Chad Ford Big Board 9.0
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2015 NBA draft came and went on Sunday evening. For the most part, the majority of underclassmen ranked in our Top 30 decided it was time to turn pro.
Just four underclassmen ranked in Big Board 8.0 -- Utah's Jakob Poeltl (14), San Diego State's Malik Pope (15), Providence's Kris Dunn (21) and Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (29) -- decided to return to school. That's left the Big Board largely untouched since the previous update.
Still, there is some movement. After spending a ton of time with NBA scouts and GMs at the Nike Hoop Summit and in numerous phone interviews, we've moved a few players around based on feedback. With the season over, the workout season is upon us. Draft prospects are descending on Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago and New York to prepare for the NBA draft combine in Chicago from May 14-15.
This will be our last Big Board update until after the combine on May 15. Also, be sure to check out our completely revamped Top 100 (all underclassmen who have decided to stay in school have been removed, leading to some major changes) and updated Lottery Mock Draft.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns continues to tighten his grip on the No. 1 pick since we last covered him. In an informal poll of NBA scouts and GMs from 28 of the 30 teams in the league, the large majority of them had him No. 1 on their boards. While it doesn't rule out Okafor or Russell or Mudiay going No. 1, Towns probably is going to have to struggle in workouts, have an undisclosed injury that shows up in the medical testing at the combine or have some off-the-court issue to lose his grip. In other words, this spot is his to lose, regardless of which team gets the No. 1 pick.
2. Jahlil Okafor
Okafor's stock hasn't slid as much as Towns has simply surpassed him based on his two-way playing ability and what is perceived as a better fit in the modern NBA offense. But Okafor still is highly regarded by scouts and GMs. While he's highly unlikely to participate in the 5-on-5 portion of the draft combine, he needs to come in terrific shape, show some explosion and score well in the athletic testing portion of the event. That could help him hold on to the No. 2 spot.
3. Emmanuel Mudiay
If Towns and Okafor are locked in a scrum for the best big man in the draft, then Mudiay and Russell are locked into a fight for the best guard. They offer a major contrast in styles. Mudiay's game is based on power and athleticism while Russell's is on skill, shooting and feel. NBA teams will be watching closely to see how Mudiay shoots the ball in workouts. That's their biggest question mark about him at the moment. Both guards have a place in the NBA, and where Mudiay lands will largely depend on which teams end up with the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 picks in the draft.
4. D'Angelo Russell
Russell gave NBA GMs a little bit of a scare when he waited until the last second to declare for the draft. There are a handful of GMs out there who believe he has the best overall game of any player in the draft. No one doubts his shooting ability or feel for the game. What NBA teams will be looking for in workouts is his athleticism. Can he be more explosive than he showed as a freshman at Ohio State?
5. Kristaps Porzingis
Porzingis is the wild card in this draft. International scouts swear by him. GMs still are trying to figure out exactly what he is at the next level. Is he the next Dirk Nowitzki or the next Jan Vesely? Based on the conversations I've had with numerous scouts with great track records in Europe, he's closer to Nowitzki than Vesely or -- my favorite analogy -- a more athletic Nikola Mirotic. He could go as high as No. 3 or as low as No. 8.
6. Justise Winslow
Winslow still is riding a tremendous run in the NCAA tournament and has persuaded some scouts to put him ahead of several players in our top five. But there also is still some skepticism among GMs. They question whether Winslow just got hot at the right time. In workouts, he's going to have to show that he can shoot the ball with the same consistency he shot it at the end of the season, and that he has the ball skills to play the wing. With Hezonja closing on him fast, Winslow is going to have to continue to wow in workouts to keep up his position.
7. Mario Hezonja
It's very possible that Hezonja could end up being taken ahead of both Porzingis and Winslow. There are a number of scouts that swear by him because of his unique combination of size, athleticism and toughness. They'd love to see Winslow, Hezonja, Stanley Johnson and Kelly Oubre or Sam Dekker go head-to-head in workouts, but at this point it looks unlikely that teams will get Hezonja in for workouts before the draft. They're going to have to take what they've seen from Hezonja this season in Barcelona. He should fall somewhere in the Nos. 5-to-10 range.
8. Willie Cauley-Stein
If Towns, Okafor, Mudiay and Russell make up the first tier of this draft, then Cauley-Stein, Hezonja, Winslow and Porzingis make up a very strong second tier. Cauley-Stein may be the best defender in the draft, with the unique versatility to guard five positions on the floor. The big thing scouts will look for in workouts will have little to do with what happens on the court. They still are most interested in Cauley-Stein the person. Numerous GMs said it will be the interviews, psych tests and background checks that will determine where he goes. "I want to believe, after everything I've seen this season that he does have a passion for the game," one GM said. "But we're going to employ all the resources we have including testing and our investigators to make sure he does. It takes a lot of commitment to be great in our league and we just want to make sure he has it."
