Projecting the Ceiling of Every Top-10 2015 NBA Draft Prospect

A prospect’s ceiling is all about upside. And every prospect has an NBA ceiling, which is essentially just a best-case projection. Only it doesn’t mean they’ll reach it. 

I gave each one of our top 10 prospects an NBA ceiling and an established NBA player they might eventually look like down the road if everything goes according to plan.

For each prospect, we determined the height of their ceiling by classifying them into four different categories: 

Superstar: A max-contract centerpiece and one of top players at his position 

Star: An NBA All-Star

Secondary Star: Featured, productive player, but not quite All-Star material 

High-End Role Player: Quality starter who isn’t featured

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Ranking the Best International 2015 NBA Draft Prospects

One of the most exciting aspects of the NBA draft is learning about the top international prospects sprouting up across Europe and beyond.

The 2015 crop is no exception, as it offers a terrific mix of playmakers, skilled wings and imposing big men.

Latvia boasts a couple of the best frontcourt assets—most notably a stretch 4 prodigy who could land in the top 10 picks.

Meanwhile, their Mediterranean counterparts are producing some smooth scorers and dexterous passers. The overseas talent isn’t limited to Europe, as Africa and the Middle East will also join the party.

Who exactly are the premier foreign prospects in the 2015? We broke down the studs most likely to get drafted and ranked them by how highly they’re likely to be selected.

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5 NBA Teams Who Would Already Mulligan Their 2014 NBA Draft Picks

Some prospects and team fits look a lot more promising in June than they do in September. 

Summer League can help point out who’s ready to roll versus who’s years away from contributing, while free agency can change a roster’s needs and makeup. 

Knowing what each team knows now, there are a few that might wish they could go back for a mulligan on 2014 draft night. 

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NBA Draft Expert’s Notebook: Meet Delon Wright, the Next Big 2015 Prospect

Delon Wright was good last year—the kind of good that put him on NBA radars despite spending the previous two years in junior college. Wright earned scouts’ attention. And this year, I’m expecting him to keep it and ultimately convert it into first-round dollars.

The younger brother of 10-year NBA veteran Dorell, Delon seemingly came out of nowhere as an impact junior at Utah. He got the occasional national shoutout last season. And chances are if you’re a hardcore draft fan or regular Pac-12 viewer, you’re pretty familiar with Wright’s game. But for the most part, he still flies a bit below the radar.

I’d be willing to bet he doesn’t last down there for long—with Utah expected to compete for a postseason bid, the spotlight and microphones should naturally start shifting Wright’s way.

Regardless, the potential he flashed in his first year on the job in Division I basketball is worthy of examination. Wright put up monster numbers, both in terms of production and efficiency, while showcasing some special physical tools for a point guard.

At 6’5″, he’s got that standout size that helps drive the mismatch he presents at the point guard position on both ends of the floor. And this kid is smooth and elastic. He reminds me of Gumby out there, with the ability to twist and contort his body to fit through tight seams and windows.

Wright performs well on the eye test, from an athletic and measurement standpoint. His type of height and elusiveness allows a ball-handler of his skill to play to his upside.

Wright averaged 5.3 assists a game last season while being used on just 21.4 percent of his possessions (in comparison, guys like Elfrid Payton and Shabazz Napier, who each averaged between five and six assists, had usage rates last year of over 27 percent). He sets up teammates from multiple spots and angles on the floor, whether he’s running a pick-and-roll, attacking from the wing or pushing the break.

Wright just has some tantalizing change-of-direction shiftiness and slick playmaking instincts. He’s not the quickest or most explosive, but he finds ways to get to his spots on the floor, particularly with that nasty hesitation dribble.

He finished his junior year with a decent 1.96 pure point rating (weighs assists and turnovers relative to each other in a per-minute form, per sports-reference.com), which ranks fifth amongst DraftExpress‘ top 100 point guards. Wright isn’t your traditional facilitator, as he even played off the ball occasionally at Utah, but his feel for the game as a passing playmaker has looked pretty on point. 

He generated some nice buzz for himself this summer at the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy, where many of the top players in the country work out through invitation only. 

