Flashback to December, to Ohio State’s visit to Louisville. It was the Buckeyes’ first road game of the season and the biggest game of baby-faced freshman D’Angelo Russell’s young career. And what a game. Thrust into a playmaking role after the Cardinals’ pressure overwhelmed senior Shannon Scott, Russell helped Ohio State erase a 19-point lead before eventually falling short. His final line: 17 points, six rebounds and six assists in an eye-opening performance.
Today, Russell is the biggest surprise in college basketball. He’s averaging 19.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists. He’s played at least 32 minutes in each of his last 12 games and cracked 40 twice. He’s gone from decent prospect to full-fledged star, from a blip on the NBA’s radar to a player every team drafting in the top 10 is gathering information about—all in the span of a few months.
While it’s unlikely Russell—or anyone—can unseat the man entrenched at No. 1, his stellar play has elevated him to the spot right below him.
Onto Big Board 3.0, my latest projections of the top 20 prospects for the 2015 NBA draft.
1Jahlil Okafor, DukeC | 6-11, 270 pounds | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 1Okafor’s stellar season rolls along. He followed up a 20-point, 10-rebound effort against Notre Dame last week with a 23-point, 13-rebound performance against Syracuse on Sunday. Okafor continues to be an offensive wrecking ball, dazzling scouts with his ability to score inside and out. Okafor was considered the closest thing to a lock to go No. 1 at the start of the season and nothing has changed since.
22d'angelo Russell, ohio stateSG | 6-5, 180 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 8Russell’s improbable rise continues. His consistency from the floor (46.6%) and from deep (43.1%) has erased many doubts and his steadily improving playmaking have made several executives believe Russell’s future is at point guard. A vocal leader, Russell has all the intangibles to be an elite NBA playmaker. Not bad for a fairly unheralded prospect coming into the season.
33Karl-Anthony Towns, KentuckyC | 6-11, 250 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 3Towns’ struggles at the end of January—which included a four-game stretch of single-digit scoring and rebounding games—suggested that fatigue could be kicking in for the freshman, who is only averaging 20.2 minutes for a loaded Kentucky team. But Towns rebounded with four straight strong games, including a 12-point, 13-rebound showing in a narrow win over LSU. Scouts still love Towns’ offensive versatility and are projecting him as a dangerous inside-out threat at the next level.
4Emmanuel Mudiay, ChinaPG | 6-5, 200 | Age: 18
Last Big Board: No. 2Mudiay has not played for his Chinese team since injuring his right ankle in November, and at this point it’s unlikely he is going to play anywhere. Mudiay’s numbers in China were solid (17.7 points, 5.9 assists) and his issues getting on the floor have not scared team executives off. He’s a big, physical point guard who can play through contact; he won’t escape the top-five.
55Stanley Johnson, ArizonaSF | 6-7, 245 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 4Johnson continues to roll along in a solid season, posting 20 points and eight rebounds in a win over Washington last week. Scouts repeatedly praise Johnson’s better than expected shooting (47.8 FG% and 38.5 3P%) and rave about his physique and rebounding skills. At 18, Johnson is one of the draft’s youngest prospects and several execs believe he has All-Star potential.
6Kristaps Porzingis, LatviaPF | 6-11, 220 | Age: 19
Last Big Board: No. 5Porzingis maintains his foothold as the top international player in the draft. Several executives note that Porzingis is probably a year or two away from being an NBA rotation player, citing his age and body type. But he has excellent range and projects to develop into a solid stretch-four prospect.
7Mario Hezonja, CroatiaSG | 6-8, 200 | Age: 19
Last Big Board: No. 10Hezonja has been inconsistent, so opinions vary from scout to scout, many of whom are seeing him at different times. He’s also been getting inconsistent minutes for Barcelona, which has been maddening to the scouts hoping to see him get extended playing time. Those that love Hezonja see a versatile swingman with all the tools, including NBA three-point range. Those that are lukewarm see a talented international player who will struggle with the NBA’s physicality and half-court game.
8Kevon Looney, UCLAPF | 6-9, 220 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 12It’s still hard to get a real read on Looney. He has impressive physical tools, is a terrific rebounder and at times is clearly the best player on the floor. But he also has a tendency to disappear, which has not gone unnoticed by scouts. Still, Looney has put up some impressive numbers since the first of the year and shown more of the consistency scouts have been looking for. Worth noting: Looney, a 38.2 percent three-point shooter, has made four of his six three-pointers the last two games.