9. Kevon Looney
Looney heads up a third tier of four freshmen who all have enormous potential but lack the polish or definitive skill set of the players in our top eight. Those who love Looney point to his crazy wingspan, excellent offensive rebounding numbers and versatility. The versatility is the key. Scouts who saw him in practices at UCLA were often the ones raving about him the most. He can do more than he showed on the court as a power forward at UCLA. For his detractors, his lack of strength and clear position are the big question marks. Workouts will be key to proving what position Looney projects to at the next level.
10. Myles Turner
College basketball fans are typically up in arms that Turner is ranked ahead of Frank Kaminsky. There's no question that by all accounts (with the exception of rim protection) Kaminsky had a better senior season than Turner had as a freshman. But therein lies the rub. If Turner was used at Texas the way Kaminsky was at Wisconsin -- by almost all accounts scouts believe Rick Barnes misused him at UT -- and he had three more seasons of experience under his belt, is it reasonable that he might be even better than Kaminsky? Most scouts say yes. He can shoot it like Kaminsky and he can put the ball on the floor. Plus, he's bigger and a better athlete. That's why he's No. 10 and Kaminsky is No. 13. Turner's big moment the next few weeks will come in the medical testing. If his knees check out OK, and if doctors aren't concerned that there will be long-term damage because of the way he runs, he could end up moving up a few spots on the board.
11. Stanley Johnson
Johnson was truly conflicted about declaring for the draft. He wanted to win an NCAA championship and he was getting feedback from NBA teams that he was a "bubble" top-10 pick -- not the top-five pick that many in the media were projecting him to be. Johnson's NBA-ready body and toughness will get him lots of looks in the top 10, but scouts will be watching closely to see just how explosive he is in athletic testing. Given his poor percentage of finishing at the rim, they wonder if Johnson is really the elite athlete he was hyped to be. He's in that 8-to-13 range.
12. Kelly Oubre
Scouts have a love-hate relationship with Oubre. On upside (thanks to crazy length and a diverse skill set) he has as much as, or more than, Winslow or Hezonja. But he's also the rawest of the prospects. His defense improved dramatically as a freshman, but his shot selection and assertiveness -- along with his ballhandling abilities -- are still in question. Over the next two months he'll get matched up a lot with Winslow and Johnson in workouts. That might be a tough one for him given his relative lack of strength compared to the other two. He's going to have to show toughness and hit a lot of shots in workouts to move past either of them -- especially Winslow.
13. Frank Kaminsky
Kaminsky has a handful of teams that have him ranked in the top 10 and a handful of teams that believe he's peaked at Wisconsin and have him in the 20s. This ranking splits that difference. He had a tremendous season and has gotten most scouts on board, to a degree. But is he a lottery pick? He'll likely be matched up against Turner and Christian Wood in a lot of workouts. If he can score against length and athleticism in workouts, this is probably where he lands.
14. Sam Dekker
By now everyone knows what Dekker brings to the table. He's tough, versatile and, when he plays with swagger, he can kill you on both ends of the floor. How he shoots the ball in workouts (a major question mark) and whether he can bring that competitive fire to every single workout are the big questions from scouts at the moment.
15. Cameron Payne
With Kris Dunn deciding to return to Providence for his junior season, Payne quickly moved into the role of "intriguing young point guard" who might be better than everyone thinks. This draft doesn't have a lot of elite point guard prospects after Mudiay and Russell go off the board, and the more scouts watch footage of Payne and get familiar with his game, the more they keep talking themselves into liking him. While Jerian Grant and Tyus Jones are right there with Payne, I get a strong sense from scouts that Payne might have pulled into the lead.
16. Trey Lyles
Lyles is the subject of significant debate among scouts. Some still believe that had he played for a school with less talent he would've put up a much more impressive freshman season and would be a lottery pick. Others think that his lack of elite athleticism or size for his position means he's closer to a solid rotation player in the NBA than a star. We split the difference here on Lyles. Showing more athletic ability in the combine could help his stock.
17. Bobby Portis
Portis is one of the clearest guys in the entire draft to project. Every single scout and GM I spoke with likes him. Every single one. But no one loves him. That's a really rare thing and why he's stuck right in the middle of the Big Board. This ranking is low enough to reflect the fact no one sees him as a star and high enough to show that no one thinks he'll be a bust. Look for him to go in the Nos. 13-to-20 range.
