game, but his defense is first-rate. But he’s also older than anyone else in the top 10 and if New York is looking to trade down, they might do so to nab Cauley-Stein. Then again, maybe he’ll actually get paired with Boogie in Sac-town. Hopefully Cousins can adopt another big man with him in the front court, or perhaps Phil trades down FOR Cousins? Vivek is crazy, remember.
7. Denver Nuggets: Justise Winslow, Duke Freshman, SF
Our senior writer Martin Rickman captured Winslow better than we’ll ever hope too, and he’s a much more entertaining read than we’ll ever be. GO READ HIS FEATURE ON HIM FROM THE TOURNEY, then come back for the last seven picks in the lottery.
8. Detroit Pistons: Kristaps Porzingis, Sevilla, Spain by way of Latvia, PF
We’ve got a Q&A with the 7-foot Latvian coming out this week, and we don’t want to ruin the surprise. He’s got a feathery touch from beyond the arc and the mid-range, and some nincompoop will compare him to Dirk, which would be such an extravagant comparison for basically a kid at this juncture. But his shooting stroke is gorgeous for a man of his height and he moves a lot more spritely than even some bigger power forwards. Unfortunately, he’s not stroking it as much in actual games, but his ability to knock down an outside shot is a huge plus, and nobody likes good workouts against chairs more than NBA GMs.
He also averaged 1.5 steals and two blocks per 40 minutes playing for Sevilla in the ACB League, so he can handle top-flight European baller on the defensive side of the floor. Plus, even though he purportedly assured by a couple teams he would be getting drafted in the top 15 last June, he elected to forgo the draft 10 days before the deadline and play an extra season in Spain. It ended up being a smart decision, even if his parents made it for him.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Stanley Johnson, Arizona Freshman, SF
When Johnson said he was the best player in the 2015 NBA Draft, it’s not just over-confidence and an irrational belief in himself. He’s really freakin’ good.
10. Miami Heat: Kelly Oubre, Kansas Freshman, SF
Oubre is oozing arms, legs, and hair of basketball potential. The lefty swingman boasts a wingspan of just over 7-foot-2, moves with the grace and fluidity of a player far smaller, and has the modern day haircut to match his create-a-player look. This is definitely, definitely the guy you want getting off the bus first.
The problem with Oubre is that his game has yet to match his prodigious level of natural gifts. He averaged just nine points and five rebounds per game on 44.4 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from beyond the arc in his lone season at Kansas. And while the 19-year-old has the physical profile of an elite athlete, that attribute manifests itself on the floor far less than is optimal. There’s certainly a lot of potential here nonetheless, though, as it’s easy to imagine Oubre developing into a “3-and-D” prototype a la Trevor Ariza. What team couldn’t use a guy like that? The Heat, bereft of size on the wing behind Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng, do in the worst way.
Just don’t expect Oubre to make a sizable and consistent impact for the Heat next season. He’s a guy who needs some time to grow.
11. Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner, Texas Freshman, C
Bye-bye, Roy Hibbert? Rumors have long been circulating that the Pacers’ incumbent center is on his way out, and the selection of Turner would yield even more of them. Frank Vogel and Larry Bird have talked openly of playing a faster pace and putting new emphasis on spacing, strategic adjustments that fit the Texas product’s game seamlessly.
Should Turner reach his vast potential, he’ll become basketball’s prototype center: a player who can protect the rim on one end and splash from three-point range on the other. At 6-foot-11, 239 pounds with ample room to bulk, the 19-year-old will look the part of a full-time pivot eventually. He doesn’t yet, though, and it accounts for his lack of impact on the glass and nearly nonexistent post game. But whichever club drafts Turner won’t be selecting him to draw double-teams like Okafor. It’s his effortless shooting stroke and natural shot-blocking instincts that make him such an intriguing long-term prospect.
It makes sense for the Pacers to try for a home run here. They don’t have a foundational player on the roster aside from Paul George, and aren’t a realistic landing spot for marquee free agents. Turner’s high, high ceiling would be fantastic value here, even if he’s unlikely to show in his rookie season.
12. Utah Jazz: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin Senior, PF
We’ve got a feeling the people of Utah will love Frank the Tank…
After all, who wouldn’t like a player with his wealth of offensive gifts? At nearly 7-foot-1, Kaminsky has the ball skills of a player several inches shorter. He’s a natural shooter to NBA range, capable multi-dribble penetrator, and has the nuanced back-to-basket game his status as a four-year senior suggests. The National Player of the Year should be a weapon at the next level from the day he first steps on the floor, and the Jazz especially – with the extremely promising but offensively limited pairing of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert entrenched as starters – could use his floor-spacing ability from the frontcourt.
Defense, of course, is the problem with Kaminsky. But who cares if he’s playing for Utah? Quin Snyder’s team has the chance to be basketball’s best on that end, and both Favors and Gobert are capable of cleaning up the rookie’s mistakes of nature and nurture. This is a fantastic fit for many, many reasons.
13. Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker, Kentucky Freshman, SG
Phoenix’s logjam on the perimeter isn’t what it appears at first glance. Eric Bledsoe is this franchise’s star player, and it’s likely to re-sign Brandon Knight in restricted free agency this summer, too. That tandem will be Jeff Hornacek’s starting backcourt barring a something close to a major surprise. 20-year-old Archie Goodwin seems primed to take the next step towards a consistent role, too.
But with Gerald Green set to depart in free agency and both Marcus Morris and T.J. Warren something far closer to full-time small forwards than part-time shooting guards, there’s room for another player on the Suns’ perimeter, especially a shooter. Enter Booker, who shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc on 3.7 tries per game in just 21.5 minutes a night. This guy is an absolute marksman. He also has solid size for a two and is the heady type of player who stands to thrive in Hornacek’s wide open attack.
Booker is just an average athlete at best, though, and doesn’t have the wiggle to create space east-west or burst to penetrate north-south. There are major questions about his ability to defend playmaking wings, too. But there’s always a place for shooters in the league, specifically on teams that lack one already. Booker could find early minutes in Phoenix next season.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin Junior, SF
The Thunder need an extra dose of dynamism beyond Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and need it from a player who knows his limits, makes smart reads, and plays within the team concept. Dion Waiters obviously doesn’t fit that bill. And while Kyle Singler does, he’s a restricted free agent this summer.
Fortunately, Dekker slides to Billy Donovan’s team – does that still sound weird to people? – in this scenario. The Wisconsin forward simply doesn’t have many weaknesses to his game, and is coming from a pro-style in which he thrived as both a primary and ancillary offensive option. He has good length for a wing at 6-foot-9, an attribute coupled with his foot-speed should make Dekker’s transition to NBA defense easier than most of his peers’.
The big question for the 21-year-old is if his late-season marksmanship proves to be the new normal. Dekker shot just 33.1 percent in his final collegiate season before catching fire in the NCAA Tournament. Just which shooter is he? If he’s the one the country saw catch fire a couple months ago, Dekker could find himself a key reserve for one of the NBA’s best teams.
(videos via Too Mainey)