As I outlined last year:
Draft for need or take the best player available?
It’s the question as old as drafts themselves.Personally, I favor the middle-of-the-road approach – the tier system. I judge prospects on three attributes:
- Current ability
- Likelihood of meeting that potential
Obviously, assessing those attributes is not easy. It’s really hard.
That’s why I don’t like taking the best prospect – based on all three criteria – available. It’s just too difficult to split hairs between players with so many variables.
But overly considering fit is problematic for the same reason. Rosters churn, and it’s foolish to pass on a clearly better prospect – in the cases that becomes clear – just because he doesn’t fit the current version of the team.
So how does the tier system work?
Divide players into tiers based on their value regardless of fit. Don’t worry about differentiating prospects with nearly identical values. Find natural cutoffs.
Then, within each tier, rank the players based on fit for the specific drafting team.
Theoretically, a draft could have anywhere between 1 and 60 tiers. A 1-tier draft would mean every prospect – from the top pick to Mr. Irrelevant – holds the same value. A 60-tier draft would mean every prospect is clearly distinguishable based on value. Obviously, neither is likely.
The size of tiers should be organic, and therefore, the number of tiers is also organic. Naturally, tiers tend to be smaller near the top of the draft, where lines between players are sharper.
Here are my tiers for the 2015 draft, going through as many tiers as necessary to cover the top 30 prospects. Within each tier, I rank players as if the teams drafting had empty rosters. Obviously, actual NBA teams would need to consider other information when assessing fit of players within a tier.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky
Towns is probably the draft’s talent, but what really sets him apart is his versatility. Teams picking this high should change significantly over the coming years. Towns has a wide enough skill set to let his team set any style around him, opening more opportunities for growth.
2. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Okafor is an elite post-up scorer, but can you build a strong defense with him at center? Don’t write off a 19-year-old’s ability to improve defensively. Besides, he might be good enough offensively to be a good pro regardless of what happens on the other end.
3. D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State
Russell will bend NBA defenses in the pick-and-roll with his ability to shoot from outside, score at the rim and pass. You can’t easily defend all three simultaneously. Still, Russell’s lack of elite athleticism presents some bust risk.
4. Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China
It’s a little unnerving to have a lead guard who’s not a strong shooter, but Mudiay warrants the risk. Possessing good athleticism and strength, he projects as a steadying force on both ends of the court.
5. Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
Porzingis is a 7-foot, athletic, jump-shooting 19-year-old. His flaws – inside scoring, rebounding and toughness – could be entirely explained away by his thin frame. As he fills out, maybe everything comes together – or maybe his deficiencies are shown to be caused by something else.
6. Justise Winslow, SF, Duke
Winslow flat-out plays hard all the time. That goes a long way, especially with his specialty: defense. His offensive defensive development has been encouraging, though he still needs work on that end.
7. Myles Turner, C, Texas
Turner is a big rebounder and shot-blocker who also shoots 3-pointers. It’s an intriguing skill set. I’d feel a little better about him if he were a more fluid athlete and had a chance to prove himself in more minutes per game during his lone college season. On the other hand, maybe Texas just didn’t have the scheme to make him look good – which would underrate him.
8. Stanley Johnson, SF, Arkansas
Johnson is a little confusing. He doesn’t have the prettiest stroke, but he shot well from outside at Arizona. He looks like a great athlete at times, but he didn’t finish well at the rim. I suppose that cancels out, though there’s a concern one trend will reverse. There’s no doubting Johnson’s defensive potential, though.
9. Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia
Hezonja is a sweet-shooting, athletic wing with a ton of confidence. That last trait comes with plenty of positives and negatives.
10. Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
I had Cauley-Stein one tier up before news of his injury. That was just enough to bump him down. I love his defensive potential, but don’t act as if he’s a lock to become Defensive Player of the Year – and without the assurance he’ll excel on one end, his offensive flaws and rebounding question marks become more meaningful.
11. Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin
Kaminsky was the rare college senior who played so well in his fourth year, it outweighed his age advantage. But there’s no wiping away his lack of athleticism and strength.
12. Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State
Payne has the shooting and passing ability and vision to succeed in the pick-and-roll. If he could score better at the rim, he’d jump a tier or two. As is, he can at least get by with pull-up jumpers and floaters.
13. Bobby Portis, PF, Arizona
Portis plays hard and smart, skills that allow him to be pretty good at nearly everything (though great at nothing). His lack of elite athleticism limits his upside and provides a little worry about how he projects to the next level.
14. R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State
I still believe Hunter is a top-end shooter, though his heavy usage against defenses keyed on him last season exposed the limits of his stroke. But his free-throw percentage remained a sparkling 88, a positive sign. Another bright side: Hunter showed a more well-rounded game as he took a bigger load.
15. Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky
He can flat-out shoot 3s. If he can do anything else, he didn’t show it at Kentucky. But as one of the draft’s youngest prospects, Booker could still round out his game. It’s not as if Kentucky needed more than his one dimension.
16. Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
Dekker uses his athleticism and court vision to find open shots (inside and out) and avoid turnovers. His length is a real defensive weapon. I just don’t trust his 3-point shooting enough to rank him higher.
17. Tyus Jones, PG, Duke
Jones has excellent court vision with the outside shooting and passing ability to take advantage of it. He just doesn’t have an NBA body or athleticism.
18. Kevon Looney, PF, UCLA
The gap between what Looney can do and what Looney has done is wide. The flashes of talent are there. But can he put it all together?
19. Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky
A natural power forward, Lyles spent the season playing small forward. That says something about his skill level. But it’s a little unnerving we didn’t get to see more of Lyles in the role he’ll play in the pros.
20. Delon Wright, PG, Utah
Wright can do a bit of everything, but he probably needs the ball in his hands to maximize his ability. Is he good enough to regularly deserve the ball in his hands? Probably as a backup.
21. Kelly Oubre, SF, Kansas
Oubre has a nice frame and athleticism. He just doesn’t have much feel for the game – a harsh reality, but not a deal-breaker at 19.
22. Justin Anderson, SF, Virginia
Anderson is exceptionally strong for a wing, and he has a high motor. How well can he shoot from outside? The results are mixed, but I’d bet on his work ethic.
23. Christian Wood, PF, UNLV
His face-up game is intriguing as the 19-year-old grows into his 6-foot-11 frame. But does he have the desire to eliminate his bad shots or work to shoot better?
24. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona
He’s a prototypical wing besides his lack of shooting ability. That’s a major, though correctable, flaw.
25. Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame
Grant, who has an advanced offensive game after spending five years in college, is a relatively low-risk, low-reward prospect. Teams need backup point guards.
26. Michael Frazier, SG, Florida
Frazier can make spot-up 3-pointers. We’ve seen enough not to expect more, but there’s a role for that in the NBA.
27. Chris McCullough, PF, Syracuse
He’s the type of raw prospect who’s worth betting on at this point in the draft. It probably won’t pay off, but you could end up with someone who would have been a lottery pick next year.
28. Cedi Osman, SF, Turkey
Osman has nice size and athleticism, and he passes well for his position. There are tools to work with – just not a reliable jumper.
29. Anthony Brown, SF, Stanford
Is the fifth-year senior a late bloomer or someone who just outgrew college competition? That question will dictate the future of the 3-and-D wing.
30. Richaun Holmes, PF, Bowling Green
He already looks like a solid defender, blocking shots and cleaning the glass. Plus, he has made offensive progress throughout his career. But his competition level makes it difficult to have more confidence in him.
31. Joseph Young, SG, Oregon
The 6-foot-2 Young will either be a very undersized shooting guard or a point guard with very inadequate distributing skills. His athleticism gives him a chance to overcome the former predicament. His production level probably fits better with players one tier lower, but his style seems to offer a well-worn path to NBA playing time as a scoring guard off the bench.
32. Mouhammadou Jaiteh, C, France
Jaiteh has the size to bang in the post, the hands to catch entry passes and the touch to finish. His lack of leaping ability raises plenty of questions on both ends of the court, though.