Placing 2015 NBA draft prospects into tiers

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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
  • Potential
  • 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.

Tier 1

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.

Tier 2

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.

Tier 3

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.

Tier 4

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.

Tier 5

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.

Tier 6

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.

Tier 7

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.

Tier 8

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.

Tier 9

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.

Tier 10

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.

Tier 11

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.

Andre Iguodala out for Game 4 against Portland with sore calf

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Andre Iguodala was limited in Game 3 in Portland, playing just 18 minutes Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. An MRI on his left calf Sunday came back clean, but he was questionable with leg tightness, officially. Call it a sore calf if you prefer.

Up 3-0 in the series, there was no reason to risk something worse in Game 4, so Iguodala is out, coach Steve Kerr announced pregame.

Alfonzo McKinnie will start in place of Iguodala.

Iguodala joins Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on the Warriors bench for Game 4.

If there is a Game 5, it will be Wednesday night in the Bay Area.

With the NBA Finals not starting until May 30 — a week from this Thursday — the Warriors have plenty of time to rest and get their starters healed before taking on a serious challenger from the East (whether that is Milwaukee or Toronto). The Warriors have used their depth against Portland to help keep minutes down for their starters and Kerr will lean on that bench to close out the series in the next couple of games.

Report: Rockets, Mike D’Antoni talking contract extension

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Mike D’Antoni, the father of the seven seconds or less system that started a revolution of NBA style, has changed in recent years. In Houston, with James Harden at his peak and this specific roster around him, D’Antoni now coaches an isolation-heavy team that has pushed the NBA envelope in other ways, particularly in trusting the three ball.

D’Antoni fits with Daryl Morey, and the sides have started talking contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni have had preliminary discussions about the framework of a contract extension that would keep the two-time NBA Coach of the Year from entering the final year of his deal…

“I’ve let [general manager] Daryl [Morey] and [team owner] Tilman [Fertitta] know that I’m energized to keep coaching — and believe that I can continue to do this at a high level for at least another three years,” D’Antoni, 68, told ESPN on Sunday night.

“I want to be a part of a championship here.”

This is the smart move, he is a part of what has made the Rockets such a success in recent years.

The Rockets should look for roster upgrades this summer but they should not be blowing things up. The Rockets were the second best team in the NBA last season and may have been again by the playoffs this season (it depends on where you want to put Milwaukee and Toronto in that ranking, but the Rockets were in the mix). Houston’s problem has been a historic dynasty in Golden State, but that could look very different next season. If the Warriors take a step or two back, for whatever reasons, Houston is poised to pounce. They will be contenders.

D’Antoni is a part of that, and the Rockets need to keep one of the best coaches in the game in house.

Magic Johnson just explained he didn’t understand his Lakers job

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The Lakers spring of dysfunction continues, and every time you don’t think things could get much worse…

This time Magic Johnson went on ESPN’s First Take and went Daenerys on the dragon on the Lakers, saying what he thought made him look good, or at least what made him seem the victim. If you think it was an accident Magic did that on the day the Lakers were hosting a press conference to introduce Frank Vogel as their new coach, well, I know a Nigerian prince who just needs a few of your dollars.

True or not, Magic genuinely believes everything he said on that show — that GM Rob Pelinka stabbed him in the back by questioning Magic’s work ethic and commitment to the job. That Jesse Buss and Joey Buss are trying to grab more power (maybe they should have more power). That Tim Harris has been encroaching from the business side to the basketball side. That his good friend Jeanie Buss was not keeping all those people in their lanes.

While this is Magic’s word, those are all issues (or, to my eyes, symptoms of the Lakers’ dysfunction).

What Magic doesn’t understand: Dealing with all that was EXACTLY his job.

This is what it means to be the President of Basketball Operations (POBO) of an NBA team. Yes, you get to make draft picks, hire/fire coaches, and have the hammer on trades, but that’s just a part of the gig. You manage the entire basketball side of the business. Manage being the key word here. This is a job more about organization and setting a culture than it is basketball decisions.

