Top Returning NCAA Players
1. Willie Cauley-Stein: 7’0″ C, Kentucky, Jr.
Cauley-Stein made a surprising decision to stay in school given how jam-packed Kentucky’s front-court will be next year. Julius Randle is gone, but 5 star recruits C Karl Towns and PF Trey Lyles arrive and Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, and Alex Poythress have an extra year of seasoning. I’m curious to see how Cal manages his rotations, as WCS was prone to landing in his doghouse this past season and now plays in a more crowded frontcourt.
WCS does have his shortcomings: he’s a pure garbageman on offense and he doesn’t have the best focus or bbiq on defense. But he is huge, athletic, and exceptionally mobile for a 7 footer. Even the quickest of guards have a difficult time blowing by him on switches, so whatever NBA team drafts him gets quite the versatile piece to work with defensively. He is a similar prospect to Clint Capela, but he has more girth and slightly less sexy stats. I’m fairly stubborn that this is a mold that should not slide deep in the draft, even though it seems to happen quite a bit. If WCS lands in Calipari’s doghouse again he could slide and provide great value for the team that bites on him. He’s a favorite to end up in the top 10 on my final big board next season.
2. Bobby Portis: 6’10” PF, Arkansas, So.
Bobby Portis was a 5 star recruit who was curiously underhyped in spite of a great freshman season, but that has been rectified as he’s now 18th in DX’s 2015 mock and ESPN has him marked as possible lotto pick. He measured 6’10.5″ at the Nike Skills Camp this summer after being listed at 6’9″ as a freshman– I don’t know the margin for error for camp measurements but if he actually grew an inch that’s a happy development. He isn’t much of a leaper, but the extra inch leaves him with a nice PF body to go with a great motor as Portis always plays hard. Prospects with average tools and good feel for the game tend to get undervalued in the draft, but if Portis builds on his freshman season with a strong sophomore showing he could be a top 10 value next year.
3. Frank Kaminsky: 7’0″ PF/C, Wisconsin, Sr.
The perpertual victim of his poor face test, Kaminsky has to work against rather strong cognitive biases to get drafted in the lottery next season. Currently DX has him 23rd in the 2015 mock, so early signs show a glimmer of hope. He’s tall, coordinated, and can score from anywhere, and that’s a combination of traits I have an easy time getting on board with. Regardless of where he actually goes, he’ll likely need to have a disappointing senior season to not end up as a lottery value on my big board
4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: 6’7 SF, Arizona, So.
Hollis-Jefferson is more or less a poor man’s Aaron Gordon. He was a much better freshman FT shooter at 68%, and the two had strikingly similar stats overall. But he’s 2 inches shorter, 6 months older, and less explosive. He may not be a top 5 pick like Gordon, but there’s plenty to like and he has a strong chance of becoming a lottery value on my big board and a lottery pick in reality.
5. Delon Wright: 6’5″ PG, Utah, Sr.
The crafty and lengthy Wright is back for his senior year after blowing away expectations in his first NCAA season as a JuCo transfer. It will be interesting to see if he can replicate the lofty statistical standards he set as a junior, and personally I do have my doubts about Wright. He got a ton of his points wrecking doormat teams in transition, he’s exceptionally skinny, and he’s at best an average athlete. But I also have a soft spot for weird molds, and unless his performance falls off a cliff I’ll likely have him as a 1st rounder. With a strong enough showing he could even ascend to lottery status.
6. RJ Hunter: 6’5″ SG, Georgia State, Jr.
My favorite 3 + D prospect in the draft, Hunter stuffs the statsheet the same way that Kyle Korver and Danny Green did in college. If NBA teams don’t learn that these types are too useful to slide to the back end of round 2, he’ll be a great value for somebody. Hunter’s big concern is strength as he’s rail thin, which will rightfully scare teams at least a little bit. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to rank him as a 1st rounder anyway, his stats are too good not to.
7. Sam Dekker: 6’7″ SF, Wisconsin, Jr.
Dekker is a vanilla 3 + D SF with solid but not great stats. I have a hard time finding distinct strengths or weaknesses for him, he seems middling in every regard. That’s not going to stop him from becoming an alright role player though, and that makes him a fine pickup late in round 1.
