NBA Draft Big Board: Last Call

With the NBA Draft set to take place on Thursday, it’s a good time to release my final big board. It’s worth noting before we get too far that I am only ranking guys who I have seen enough to feel comfortable with, so Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja are almost the entire European contingent that you’ll see in this ranking, though I am familiar with a couple of the other guys.

If you’re interested in the previous two, they are linked here and here. I will note how far up or down a prospect has risen/fallen next to his name.

1. Karl Towns, Fr. PF/C, Kentucky (Even)

Towns has held steady here, and scouts love his adaptability to the NBA level. I agree. He can play multiple positions, I think he’ll be able to shoot NBA threes, and he will be a good defender. He’s big, strong, and more nimble than he is given credit for. Towns, Wiggins, and Rubio should be an excellent big three for the Timberwolves as they look to move up in the Western Conference.

2. Stanley Johnson, Fr. G/F, Arizona (Even)

I have gotten some pushback for ranking Johnson this high, and I get why. He’s not as highly thought of as Okafor and Russell, Porzingis’s stock has shot up, and a lot of people think Winslow is the best wing in the draft.

I still disagree with all of it. Johnson, statistically, had the best offensive season of any wing guy in the draft, is a very good defensive player, and had to do it all in a system that tended to stifle him a bit. With NBA spacing he will be a very effective offensive player, and be able to guard one of the opposing team’s best players.

3. D’Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State (Up 1)

Russell has a super high basketball IQ, awesome vision, and can make a defense pay if they sag off him. He probably won’t ever be good defensively because he just doesn’t have the athleticism but the right team can hide him a bit there. With how important point guards are in the NBA today, I think Russell deserves to be in the discussion in the top two picks.

4. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke (Down 1)

It’s not that I don’t like Okafor; I just like the other guys more. I still don’t think he will be able to bully NBA defenses like he did college ones, and he needs to get into better shape, but his passing ability will make it tough for teams to double team him, and once he does get into shape his defense should come along. He might not ever be a rim protector or rebounder, but if he can be even average at pick and roll defense he will be a valuable player.

5. Kristaps Porzingis, F, Latvia/Sevilla (Up 1)

I am still hesitant to buy into a tall European who has dominated in workouts. I remember Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Jan Vesely. But he might be different. Porzingis is going to be an effective 3-point shooter, and he has been a good shot blocker in Spain. He needs to bulk up and still has a low floor, but his tremendously high ceiling, coupled with the NBA being a league ruled by stars, vaults him up here.

6. Emmanuel Mudiay, G, Texas/Guangdong (Down 1)

Mudiay is the most well traveled of any player in the draft, born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, moving to Texas, and then playing a year professionally in China. The big red flag is that he never learned how to shoot in all those stops. He should be a stout defender, however, and he can get to the rim. Even improving his shooting a little bit, which he should be able to do once he’s in the NBA, will go a long way.

7. Myles Turner, F, Texas (Even)

8. Justise Winslow, F, Duke (Even)

This is the other spot I have gotten a lot of pushback on, so to address: It seems like there is a lot of groupthink on these big boards, but a lot of these guys are so close together that it really is going to come down to team preference and then the situation the player finds himself in. The guy who gets drafted by Miami is going to have a lot better chance of making it than the guy drafted by Sacramento. It’s just how it is. That said, while I think Winslow will at least be a 3 and D guy, Turner has a chance to be a guy who can score anywhere on the floor as well as being a good rim protector. His floor is lower than Winslow’s, but the type of player he can be is extremely rare and extremely valuable, so he gets to be a spot higher.

9. Mario Hezonja, F, Croatia/Barcelona (Up 1)

Although Hezonja didn’t play much for Barcelona this season, he had a very good game in the Spanish League finals. Hezonja is an incredible catch and shoot guy, can put the ball on the floor, and I think will be able to defend well in the NBA.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein, F, Kentucky (Down 1)

WCS’s main drawback is his age at this point, as at 22 he’ll have to start producing almost immediately. Having a guy who could win defensive player of the year at 10 seems like a misstep on my part, and I’m fully willing to eat crow about him if I’m wrong, but I don’t see him providing much value on the offensive end. I don’t think he will consistently be able to get out in transition like he did in college, and I don’t buy his supposed jumper improvement. He will get a lot of chances to make open ones, however.

11. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F, Arizona (Even)

Unlike his teammate Stanley Johnson, people seem to be coming around to my thinking on RHJ. He is the best perimeter defender in the draft, and like WCS could be a defensive player of the year. Again, if he learns how to shoot he can be an incredible NBA player, but if nothing else he seems a safe bet to be a good role player.

12. Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin (Even)

The rare stretch 5, Kaminsky can shoot as well as anyone in this draft class. He can also put it on the floor well enough and if he can protect the rim a bit then Kaminsky will have a nice career.

13. Bobby Portis, F, Arkansas (Up 2)

Portis’s versatility makes him an attractive prospect to NBA teams drafting in the late lottery. He is 6-11 but can play like a guy five inches shorter as he can put the ball on the floor, shoot fairly well, and defend multiple positions. Portis has a good basketball IQ, can run the floor, and plays hard. Remember, that is a skill.

14. Devin Booker, F, Kentucky (Even)

The Klay Thompson comps are misplaced (except in looks), but Booker has a chance to be the best shooter from this draft. He ended up taking more shots than Karl Towns for Kentucky last year and can hit off the dribble, although he’s much better spotting up. If his defense gets better he will end up a very good two way player.

