2015 NFL DRAFT: BIG BOARD
All stats are for the previous season only, not a career average. This is mainly to avoid factoring in freshman year outliers for prospects like Cauley-Stein or Rakeem Christmas who played a marginal role early one. Plus I feel the most accurate picture of what teams will get is based on the most recent snap shot.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Strengths: Gifted shot blocker, size and length with elite rebounding potential, terrific shooter with 3 point range, 81% free throw shooter, overall very few flaws
Towns has the ability to impact the game on offense and defense with a very diverse skill set for a freshman prospect. He has really made his mark on the defensive end blocking and altering shots at a breathtaking rate (11.5% Block Rate!). As a gifted shot blocker and proficient rebounder with the length to improve even further, Towns has the raw ability to dominate the low post. On offense the 6’11 250 pounder has good range for a big. Although he has limited post moves he does shows good touch and the vision to hit teammates for open jumpers or cuts to the basket.
Weaknesses: Lacks a refined low post game offensively, needs to add strength to his frame, could benefit from playing with more grit and fire, foul prone
Sure there are some minor imperfections here but overall Towns is a well-rounded prospect. He could certainly continue to hit the weights in order to handle the physicality of the NBA game. While showing some natural ability it will take some time before he becomes a true offensive threat on the block. The one clear advantage Okafor has over Towns is his footwork and variety of post moves on the offensive end although neither are elite athletes.
Bottom Line: Towns gets the nod over Okafor and Russell because he’s a rare low post asset who can affect the game in multiple ways. He edges them both in PER, Win Shares, Rebounding Rate and Free Throw Percentage. At the end of the day Towns checks off more boxes and affects the game on both ends. He has two coveted skills that when packaged together allow for rotational flexibility for a coaching staff and could yield an All-NBA level center: elite shot blocking ability and shooting range out to the three point line.
2. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio St.
Strengths: Creative and accurate passer, offensive player-maker, can get his own shot and set up others, smooth shooting stroke with legitimate three point range, has the size to be a tough matchup as a combo guard, defensive potential
At 6’5 he has tremendous size for an NBA point guard and flashes the potential to be an elite distributor. He sees the floor well and has the ability to dictate terms with his ball handling and ability to stop on a dime often freezing defenders or opening up space for him to get his shot off. Very effective shooting off the dribble from three Russell projects as a nightmare pick and roll assignment. He can knock down the three if you go under the screen, weave his way through traffic on a hedge and find the rolling big man to create open shots at the basket. While not an experienced man defender, his size and body control will help him transition to containing guards at the next level.
Weaknesses: Can launch quick shots at times ignoring the design of the play, not the most explosive or quick twitch athlete, still learning man to man defense and did struggle some in that regard in college
For Russell the biggest question mark is projecting his ability to defend elite point guards at the next level. He wasn’t asked to guard too often man to man, but even in those scenarios the competition was much forgiving. Given his 6’10 wingspan he should be able to get steals and clog passing lanes, but can he stop penetration from explosive guards like Ty Lawson, Chris Paul or John Wall? Sure, not many NBA defenders can but the issue here is that Russell’s lack of speed and quick twitch athleticism might expose him against even average point guards when defending the dribble drive.
Bottom Line: Although not as highly touted coming into the year as Towns, Okafor or even Myles Turner, Russell’s play quickly distinguished himself as an elite talent. Offensively Russell gives you plenty to be excited about. He has great spatial awareness and can thread the needle as a passer. He also can score without being run off screens or given designed plays with his savvy and start and stop ability. His shooting is also a plus as he often made 25 footers in college with ease and his stroke looks fluid with a high release point. He is a tough projection defensively, however, as its tough to evaluate him in Ohio St.’s 2-3 zone as well as the uncertainty of what position he’ll be guarding in the NBA. Despite those concerns Russell offers an intriguing skill set and the potential to stuff the stat sheet like he did in college posting 23 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds and 2 steals a game in Columbus.
3. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Strengths: Impeccable footwork, a wide array of post moves, pro body with length and strength, physically ready to contribute on offense, instant offense as a post up threat, decent mid-range shooter, high character individual
A clear testament to Okafor’s dedication and innate feel for the game is his effortless foot work in the post. He navigates the paint with grace and has a smoothness to his game that catches the eye and makes him so tough to defend. He’s comfortable turning over both shoulders on his drop set and shows a soft touch around the basket. Rarely do teams prioritize touches for a low post scorer nowadays but Okafor certainly gives you that option.