8. Jerian Grant: 6’5″ PG/SG, Notre Dame, Sr.
Grant is a volatile prospect and I have no idea where I’ll rank him. He appeared en route to a breakout junior season after 12 games, but then he was suspended for the remainder of the year. He is going to be a 22 year old senior now, so he really needs to dominate to justify a 1st round selection. In the case that he does he offers an interesting package of shooting, handling, and passing and he has the tools to possibly defend either guard position. DX expresses concerns about him being lazy, but if he can get his act together as a senior he exudes intrigue to me.
Others To Watch
Wichita State fans who are tired of hearing me bash Cleanthony Early can rejoice, as I like both Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet and am rooting for them to sneak into round 1. They were the guys who created all of the offense and should be a terrific backcourt duo this season. I’m not sure either has the tools to get all the way into round 1, although Chad Ford has marked Baker as a possible 1st rounder. Either way I’ll be watching plenty of Shockers basketball next season.
We finally get to see if Florida PF Chris Walker can actually play or not. That said I’m not sure it matters a ton since he seems to be a dreaded C in a PF body, so I don’t buy the lottery hype for a second.
If you watch Montrezl Harrell’s dunk reel, may be convinced that his lottery pedigree is justified. It isn’t. He’s a one dimensional dunker who doesn’t have either the size or skill to thrive in the NBA. Unless he develops his skill level big time this offseason I’m a seller.
Wayne Selden, Andrew Harrison, and Aaron Harrison are all back to try to redeem their disapppointing freshmen seasons and prove that they do belong in round 1. Of the three, I have Aaron Harrison as the most likely player to justify a 1st round selection.
Caris Levert made a big leap for Michigan this past season, and with Stauskas and Robinson gone he has an opportunity to make another surge forward and get drafted in round 1.
Michael Qualls’ skill level remains a work in progress, but he’s the most electric dunker in the NCAA. If he can make another leap forward he could justify a 1st round pick.
Briante Weber looms as the athletic PG who is beloved by draft models due to his broken steal rate playing for VCU’s press. He has potential as a Rajon Rondo lite.
Most Intriguing Freshmen:
1. Karl Towns: 7’0″ C, Kentucky
He’s only the #7 RSCI recruit, but he may have the best shot of getting selected #1 overall. He has a great body for a center and he’s skilled and coordinated too. If he plays to his potential as a freshman, he’s not the mold of prospect who you can pass up at #1.
2. Jahlil Okafor: 6’11” C, Duke
The #1 RSCI recruit as well as the early favorite to go #1, he sounds like a nice prospect to me but I’m not convinced he has a stranglehold on the slot. He has great length at 7’5″ and he’s also strong and reasonably mobile, but he’s not explosive and there are doubts about his ability to be a defensive stud. He played for the u19 USA team in Prague at age 17 and posted absolutely monster stats. He sort of sounds like Zach Randolph if Z-Bo was 2 inches taller, which is a pretty interesting prospect. I’d say he’s a good bet to go in the top 5, and either him or Towns will end up being the #1 selection a fairly high %.
3. Stanley Johnson: 6’7″ SF, Arizona
So I guess it’s now a rule that smart, toolsy combo forwards with dubious outside shooting are required to attend Arizona. It’s a rule that I endorse, as I like this mold of player and I like the way Sean Miller makes use of them. Johnson is 6’7″ 237 with a 6’11” wingspan, which is a fantastic body for a young SF prospect. He’s also athletic, a competitive defensive player, and a willing passer so he sounds like a prospect that I will have an exceptionally easy time getting excited over. I have high hopes for Stanley and think he has a great shot of landing in the top 5 and is a solid dark horse for #1 overall.
4. Justise Winslow: 6’6″ SF, Duke
Winslow is a slightly smaller Johnson doppelganger as far as I can tell. Surely the two will display differences once we actually see them both play, but he’s another unselfish, defensive SF that I’m excited for. My impression is that he’s a longshot to go #1 because his tools are only solidly good across the board and he doesn’t have a standout attribute, but if he’s as good as I suspect there is always room for a Winslow type in my top 5.