15. Kelly Oubre, F, Kansas (Down 2)

Oubre has a very high ceiling, but a very low floor. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his shooting, where Oubre started the season hitting nearly 50 percent of his 3-pointers, but cooled off to the point that he finished the season at 35.8 percent, and shot 32.1 percent in conference play. If he can shoot almost 36 percent in the NBA then teams will be very happy, but he will have games where he can’t miss and then games where he’s never close. The other issue is he uses his wingspan on defense too much and has some lazy feet at times. I’m guessing that will improve, but if he can’t shoot, and if he doesn’t get a right hand, then his NBA career might be short.

16. Robert Upshaw, F, Washington (Up 2)

Upshaw’s main concerns are off the court. He is the type of rim protector that NBA teams dream about, and even if teams are trending towards “positionless” defenders, my guess is they’d abandon that for the type of rim protector Upshaw can be.

17. Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky (Even)

I like his potential as a shooter more than most people, and he can put it on the floor and attack people well for his size. His defense needs to improve but he has the frame to do so.

18. Jerian Grant, G, Notre Dame (Up 1)

Grant has a good frame, a good basketball IQ on both ends of the floor, and he can pass and score well. He’s one of the older guys in the first round, which is a bit of a problem, but a contender could get five years from him as a cheap backup point guard before letting him go.

19. Cameron Payne, G, Murray State (Up 1)

Payne has a good wingspan, can defend his position, and was really good in the pick and roll, which is huge in today’s NBA. I’m wary of guys from low major schools because it’s just so tough to translate them to the NBA, but I think Payne will be a good scoring guard off the bench.

20. Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin (Down 4)

Dekker shot almost 35 percent on 3-pointers for his career, but did not shoot above 33.1 percent in either of his last two seasons in Madison. He has the potential to be a backup at multiple positions, and while I think his defensive potential is overstated a bit, I do think he can guard multiple positions, which helps his value.

21. Montrezl Harrell, F, Louisville (Up 2)

Harrell looks like a safe bet to be an energy guy off the bench. If he resists Thomas Robinson disease (trying to be something he’s not) he looks to have a really good career as a role player.

22.Kevon Looney, F, UCLA (Down 1)

Looney has intriguing offensive potential as well as defensive potential. He rebounded well as a freshman at UCLA and plays with a high motor.

23. Michael Frazier, F, Florida (Up 5)

The more I read about and re-watch Frazier play, the more I’m convinced he is a guaranteed NBA role player. He will get there defensively and has the potential to be one of the better shooters in the league.

24. Christian Wood, F, UNLV (Down 2)

Wood has a ton of upside and is already really good around the basket. He needs to bulk up a bit and get better defensively, but his good shooting at the free throw line indicates that a stretch four who can also get to the bucket is lurking in there somewhere.

25. R.J. Hunter, G, Georgia State (Up 5)

Ryen Russillo’s post at Grantland almost singlehandedly got me to change my mind about Hunter. Before reading it, my take on him was if he is such a great shooter then why doesn’t he shoot better? But after re-watching some Georgia State games it is pretty clear he took a lot of those shots because the Panthers had no one else to take them. He has good length and a good frame and can back up either the 1 or 2.

26. Delon Wright, G, Utah (Down 1)

Wright is a good pick and roll player who can also defend and has a developed feel for the game. His upside is limited however given that he is already 23.

27. Justin Anderson, F, Virginia (Even)

Anderson has good size for a wing, defends well, and Virginia’s offense cratered without him last season.

28. Tyus Jones, G, Duke (Down 4)

Despite his awesome stats at Duke, I continue to not see it with Tyus Jones as a pro. I don’t think he’ll be able to defend and I don’t think he’ll be able to get into the paint, and good point guards are everywhere in the NBA these days, making me less enthused about Jones who I think is a borderline starter.

29. Mouhammadou Jaiteh, C, Nanterre/France

Jaiteh won’t wow you with his athleticism, but he’s made huge strides the last couple seasons, and had a good showing at the NBA Draft combine. He has a huge frame and has good footwork in the post. He’s not there defensively yet, but at just 20 years old he has room to improve.

30. Chris McCullough, F, Syracuse

McCullough has had some off court issues in his career, and has mostly been up and down as a player. His per game numbers with Syracuse aren’t great, and he didn’t rebound or score very efficiently either. Still he has a ton of potential and at the back end of the first round or early in the second round it’s worth the gamble of taking a boom or bust type guy.

The Next 30

31. Richaun Holmes, F, Bowling Green

32. Rashad Vaughn, F, UNLV

33. Anthony Brown, F, Stanford

34. Guillermo Hernangomez, C, Seville/Spain

35. JP Tokoto, F, North Carolina

36. Jordan Mickey, F, LSU

37. Jarell Martin, F, LSU

38. Norman Powell, G, UCLA

39. Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas

40. Rakeem Christmas, C, Syracuse

41. Pat Connaughton, F, Notre Dame

42. Terry Rozier, G, Louisville

43. Alan Williams, F, UCSB

44. Michael Qualls, G, Arkansas

45. Nikola Milutinov, C, Partizan/Serbia

46. Aaron White, F, Iowa

47. Jonathan Holmes, F, Texas

48. Olivier Hanlan, G, Boston College

49. Joe Young, G, Oregon

50. Branden Dawson, F, Michigan State

51. Corey Hawkins, G, UC Davis

52. Larry Nance, F, Wyoming

53. Quinn Cook, G, Duke

54. Josh Richardson, G, Tennessee

55. D.J. Newbill, G, Penn State

56. Chris Walker, F, Florida

57. Shannon Scott, G, Ohio State

58. Keifer Sykes, G, Wisconsin-Green Bay

59. Gabe Olaseni, F, Iowa

60. Ryan Boatright, G, UConn