As a scorer, Wright is as crafty as they come. He averaged 15.5 points a game, and just about all of them came within 12-15 feet from the hoop.

You can’t even appreciate how good he was inside the arc without mentioning his glaring weakness first. Wright poses as a non-threat from long range. He hit just 12 three-pointers last year and shot just 22.2 percent. With defenses sagging back, giving up the jumper and looking to take away the drive, Wright still managed to shoot a whopping 63.3 on two-point field goals. 

Wright spoke with Raphielle Johnson of CollegeBasketballTalk regarding his shooting stroke:

That’s the main thing I need to work on. I’ve been shooting a lot of shots in the gym, and I’m trying to work on my form, release and confidence [in taking those shots]. A lot of teams packed the lane against me because they knew I like to drive to the basket. They gave me the outside shot and I wasn’t comfortable with it. So I feel that if I can knock those shots down, it will open up my game and open up the game for the entire team.

Usually you see forwards or big men lead their conference in field-goal percentage, which Wright did at 56.1 percent—not point guards. Granted, a lot of Wright’s offense comes in transition, which isn’t by mistake, but his efficiency is still pretty ridiculous. 

In the half court, he’s a magician in the lane—one of those playmakers capable of improvising on the fly and inventing new ways to create and finish.

Hoop-Math had him down for shooting a remarkable 71.7 percent at the rim last season. Scoop shots, flips, reverses, floaters, lay-ups through contact, slams above the rim—Wright has a deep bag of tricks and sharp sense for when to use each.

His body control is terrific, from his Eurosteps to his acrobatic finishes on the move.

But only three quarters of Wright’s sales pitch to the pros will center around his offensive game. His final point, the one that could ultimately hook a general manager selecting early in next year’s draft, focuses on the defensive impact he’s made and tools he’s got for the future. 

Wright ranked No. 4 in the country last season in defensive win shares, per sports-reference.com. He racked up 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks a game.

With quick hands, long arms and the instincts to anticipate and react, Wright can be awfully disruptive. 

And he also rebounds extremely well for his position, pulling in 6.8 (5.1 defensive) a game, thanks to a strong nose for the ball and a willingness to go after it. 

From his offensive prowess to his presence on the boards and defensive potential, Wright brings a fairly complete package to the table—except for that jumper, which is going to be a talking point amongst scouts whenever he suits up. 

The fact that he’ll be 23 years old by the 2015 draft doesn’t help. We’ve seen big point guards that can’t shoot get taken in the lottery before, like Michael Carter-Williams and Elfrid Payton, but they entered the draft at much younger ages (20). Their current NBA coaches and general managers will likely be disappointed if their shooting doesn’t improve by the time their 23. 

Already 22, time isn’t exactly on Wright’s side. 

But there’s reason to believe—he has looked capable in the mid-range, and he did sink 79.3 percent of his 193 free-throw attempts. 

John Pudner, a political advisor and creator of ValueAddBasketball.com who’s consulted NBA general managers in the past, developed a statistic that measures each college players’ overall value. Last year, his formula pegged Shabazz Napier as the highest-rated player. And now Pudner has Wright projected to follow in his footsteps as the most valuable in the country

Look for Wright to bring Utah to the national stage in 2015, and in turn, break through as a rising NBA prospect in draft conversations. 

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USA player woke up at 5:30 a.m. for fantasy draft

That’s commitment.

      
 

 

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Grizzlies sign draft pick Jarnell Stokes to deal (Yahoo Sports)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed their second-round draft pick Jarnell Stokes to a multi-year contract.

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Predicting the Breakout 2015 NBA Draft Prospects

Some guys just need a few years before figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Others just need the opportunity.

These are the guys who’ve shown signs in 2013-14—signs that suggest they’re ready to turn flashes into regular, every-game occurrences. 

The following prospects should expect bigger workloads in 2014-15 and, in turn, we should expect their names to hit NBA radars.

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NBA Draft Expert’s Notebook: Can Karl Towns Jr. Blossom into No. 1 2015 Pick?