Duke fans who are tired of hearing me bash Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker can rejoice as I have high hopes for Winslow, Okafor, and Tyus Jones (who didn’t crack my top 5 due to his size but sounds like an awesome college player if nothing else), and it’s possible that I end up bullish on all 3 of them. It’s also possible that they disappoint, but I have had a strong feeling that I would like the coming team more than the prior team for the entirety of last season.
5. Kelly Oubre: 6’6″ SF, Kansas
He’s long (7’2″), athletic, and can get buckets which gives him a puncher’s shot at #1 if he exceeds expectations. Oubre is the prospect who stands out as the widest range of outcomes for me, as I could see myself either loving him or hating him if he proves to be a non-defense playing chucker.
Player That Will Break VJL’s Draft Model And Never Actually Get Picked:
Tanner Omlid: 6’3″ F (apparently), Army, So.
I stumbled across Omlid when perusing sports-reference.com for possible sleepers, and man is he an interesting case. He completely stuffs the statsheet with steals, blocks, assists, rebounds, 2p%, and even shows some hope of becoming an adequate shooter (29.5% 3’s, 68% FT’s).
The steals especially stand out, as he tallied a whopping 6.6% steal rate as a freshman which trumps even that of Marcus Smart (5.0%). The only other player that had a steal rate higher than 5.5% this past season was Briante Weber (6.8%), who did so with the aid of VCU’s Havoc press. Army doesn’t seem to have any sort of steal generating gimmick, as the rest of the team has completely pedestrian steal rates. For comparison, Weber created 30.9% of his teams total steals playing 14.2% of the team’s total minutes, Omlid generated 33.6% of his teams steals playing just 8.9% of the total minutes.
Granted, Weber is surrounded by more talent and plays against higher levels of competition, but this is still a stunning outlier. Omlid was almost certainly the beneficiary of sample size variance, as I’m taking the under on a 6% steal rate for him next year easily. But he’s somebody that I plan to monitor and hope to catch a glimpse of if an Army game ever appears on TV. If he plays forward for Army, perhaps he’s long and athletic enough to find a niche in the NBA as a SG one day.
A few caveats: he’s still only a sophomore and almost certainly is staying in school for 4 years since he’s unlikely to get noticed playing at Army. Further, a large part of his appeal is his likely youth, but he could be a bizarrely old for his class as I cannot find his date of birth. And most importantly, he is a stone cold lock to get undervalued by scouts based on his dubious face test.
No love for Mudiay?
He doesn’t sound as attractive as the other prospects. Granted I’m barely familiar with any of these guys. But in a league with so many good PG’s already, I’m not sure what Mudiay’s calling card to greatness is. He has great tools, but he’s not Wall or Rose athletically and it doesn’t sound like he thrives with smarts/skill/defense.
To me he kinda sounds about halfway between Andrew Harrison and John Wall, which is pretty good but not something I’d want #1 overall. Of course this is based on extremely limited info. But watching Exum vs. Spain I have an easy time seeing his super upside, and I don’t get the same feeling watching Mudiay’s Hoop Summit.
I’d say the players I didn’t mention with a shot of #1 overall are Myles Turner, Mudiay, and Cliff Alexander. Also I guess Kristaps Porzingis has an outside shot too.
It seems coincidental, but Okafor looks kind of like the C version of Jabari Parker. He’s a polished and dominant scorer who can board, but his D is relatively weak and he is a black hole on offense (.15 A/TO in FIBA play). I agree that Towns >
Yeah I had the same thought and I’m a bit worried about Jahlil being a black hole. Honestly this Duke team is shaping up to be nearly perfect and I really hope his black hole ways don’t undermine them the same way that Jabari did.
FWIW I’m not really making a statement that Towns is necessarily better. Jahlil definitely sounds like he’s better right now, Towns simply strikes me as having more NBA appeal. Towns was also completely invisible at the Hoop Summit (17 mins 4 fouls 6 pts 0 assists 4 TOV) and if he regularly posts games like that at UK I will likely end up liking Jahlil more. But if that game was a fluke and Towns is great, he’s the one player in the class who is possibly tankworthy.
