NBA Big Board 2.0: Jahlil Okafor tops latest rankings; Cauley-Stein climbs
Before we get to our latest Big Board, a few quick words on three players who just missed the cut:
• Robert Upshaw, C, Washington: Big, shot-blocking center with some baggage from a lost year at Fresno.
• Chris Walker, PF, Florida: So many physical tools. If he develops any offensive game, look out.
• Cliff Alexander, PF, Kansas: A hyped high schooler whose game is slowly starting to come along. See: Tuesday's dunk against Oklahoma State.
Keep an eye on that trio. All of them could be in the top 20 before the year is out.
Onto the Big Board, my projections of the top 20 prospects for the 2015 NBA draft.
• MORE NBA: SI.com picks starters for 2015 NBA All-Star Game
1Jahlil Okafor, DukeC | 6-11, 270 pounds | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 1Duke’s rough week — which included back-to-back losses to NC State and Miami — did little to hurt Okafor’s standing among NBA executives as the top player in the draft. Okafor followed a 23-point, 12-rebound effort over the Wolfpack with a 15-point, 15-rebound game against Miami. Questions about Okafor’s shaky reputation as a rim protector were (somewhat) answered with four blocks against Boston College and three against the Wolfpack. Said one GM, “It’s going to take something crazy to knock him off the top spot.”
2Emmanuel Mudiay, ChinaPG | 6-5, 200 | Age: 18
Last Big Board: No. 3An ankle injury has made Mudiay inactive since mid-November, and some NBA-types believe he may never play for Guangdong again. That hasn’t diminished scouts lust for the dynamic playmaker. Mudiay isn’t among the best playmaking prospects in the draft — he’s the best, and it’s not even close.
33Karl-Anthony Towns, KentuckyC | 6-11, 250 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 2Towns' teammate, Willie Cauley-Stein is the draft’s fastest riser (more on that below) but Towns is considered the more complete prospect. Towns' offense has ticked up since a December dip and scouts rave about his hands and touch around the rim. He’s also an active rebounder and shot blocker, evidenced by his five-blocks against Missouri earlier this week.
44Stanley Johnson, ArizonaSF | 6-7, 245 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 4A physical, defensive-minded small forward, Johnson is starting to open some eyes with his offense too, including his three-point shooting (42.9 percent). One scout said Johnson has Joe Johnson potential, citing a belief that the Arizona freshman can add a Joe Johnson-like floater to his game. Stanley Johnson is a menace in the open floor; when he gets the ball in transition, he’s either scoring or getting to the line.
5Willie Cauley-Stein, KentuckyC | 7-0, 240 | Junior
Last Big Board: No. 10A monster stretch in early December rocketed Cauley-Stein up draft boards, and while he has cooled off since then, teams still rate him among the best big men prospects in the draft. Scouts love his defense, citing his ability to defend the paint and step out and guard on the perimeter. Is he a top-five pick? Teams will be reluctant given his offense has a short ceiling. But he will be ready to play right away.
6Kristaps Porzingis, LatviaPF | 6-11, 220 | Age: 19
Last Big Board: No. 5Porzingis continues to look like a terrific stretch-four prospect. He’s shooting 44.4 percent from three in Eurocup games. Porzingis is fearless, with a quick release that should translate well in the NBA. As noted before, his lack of strength is an issue, and he’s less effective off the dribble and creating contact at the rim. But he’s a high energy player with good defensive instincts and should improve in all areas as he gets stronger.
77Justise Winslow, DukeSF | 6-6, 225 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 7Winslow missed 5-of-6 three-pointers against NC State and was flat-out awful in Duke’s loss to Miami. Still, he is an explosive athlete who has been reasonably consistent from beyond the arc this season. If Winslow can parlay his ability to score around the rim with a more polished perimeter game, he’s a lock to stay in the top 10.
88d'angelo Russell, ohio stateSG | 6-5, 180 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 11One GM told SI.com recently, “I badly want [Russell] to be able to be a point guard.” Russell is a dynamic athlete who can shoot well from the floor (45.5 percent), the three-point line (44 percent) and the free throw line (80 percent) and plays off screens like a four-year starter. Russell shoulders a heavy load in the Buckeyes’ offense, but scouts have been enthused by his early playmaking.
9Kelly oubre, kansasSF | 6-7, 200 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 16After a slow start, Oubre has picked up considerably. He scored 20-plus points in two of his last three games in December and scored 14 in a win over No. 24 Oklahoma State this week. Oubre is connecting on 45.9 percent of his three’s and has shown nice defensive instincts playing the passing lanes. Overall, the rapid improvement is encouraging.