The day will come when Karl Towns Jr. emerges as a topic to discuss on every national sports talk show. It”s going to happen sometime early next season, when he inevitably goes off during one of Kentucky’s nationally televised games.

I could see it now—a stretch that includes a hook shot followed by a three-pointer capped off by a dunk on a break he led himself. You can already hear the announcers highlighting his extraordinary versatility and potential as an NBA prospect. 

Towns, a consensus top-10 recruit and Kentucky’s prized freshman center, has an unusually high skill level and natural feel for the game. He turned heads in Portland at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit and followed Andrew Wiggins in 2014 by winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award.

His talent has been well documented by scouts over the past 18 months or so. And now Towns will be looking to make his case for the top spot on 2015 draft boards.

I wouldn’t call him the favorite at this point three months prior to the season. Based on buzz from scouts and personal opinion, I’d give that honor to Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor, whose 6’11″, 272-pound body, dominant inside game and basketball IQ help create a sense of certainty and assurance you don’t get from any other prospect. 

Okafor is your more traditional center. Towns is not, and that could ultimately work for or against him. Towns has to ultimately convince the NBA guys his loose but diverse offensive game is more attractive than the concentrated one Okafor masters as an inside force. 

And Towns’ margin for error might not be very big. Given the ridiculous depth of Kentucky’s current squad—ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman (subscription required) called it the ”deepest I’ve seen in the past decade”—his scoring and playmaking chances won’t exactly be unlimited. 

Towns will be competing for minutes and touches with junior Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Dakari Johnson—two older 7-footers expected to play significant veteran roles. And don’t forget junior Alex Poythress, sophomore Marcus Lee and fellow top-shelf recruit Trey Lyles are all expected to log minutes at the 4. 

Coah John Calipari will find minutes for Towns—he’s just too talented and useful, even as a teenager, to keep on the bench for long. But there’s no question he’ll have to find a way to stand out on an insanely crowded stage. 

There are going to be games where Towns ends up with duds in the box scores. It just comes with the territory of playing alongside All-American teammates. 

Lack of opportunity to dominate, coupled by his specific weaknesses as a prospect could lead to inconsistency next season—inconsistency we’re unlikely to see from Okafor as Duke’s top gun. 

Towns’ weaknesses center around his on-and-off interior presence. Despite possessing a 7’0″, 248-pound frame, he doesn’t always use all of it. 

I wouldn’t consider it a major concern—we’ve seen Towns do his fair share of bullying around the rim.

The question is whether or not Towns’ draft stock can handle the wavering production likely to result from a reduced role and an interest in proving he’s a threat on the perimeter. 

Meanwhile, Okafor might as well set up a La-Z-Boy couch in the lane, because that’s where the Duke guards will be feeding him all day long. There’s no question as to where he’s most effective on the floor. 

Okafor is going to be putting up double-doubles on off-games. He’s just got too much size, skill and opportunity. The points and boards will be there for him regardless—like they were for Jabari Parker last year.

On the other hand, Towns won’t be featured the way Okafor projects to be in Duke’s offense. 

Kentucky is currently playing exhibition games in the Bahamas against legitimate international competition, and though it’s obviously early, we’ve gotten a sense at how Calipari will be using each player.

Towns has played 18 minutes, 21 minutes and 21 minutes through three games, respectively. 

The offense didn’t quite feature Towns, but when in the game, the ball did find him for the most part. Still, with so much sharing going on, it’s easy to see how Towns could go quiet from time to time. 

He did look awfully good against older, more experienced frontcourts in the Bahamas. Though Towns will run into a few college and plenty of NBA centers that can match up with him physically, few can do as many things as he can with the ball.

Offensively, his skill set is just so well-rounded. 

Towns has excellent touch in the post, with a good idea of what he’s doing in terms of creating his own shots. He’s shown the ability to turn over his shoulder for jump hooks and the agility to slip off his man and separate with jukes or spin moves.

When he’s able to get position and there’s space for him to operate, Towns can serve as a viable go-to option for offense with his back to the rim. 

He also finished a number of pick-and-rolls as the roll man in traffic. Towns has good body control on the move—he’s able to catch, duck and weave for buckets while improvising on the fly. And if there’s a lane, he’s shown he can put it on the deck and attack the rim off a dribble or two. 