18. Jerian Grant
Grant is the second senior off the board and is highly regarded by most scouts and GMs. While people worry a bit about his age, his jumper and what position he'll play in the NBA, most see him contributing right away at the NBA level. Scouts will be watching his jumper closely in workouts. That's the missing piece to an otherwise very well-rounded game.
19. Devin Booker
Booker's appeal comes primarily because of his shooting. Many GMs believe he's the best pure shooter in the draft. The question is whether he does anything else to make him worthy of a top-20 pick. He has a high basketball IQ but scouts will want to see him defend and create his own shot in workouts.
20. Christian Wood
Scouts and GMs have been on the fence about Wood for most of the season and it wasn't until he got off the fence and declared for the draft that the praise for his potential began to grow. He checks off a lot of boxes for NBA scouts. He's long, a great athlete, a rim protector and he can stretch the floor. He needs to hit the weight room, improve his shot selection and improve a somewhat negative perception that teams have of him as a person in interviews. But as far as upside goes, there are few players left at this point in the draft that have Wood's ceiling.
21. R.J. Hunter
Hit shots. Lots of them. That's what Hunter has to do in workouts to recover a draft stock that once sat in the late lottery. He's clearly got the range and a high basketball IQ. Plus, scouts love the length and his ability to disrupt passing lanes. But he needs to be a lights-out shooter. If he does that in workouts, he rises.
22. Tyus Jones
The workout process could be a tough one for Jones. All the things he does that are special show up much better in a 5-on-5 setting than in a workout. He's not an elite athlete, nor does he have elite size or shooting. However, he sees the game as well as anyone in the draft. He runs the risk of sliding a bit in workouts after coming off an enormously positive performance in the NCAA tournament (and Final Four in particular).
23. Montrezl Harrell
Harrell's another guy who could be hurt a bit by the workout process. He has strength, athleticism and a great motor, but his skill set is still fairly raw. If he measures better than expected or shows more refinement with his face-up game, he could still rise.
24. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Hollis-Jefferson is another player who could potentially struggle in workouts. While his athletic skills should measure off the charts, his jump shot is a major work in progress and drill settings won't help him. If he shoots the ball better, he could dramatically help his stock. Or, he could just decide to double-down on what he does best, terrorize everyone else on defense and make a head coach fall in love with him. If I were him, I'd go the second route. I've seen several players rise in the draft just because the head coach can say, "He can help me right away on defense."
25. Terry Rozier
Rozier is going to want to quiet doubters who wonder whether he can play the point and hit shots. The workout process isn't the ideal spot to show great point guard skills, but if he works to get others involved in workouts instead of just taking over every play, he'll help himself. There are a lot of other things to like in Rozier, including his toughness, athleticism and aggressiveness.
26. Delon Wright
Wright can't get any younger, so he has to go into workouts with the mindset that he's going to help a head coach get comfortable with the fact that, as a backup point guard, he has more maturity, makes fewer mistakes and can buy into a system on both ends of the floor. I think Wright's capable of doing that and, especially if some of the analytics folks have a say, has a chance to still rise.
27. Justin Anderson
Anderson has an NBA body and athleticism. But was his 3-point shooting this season a fluke? Scouts are going to be studying his shot charts closely to see if he can hit them at the same clip he did as a junior.
28. Jarell Martin
Martin has talent. But scouts just aren't sure exactly what he's going to be at the next level. Either he measures better than expected and scouts believe he's big enough to play the 4 (a lack of a huge wingspan hurts his cause) or he loses some weight, gets a lot of reps in the gym on that jumper and makes scouts comfortable that he can make the transition to the 2. Otherwise, he's in no-man's-land.
29. Cliff Alexander
Alexander shouldn't be in the draft. But concerns that he would lose his eligibility forced him in. He's got the body and athletic ability to be a decent rotation player at the next level. But does he have the feel for the game? Scouts will be closely looking at the personality testing and interview process when it comes to Alexander.
30. Robert Upshaw
Upshaw has the talent of a top-15 pick. But after getting kicked out of both Fresno State and Washington, he's got a lot to answer for. Background checks and how he handles his interviews will be key. The upside is clearly there. But will teams take a risk on him in the first round?
Next five in: Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky; Chris McCullough, PF, Syracuse; Tyler Harvey, G, Eastern Washington; Cedi Osman, G/F, Turkey; Mouhammadou Jaiteh, PF, France