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.

Report: FBI investigating Big Baller Brand co-founder Gregory Alan Foster

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It’s sad that people take advantage of athletes. A lot of people do it when these guys are very young and clearly talented, and Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is no stranger to that.

Ball cut ties with his Big Baller Brand earlier this year, even covering up his “BBB” tattoo with a bad-looking pair of dice. This was because Gregory Alan Foster, one of his confidants and business partners, allegedly stole money from the company to the tune of several million dollars.

Now the FBI is reportedly investigating Foster for his involvement in bilking money from Ball.

Via LA Times:

The FBI is now investigating whether Foster defrauded the Ball family out of millions of dollars, according to two law enforcement sources. While it’s unclear when exactly the official investigation began, one of those sources said it is at least two months old.

Lonzo Ball and the family’s shoe and clothing business recently accused Foster in a lawsuit of taking more than $1.5 million out of the company’s bank accounts and accepting “substantial undisclosed referral fees” from at least eight loans he arranged on behalf of the company.

“[Foster is] like my second dad,” Lonzo replied. “So when he came to me, I just talked to him and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He just gave me his story. Now, looking back at it, obviously I wish we would have jumped at it back in October.”

According to the Times, Foster’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Hopefully Ball will be able to recover some kind of financial damages from all of this.

Spurs’ smart defense, veterans force Game 7 with 120-103 win over Nuggets

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Nikola Jokic had a career night — 43 points, a personal and franchise playoff best, plus 12 rebounds and nine assists. Once again the two-man game, the pick-and-roll with him and Jamal Murray got into the lane and carved up San Antonio.

The Spurs lived with that. What they did, however, was not collapse off Denver’s shooters to help in the paint — to try to contest twos but give up good-look threes. Denver got its buckets inside — they won the points in the paint battle 72-36 — but shot just 8-of-31 outside the paint on the night.

The Nuggets stars took the shots they were given — Jokic and Murray combined to take 51 percent of Denver’s shots, up from 34.6 percent and 40.5 percent in the previous two wins — but the ball movement and transition buckets that characterize the Nuggets were missing. The Spurs took that away.

Combine that with veterans LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points on 10-of-18 shooting), DeMar DeRozan (25 points on 12-of-16 shooting), and Rudy Gay (19 points on 7-of-11 shooting) stepping up and you end up with the Spurs pulling away for a 120-103 Game 6 win on their home court.

It forces Game 7 Saturday in Denver. The winner advances to take on Portland in the second round.

“We didn’t defend tonight, from the jump ball,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “They came out and scored 34 points in the first quarter, shot 70 percent or close to it [66.7 percent in first], and to give up 120 points in a potential elimination game, 57 [percent shooting]. It just wasn’t good enough.”

The game was decided by a 22-4 San Antonio run that spanned the end of the third and into the start of the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets pulled away.

“It was turnovers for us, it was offensive rebounds for them, and just no defense,” Malone said of the run.

The other difference in the game was the three-point shooting, an area where the Nuggets have dominated through the first five games. Thursday both teams took 24 shots from three, but the Spurs made 10 and the Nuggets six. That’s a dozen points to San Antonio in an area Denver needs to win.

It was like that all night.

San Antonio came out playing like the desperate team on the brink of elimination, playing with energy and staring out 7-of-10 from the floor. The Spurs built up a 10-point point first-quarter lead behind Aldridge, who had 13 points in the first quarter, 6-of-9 from the floor, plus the team shot 65.4 percent for the quarter.

Denver was not phased (this was the fifth time in six games they lost the first quarter), and after shooting 0-of-7 in the first quarter hit 4-of-5 to start the second. The Nuggets got back to playing the kind of ball-movement hoops — with a lot of Murray and Jokic playing off each other and scoring — and the Nuggets grabbed the lead back in the quarter. However, after a DeRozan putback bucket off his own missed free throw at the buzzer gave the Spurs a 64-60 lead at the half. That hustle play seemed to signify the Spurs night.

The game was close through much of the third, but the trends favored San Antonio.

Then the late-quarter run started, and Denver faded. Now they need to find their mojo on the plane home, because Saturday is win-or-go-home for everybody.

Chris Paul doesn’t like anyone touching the top of his head (VIDEO)

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Chris Paul is listed at six feet tall, and he’s definitely not any shorter than that. Nope, no sir. To even suggest as much would be ridiculous!

In any case, Paul is shorter than most of his teammates because he plays in the NBA. As such, Paul has probably had a lifetime of everyone towering over him despite his obvious incredible talent surpassing those of his compatriots.

So maybe being touched on the top of the head is a weird “thing” for him? At least, that’s what it appeared to be from this video.

Via Twitter:

You know somebody has a trigger when they are ready to turn around and fight you after a playoff series win, especially when they’re your own teammate.

Note to everybody: don’t touch the top of Chris Paul’s head.

Hall of Famer and Celtics hero John Havlicek dies at 79

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Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics Legend John Havlicek has died.

According to the team, the 13-time All-Star passed away peacefully in his home in Jupiter, Fla. The Celtics released an announcement on their website marking Havlicek contribution to the team.

Via Boston Celtics:

John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments. He was a great champion both on the court and in the community, winning 8 NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP, while holding Celtics career records for points scored and games played. Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, he is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame and his retired #17 hangs in the Garden rafters. His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self. He was extraordinarily thoughtful and generous, both on a personal level and for those in need, as illustrated by his commitment to raising money for The Genesis Foundation for Children for over three decades through his fishing tournament. John was kind and considerate, humble and gracious. He was a champion in every sense, and as we join his family, friends, and fans in mourning his loss, we are thankful for all the joy and inspiration he brought to us.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released this statement:

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA.  He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history.  A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players.  We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

No matter what kind of basketball fan you are, if you know anything about the history of the game you at least have the phrase “Havlicek stole the ball!” burned into the folds of your brain.

That famous steal came in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals to seal a Game 7 win against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston would go on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Finals that season.

Thoughts are with Havlicek family and Celtics fans, who of course will remember him in their own special way today.