Towns also showcased his vision and passing instincts on a number of different occasions. His ability to see the floor and facilitate from the elbows will certainly play to his appeal over the course of next season. 

Athletically, Towns is nothing to drool over, but for a guy his size, he moves pretty effortlessly out there, both as a leaper and runner.

And it certainly didn’t look like he’ll have much difficulty taking contact inside, though it’s something he’s been dogged for in the past. He ripped down a couple of tough offensive boards by outworking and outmuscling opposing big men in the paint. 

On the downside, Towns missed all of his three-point attempts, as it looks like it could be a while before he’s regularly stretching the floor or pick-and-popping like a pro. 

He’s also not the most explosive—he came up short around the hoop or failed to separate a couple of times from his defender. 

And he hasn’t blocked a shot through three games despite his size, mobility and 7’3.5″ wingspan. Defense and rim protection don’t come as naturally to Towns as they do to guys like Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid—two high-profile centers from the past two drafts. 

The good news is that Okafor isn’t overly dominant defensively, either. And though I hate to compare the two, you kind of have to when debating who the top pick will be. 

I’ll throw in Kansas freshman Cliff Alexlander’s name as well, though despite his towering upside powered by elite-level athleticism, I’m not sure he’s polished enough to take the cake over Okafor and Towns. 

Relative to the field, Towns has the all-around package to trigger No. 1 overall interest. He might not be the favorite to start, but he’s certainly established himself as a candidate. 

“He’s very skilled and has a very good feel for playing the game of basketball,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears. “He’s strong. He plays his position well. There are not a lot of basketball players with his feel for the game. He can face up and make jump shots. He’s special.”

For Towns to leapfrog the field and take over the No. 1 spot, he’ll have to silence the critics who’ve questioned his toughness on the interior. He’s going to have to match Okafor’s and Alexander’s presence in the paint and then move the needle with his versatility as a passer and shooter. 

It’s not an unrealistic goal by any means for Towns, who I’d vote today as Okafor’s biggest draft-day challenger amongst Division I NBA prospects. 

We’re going to have to see frequent enough flashes of greatness to make up for what could be an up-and-down season in the box scores, given the number of mouths Calipari will have to feed. 

But there’s no question Towns has the skills and upside to pull it off. 

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The Top Returning 2015 NBA Draft Prospects to Watch Next Season

Most of the premier talent from college basketball last season declared for the NBA draft. Some didn’t. 

These are the top returning NBA prospects to watch in 2014-15—guys who’ll enter their sophomore, junior or senior seasons on lottery and first-round radars. 

For many of them, this will be the year they make that leap and maximize their NBA draft stock. 

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Why Jahlil Okafor Is Early Favorite for No. 1 Pick in 2015 NBA Draft

It clicked early for Jahlil Okafor. You can just tell that he gets it. He understands his overwhelming strengths and recognizes how to exploit them.

And chances are he’ll be exploiting them at Duke against helpless ACC frontcourts on his journey toward becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. 

With Okafor, it’s not necessarily all about upside the way it was for the top pick in 2014. Andrew Wiggins’ appeal stemmed from the potential his spectacular athleticism drives in the long run. With a guy like Wiggins, you’re hoping the skills eventually catch up to the hops, quickness and explosiveness. You’re hoping one day it finally clicks. 

And there’s always some uncertainty attached to guys whose allure is tied mostly to potential. Who knows whether or not a prospect’s shooting stroke will improve, his handle will tighten or his in-between game will develop? 

Okafor is a little different in that the fundamentals and feel for the game are already there. Of course, he’s an absolute monster physically, but Okafor hasn’t just leaned on his physical tools to dominate at the high school and international levels.  

However, there’s no hiding his minimal bounce and burst. He’s just not as light on his feet, and without the athleticism that powers so many of today’s All-Stars, his ceiling isn’t perceived as limitless. 

Only Okafor’s most attractive feature isn’t quite his towering ceiling—it’s his high basement floor. There’s really not much risk at all attached to Okafor. 