Great article, as always. Who do you think are the beast shooters in this draft class? What do you think of Mario Hezonja?
Thanks + no idea on Hezonja. Internationals are hard enough by the time the draft rolls around, this early I’d rather not think about it. Whenever I glance at his scouting report I feel like I need to watch him to decide my stance.
As far as I can tell he has the talent to go lottery, but there’s doubt as to whether he can put all of his talent all together to become a star. So he’s as mystery box-ish as you can get.
I think Towns and Okafor are the runaway favorites to go 1 and 2 in some order. Towns’ athletic numbers have been incredible, despite his earlier chubby looks. A combination of vertical leap, 3pt shoot, 7′ tall and shotblocking is equal to a career in the nba. Okafor on the other hand seems like he can be Al Jefferson right away and what determines his upside basically hinge on his defensive ability.
I’m interested in seing if there are any sleepers this year, like Embiid or Oladipo from the previous two drafts.
They are clearly the strongest candidates to go top 2, but they are still probably underdogs to be the precise top 2 simply because there’s so much time between now and the draft.
Towns is the candidate to be Embiid.
As far as Oladipo level candidates there are plenty of freshmen that can rise up draft boards or maybe a random upperclassmen like Caris LeVert or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson explodes. The season hasn’t even started yet so there are still plenty of surprises to come out way.
I know you dont want to base anything on a pre-season Kentucky vs Kentucky game, but…damn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbMysT3TV3A
Karl Towns looks like he’s an athletic, ball-handling, passing and 3pt shooting version of Andrew Bynum, which is scary as hell. Unless Okafor turns proves the doubters wrong on the defensive end, i think Towns will end up being a lock for the #1 pick.
I know i’m exaggerating, but still..
Kevon Looney from UCLA seems to be moving up the ranks as well. He’s really filling up the statsheet.
Agree, Looney has been one of the more intriguing freshman to start the year. He’s such a funky prospect and uses his length so well it gives him his own brand of upside. So far he’s looking like a solid lottery pick.
Dean, is Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin) on your radar at all? Strong, athletic, great FTr, and though it is of course early still, he has improved his rebounding a ton this year and has added 3pt-range (at least from college line) to his offensive repertoire.
Nigel is on my radar, he popped up on the back end of a few of my big boards last year. Will be interesting to see if he can keep his shooting %’s up, love that he’s taking 3’s. If his shooting continues to look decent I have an easy time seeing him as a 1st rounder
Really intruiged by Kentucky this year and i think Trey Lyles, Dakari Johnson and especially Tyler Ulis are looking good, but are hardly even projected to go in the first round by many scouts.
Also, Towns’ per-minute and defensive numbers are insane – he’s blocking twice as many shots as WCS.
Tyler Ulis is 5’9 so he’s going need to show a ton of offensive capability to get his stock to round 1 status. I doubt it happens this year with such a low usage role. Being a pest on defense and spacing the floor isn’t enough for round 1 when you are that tiny.
Dakari is the most interesting one of the 3 to me. His upside is capping by his lack of length or athleticism to make him a true rim protector. But he’s going to only be 19 on draft night and is in much better shape physically this year and has been passing more. I’m interested to see how he does in Kentucky’s real games.
For the most part Kentucky players are hard to evaluate since they aren’t a real basketball team, they are practically the monstars stomping on inferior competition along the way. But Towns block + rebound rates definitely stick out, not sure what ESPN/DX are on rating him below Mudiay.
Myles Turner? He’s 2nd in PER in the whole NCAA, blocks 3 shots/20mins and he shoots 3s. Is he the under-the-radar potential #1 pick or am i reaching?
I’d say he has the best shot of anybody other than Towns/Okafor. That said his scoring stats have been padded heavily vs doormats and he’s largely been ineffective on offense vs real teams. So he’s a slippery one to assess at this point.
When you coming out with this season’s big board?