Weaknesses: Lack of long range shooting ability, defensive limitations, lapses in effort on defense, can be exposed as a poor pick and roll defender, lacks elite athleticism and explosiveness
The biggest knock on Okafor is that he only has value on the offensive end, and even there he is limited to post up production. He may be an elite back to the basket scorer, but with the direction the game is headed that skill continues to be devalued. Blessed with a 7’5 wingspan he has the length to disrupt passing lanes and challenge shots, however, due to his average lower body explosiveness he’ll never be a game changing shot blocker or elite lob finisher.
Bottom Line: The 6’11 275 lb freshman is a force on the offensive block possessing the dexterity and body control to create space for his shot out of several well executed post moves in his arsenal. In this respect Okafor is much more advanced than Towns and perhaps any incoming rookie but its the struggles on defense that makes him a one way player at the moment. Not only that but he rebounds at a lower rate (16.6% versus Towns’ 18.5% TRB%) and is a much more limited shooter (0 three pointers taken and 66.7% from the stripe). All that being said, Okafor can give you production from day, works hard off the court and has the physical traits to improve as a rebounder and low post defender.
4. Emmanuel Mudiay, Congo
Strengths: Explosive athlete with the ability to finish above the rim, has the physical tools and size to become an elite defender, was very productive against older professionals in China, potential to be a terrific rebounder for the guard position, great feel and production on the pick and roll
Mudiay has the natural talent and physical profile to make scouts salivate. At 6’5 he has prototypical point guard height with a strong and physically developed frame that allows him to see over defenses, fight around screens and withstand contact while finishing at the basket. The native of Congo is a dynamic athlete and a one man fast break who can finish with authority above the rim. He’s also been a good pick and roll player with the vision, feel and explosiveness to flourish in a heavy pick and roll league.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent shooter, will make hand scratching decisions at times, effort on defense comes and goes
Like many high potential prospects that upside comes with a risk that all that ability will never develop. The main concerns with Mudiay are his shooting struggles, propensity to make careless decisions and poor defensive effort. As evidenced by his 16% TOV% he’ll need to take better care of the ball as the primary ball handler.
Bottom Line: When drafting Mudiay teams will have to trust the upside outweighs the concerns that could potentially hold him back. Besides being an elite athlete the 19 year old was impressive playing professional ball in China averaging 18 points, 6 assists, 6 boards and 1.58 steals a game. Almost indefensible in transition Mudiay also has a solid half court game with his ability to make plays on pick rolls and take it to the chest of defenders in the paint using his strength and leaping ability. Despite a relatively smooth shooting stroke he struggles as a jump shooter but there are some slight mechanical flaws, like shooting after his apex and at times following through too low, can be worked out with some coaching and practice. Given his physical tools and current strengths Mudiay should provide immediate impact on the offensive end in the right system and with more consistent effort could become a lockdown defender as well.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Strengths: Off the charts athleticism, elite lateral agility and explosiveness, wingspan and quickness to block shots from out of nowhere, defensive versatility
The Kentucky junior is a rare athletic specimen, about as rare as seeing a 7’1 wide receiver catching touchdown passes. Yep, that happened when Cauley-Stein used his 9’3” standing reach, quickness and lateral mobility to torture high school cornerbacks. With that uncommon physical profile and athleticism he can and has guarded multiple positions often shadowing the opponents’ greatest offensive threat whether guard, forward or center. Given this unique ability he would add tremendous value to an NBA defense. He would allow for creative defensive concepts given his capability to switch on any screen and challenge shots at the rim as a primary and help defender.
Weaknesses: Low rebounding rate despite elite tools, very limited offensively, poor shooter, very thin frame that might be exposed in the NBA
As much as the athletic talent he possesses is breathtaking, there are legitimate concerns about Cauley-Stein. One is his lack of offensive impact. Literally all he can do effectively at this point is catch lobs and dunk. Now, he has shown signs of diversifying his game but in year one you won’t get much of anything offensively. Then on defense, even though he is so versatile he lacks the strength to body up some of the more physical centers like Marc Gasol or Al Jefferson. Finally, his personality and demeanor are not abrasive but scouts wonder about his motivation and consistency throughout games.
Bottom Line: Even with the risks and limited offensive ability the 7’1 former wide receiver is a unique defensive chess piece. Rarely, if ever, can a rookie come into the league and be reasonably expected to guard all five positions. You’ll hear a lot of comparisons to Tyson Chandler and frankly that’s not a bad thing. At the moment, like Chandler, he’s a non-factor offensively unless he’s catching lobs but is a true defensive stalwart. If he can stay committed, improve his shooting (he’s improved his FT% by 24.5% over his three season in blue) and get stronger some NBA will be getting a rare talent.