ESPN recruiting analyst Adam Finklestein nailed it (subscription required) with his take following this year’s showcase period featuring the McDonald’s All-American game, the Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic:

“From an NBA perspective, he’s starting to look more and more like a ‘safe pick’ in that you pretty much know what you’re going to get, even if his ultimate upside may not be quite as high as top-ranked prospects in other classes.”

This isn’t the typical reputation of a No. 1 overall favorite. “Safe pick” and “franchise centerpiece,” something lottery winners are usually looking for, don’t normally go hand in hand. 

But the fact that Okafor doesn’t have that visible superstar ceiling may not matter too much next June. Safe could go a long way in 2015, as the projected field looks to be a bit short of obvious No. 1 overall candidates. 

Emmanuel Mudiay is likely Okafor’s biggest challenger at the top of the board, but his decision to play in China could make him tougher to evaluate and ultimately justify as the No. 1 prospect. 

And though safe isn’t overly exciting, the potential reward Okafor offers is still worthy of a top pick in the draft. We could be talking about a go-to option in the frontcourt and a double-team magnet who pounds the glass and clogs the lane.

When you take into account his particular style of play, video-game athleticism isn’t quite a must-have attribute. Okafor fits the mold of a Tim Duncan, Al Jefferson or LaMarcus Aldridge type of big man—someone whose precise moves, high IQ and touch help compensate for their athletic limitations.

These guys didn’t have trouble reaching All-Star levels without above-the-rim springs or blow-by speed. 

At 6’11″ with a massive 7’5″ wingspan and an enormous 272-pound frame, Okafor has the body to carve out space along with the footwork to separate and deliver. His blend of imposing strength, nimble feet and soft hands is just too much. 

From spin moves into jump hooks to face-ups into flip shots, he’s been unstoppable at times with the ability to create high-percentage looks for himself in the paint: 

After being named MVP of the 2012 Under-17 FIBA World Championships, he made the 2013 All-FIBA Under-19 World Championship Team, having averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 boards on a whopping 77.2 percent shooting in just 14.2 minutes. In nine games, only once did he miss more than two shots.

It’s as if the rim looks bigger to Okafor, whose touch and instincts help expand it. 

His basketball IQ is also right on point. He’s got this level of awareness that allows him to pinpoint the best route to take and where the defense is most vulnerable. 

Okafor always seems to have a good feel for where his defender is leaning and when to take advantage. It could be something as simple as kicking it out of the post to re-post for better position closer to the rim:

Down low, Okafor really uses his mass, strength and length, whether it’s during a back-to-the-basket bully session or on the offensive glass. 

He’s tough to move inside—contact appears to just bounce off his enormous body.

Take a look at how easily he pushes around incoming freshman Karl Towns, a potential top-five pick and true 7-footer at Kentucky:

He’ll end up making a few respectable college big men look completely inferior as a 19-year-old freshman. Okafor was probably ready for Division I as a junior in high school.

But over the past year, Okafor, who’s built on the heavier side, has drawn rave reviews for his improved conditioning and mobility.

“His body is shaping up into where he can run the floor in consecutive trips like never before,” said (subscription required) ESPN’s Paul Biancardi following the Jordan Brand Classic. “Okafor is strong and physical and in the best shape I have seen him, and his motor is hitting on all cylinders,” added (subscription required) ESPN’s Reggie Rankin.

Okafor told Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy:

Right now, I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in – in my entire life. It all has to do with changing my diet. … It’s really helping me. I’m already seeing the improvement on the floor when I’m playing, working out or playing with some of my friends. I think I’m definitely far and away better from where I was last year.

Defense will be a point of emphasis for Okafor and scouts next season. While he’s got the tools to evolve into an effective rim protector, he hasn’t earned that reputation as a routine defensive game-changer.

And there will always be the skeptics who’ll tell you his underwhelming athletic ability will prevent him from dominating in the pros. 

Okafor isn’t a lock to go No. 1, but between a lack of standout competition, his expected immediate impact at Duke and the favorable risk-to-reward odds he offers as an NBA prospect, he’ll enter the 2014-15 season as the favorite.

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