If Pelinka is calling you out, get in a room with him and Jeanie Buss and deal with it.

Or, you know, actually show up to the office more. Magic said he told Jeanie Buss he would be “in and out” because he wasn’t giving up is other businesses, and she okayed it. That showed a lack of understanding on both their parts as to what this job actually entails. Magic was not a consultant who got to parachute in for a few days once or twice a month and make decisions. He was the POBO — this is the job for a grinder. It’s long hours of mostly of thankless work. It’s culture setting. It’s scouting mid-major college games to know who to draft in the second round. It’s talking to everyone from other teams to have a real understanding of the value of your players in the market, and the value of other players you may want. It’s understanding the chemistry makeup of your own team enough to know that if things go public with your efforts to land Anthony Davis midseason — and they will go public, one way or another — it could devastate your team. It’s much more than that, too.

If the younger Buss brothers were angling for more power, it’s Magic’s job to keep them in line. If CEO Tim Harris is getting out of his lane, put him back in it. If it takes help from Jeanie Buss to do those things, then you better be able to manage up and get her to handle it. For a POBO, managing the owner is part of the job (and a harder job in some markets than others).

It’s understandable why Magic wanted out of this Lakers’ job, it was not a good fit for him from the start. He enjoyed his celebrity too much, he wasn’t going to put in the kind of hours needed to do the job properly (there are certainly other GMs/POBOs around the league who do this as well but don’t get called out for it this way, welcome to the Lakers). Him stepping aside was the right move.

But what we saw on ESPN Monday was a quality encapsulation of the Lakers dysfunction right now — a lot of people stepping out of their lanes and nobody shaping a culture.

I could write (or say in on a podcast/in a radio interview) for what feels like the 487th time that what the Lakers need to do is hire a go outside Jeanie Buss’ tight circle of friends, outside her comfort zone, outside the “Lakers way,” and go get a very good POBO with experience from somewhere else — this is where being the Lakers is an advantage, go poach someone, this is a coveted job — and then give that person all the power. Stay out of the way. Let this person shape the culture. I could write that, but the Lakers will not be replacing Magic. So what you see is what you get.

And all of this might not matter — the Lakers may back their way into a good summer.

LeBron James (who showed up at Frank Vogel’s press conference) may help them recruit a quality free agent, or maybe the Anthony Davis trade talks turn their way after all. One way or another, expect the Lakers to get someone (whether that someone is good enough is another question for another day). Maybe this time the Lakers will put shooters and a good fitting roster around LeBron and this other star. Despite the dysfunction, this could all work out.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers are doing things the right way as an organization, how they operate will hurt them in the long run. It’s just in the short run it may work out.

And the Lakers will take that as a sign they are doing things right. Despite the fact Monday showed they clearly are not. Even if it came from the fact Magic didn’t really get what he was hired to do.

Sebastian Telfair’s sister charged with threatening witness who testified against him

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NEW YORK (AP) The sister of former NBA player Sebastian Telfair was accused on Monday of threatening a woman who testified against him at his New York City gun-possession trial.

Octavia Telfair was charged in federal court in Brooklyn with transmitting an interstate threat. There was no immediate response to an email seeking comment from her lawyer.

Sebastian Telfair – a once highly touted point guard with a disappointing NBA career and a history of brushes with the law – was convicted last month of carrying loaded guns in his pickup truck. Witnesses included his estranged wife and a girlfriend.

Shortly after the guilty verdict, Octavia Telfair made threatening phone calls to one of the witnesses in California, according to a criminal complaint that didn’t identify the alleged victim. The sister told the woman she either was “gonna die” or going to have to live with a “rearranged face,” the complaint says.

The Brooklyn-born Sebastian Telfair was a first-round draft pick out of high school in 2004. He started with the Portland Trail Blazers and spent time with the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves and other teams before ending his career in China in 2014.

Telfair and a friend were arrested in 2007 after a traffic stop during which police found a loaded handgun in the vehicle. He pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to three years’ probation.

Telfair faces 3 + to 15 years in prison at his sentencing next month for his current gun case.