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.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.