9Mario Hezonja, CroatiaSG | 6-8, 200 | Age: 19
Last Big Board: No. 9Hezonja’s numbers have tailed off in recent weeks, but many executives believe he has starting two-guard potential. Hezonja is a dangerous three-point shooter who has steadily improved his ability to score off the dribble this season. He will need to fill out, but his upside is extremely high.
118Myles Turner, TexasC | 6-11, 240 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 8Inconsistency is a common problem among young players, and Turner is no exception. Some days, like an 18-point, six-rebound effort against Oklahoma State last week, Turner looks like a potential star. Other days, like a four-point, five-rebound effort against No. 16 Oklahoma, he looks like a massive project. The real Turner is somewhere in between, though scouts continue to look for him to succeed against top competition.
6Kevon Looney, UCLAPF | 6-9, 220 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 6Looney is another prospect plagued by inconsistency. He made a powerful impression on NBA scouts last week with a 27-point, 19-rebound effort in a double-overtime win over Stanford, and he posted double-figure scoring in the next two games. But scouts who watch Looney question his motor, with one describing him as “going through the motions” at times during games. It’s something to keep an eye on the rest of the way.
1314Frank kaminsky, wisconsinC | 7-0, 242 | Senior
Last Big Board: No. 14Kaminsky rolls along as one of college basketball’s best players. He posted three straight double-doubles before a 21-point, four-rebound night against Purdue last week. His three-point shooting (36.4 percent) has dipped a little from last season but he is still dangerous from the perimeter and he’s rebounding (8.2 per game) at a career-high clip. Kaminsky is going to be a polarizing prospect all season.
14Jerian Grant, Notre DamePG | 6-5, 202 | Senior
Last Big Board: N/AOh look, another Grant has become an NBA prospect. The son of Harvey, the nephew of Horace and the older brother of Sixers forward Jerami, Jerian is a big, athletic playmaker who gets to the foul line and can finish at the rim. He’s on the older side (23) for a college prospect and his three-point shooting has been bad lately. Scouts are eager to see what Grant does against tough ACC defenses over the next month.
15R.J. Hunter, Georgia StateSG | 6-6, 190 | Junior
Last Big Board: N/AAnd a mid-major prospect is on the board! Hunter, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year, is putting up some eye-popping numbers. He followed up a 27-point, six-assist effort against Louisiana-Lafayette with 37 points and five assists against Troy. His three-point shooting has plummeted (30.9 percent) but he is a prolific shooter (8.5 attempts per game), so that number could rise quickly. There’s a lot to like here.
16Tyrone Wallace, CalPG | 6-5, 200 | Junior
Last Big Board: N/AWallace is another promising point-guard prospect. He is a tremendous rebounder (8.2 per game) and loves creating contact in the paint (6.3 free throws attempted per game). His three-point shooting is OK (34.7 per game) and he is still transitioning to the point position. Cal’s recent skid hasn’t helped Wallace’s stock, but outside of a four-point, five-assist clunker against UCLA, he has played reasonably well.
17Justin Anderson, VirginiaSG | 6-6, 227 | Junior
Last Big Board: N/ALike most at Virginia, Anderson can defend. It’s his shooting that has stunned NBA scouts. Anderson is connecting on 55.7 percent of his three-pointers, up from 29.4 percent last season. He knocked down two in a win over No. 13 Notre Dame last week and three more in a subsequent win over Clemson. His mid-range game is a weakness — he’s making only 33.3 percent of his two-point jumpers — and he’s making a ho-hum 62.4 percent of his shots at the rim. But good defense and three-point shooting will keep you in the mid-first round mix.
18Caris LeVert, michiganSG | 6-7, 200 | Junior
Last Big Board: No. 17LeVert has not been able to pull Michigan out of mediocrity, but his three-point shooting continues to appeal to NBA teams. His mid-range game has been awful (32.6 percent on two-point jumpers) but he is solid at the rim (74.3 percent) and some scouts say the fact that he draws so much attention on the floor needs to be taken into account.
19Montrezl harrell, louisvillePF | 6-8, 240 | Junior
Last Big Board: No. 13Harrell has looked average in a couple of big opportunities. He scored nine points in a high-profile matchup against Kentucky (and Willie Cauley-Stein) last month and had nine against No. 18 North Carolina two weeks later. Said one scout, “With a body like that, he needs to be like Ben Wallace. He’s not.”
20Rondae hollis-jefferson, arizonaSF | 6-7, 220 | Sophomore
Last Big Board: No. 19Hollis-Jefferson rebounded from back-to-back poor showings to end the year with three straight strong games against Arizona State, Oregon and Oregon State. The most common criticism is shooting: Hollis-Jefferson isn’t taking three-pointers (one per game) or making them (25 percent) but scouts absolutely love his defense, and his true shooting percentage (61.2 percent) is solid.