99Justise Winslow, DukeSF | 6-6, 225 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 7Winslow rebounded nicely from a sluggish mid-January stretch—one caused, at least in part, by nagging injuries, rattling off six straight double-digit scoring games, including three double-double’s. Winslow is still a pedestrian perimeter shooter but he has a knack for getting to the free-throw line (4.2 attempts per game). Now, if he could improve his free throw shooting (61.3 percent) NBA teams might be more impressed.
1010Frank Kaminsky, wisconsinC | 7-0, 242 | Senior
Last Big Board: No. 13At some point, we have to stop looking for reasons why we shouldn’t like Kaminsky and start looking at the many reasons we should. His numbers keep climbing—he’s shooting career bests from the floor (54.8%) and the three-point line (40%) while hauling in a career-high 8.4 rebounds per game. Yes, defense is an issue; it’s unclear if Kaminsky is quick enough to defend four’s or if he can build the strength to bang with five’s. But Kaminsky is blocking 1.6 shots per game and isn’t overwhelmed often. Teams should be careful not to sell him short.
1111Jerian Grant, Notre DamePG | 6-5, 202 | Senior
Last Big Board: 14Grant is a big, athletic playmaker who can get into the lane and finish at the rim. He plays heavy minutes (36.1 per game) for the Irish, something he has done since arriving on campus in 2011. He submitted a seven-point, four-assist clunker in Notre Dame’s loss to Duke last week but did shine with 23 points and 12 assists in the Irish’s upset win over the Blue Devils last month.
12Willie Cauley-Stein, KentuckyC | 7-0, 240 | Junior
Last Big Board: No. 5Cauley-Stein struggled much of January, registering just two double-digit scoring and rebounding games, though he has bounced back with three straight strong conference games in February. Those struggles have reinforced a belief among some executives that Cauley-Stein has a short ceiling offensively. He’s a menacing defensive prospect, who may be as NBA-ready as anyone in the top 10. But, like Kaminsky, his flaws are apparent.
1313Myles Turner, TexasC | 6-11, 240 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 11Continuing a trend of playing really well against bad opponents, Turner submitted a 25-point, 12-rebound performance against Texas Tech last weekend. Before that, he scored a combined 10 points against top-20 ranked Baylor and Kansas, with a 16-point effort against No. 15 Iowa State mixed in between. Turner is an impressive shot blocker (2.7 per game) but he needs to be more consistent against better competition.
1414Kelly Oubre, KansasSF | 6-7, 200 | Freshman
Last Big Board: No. 9Oubre is another inconsistent freshman, but unlike Turner, he has played well in big moments. Against top-25 ranked Iowa State (16 points, five rebounds), Baylor (18 poins, six rebounds) and West Virginia (14 points, seven rebounds) this month, Oubre had some of his best games of the season. A strong finish to the year could secure Oubre a spot in the top 10.
1515Devin Booker, KentuckySG | 6-6, 206 | Freshman
Last Big Board: N/AMeet the draft’s best shooting prospect. Despite a recent slump, Booker is connecting on 47.3% of his three’s and has impressed scouts with his form and release. With good size, Booker is an excellent two-guard prospect who could rise quickly with a strong NCAA tournament run.
1616Montrezl Harrell, LouisvillePF | 6-8, 240 | Junior
Last Big Board: No. 19Harrell continues to be a dynamic, Kenneth Faried-like power forward, thriving at the rim (84%) and on the glass (9.3 rebounds per game). His weaknesses’ still are what they are: He can’t shoot the three (21.2%) and his free throw shooting (61%) is still not consistent enough for a player who creates a lot of contact. Scout’s love his motor though and it’s hard to see him slipping out of the top 20.
1717Bobby Portis, ArkansasPF | 6-11, 242 | Sophomore
Last Big Board: N/AThe more you watch Portis, the more you like him. Portis has excellent size, can run the floor and is strong enough to finish through contact. He doesn’t shoot many three’s but he has shown good range (47.4%) when he does and is a strong rebounder (8.6 per game). Arkansas has some interesting matchups coming up, including a showdown against No. 1 Kentucky at the end of the month that could influence Portis’s draft stock.
1818Caris LeVert, MichiganSG | 6-7, 200 | Junior
Last Big Board: No. 18A broken foot ended LeVert’s season last month, a major disappointment for some executives who were anxious to see how LeVert finished the year. LeVert has prototypical two-guard size and shot well enough from three (40.5 percent) to convince several scouts that he could do it on the next level. His mid-range game needs work, but he’s a nice developmental player for a team picking in the second half of the first round.
1919Justin Anderson, VirginiaSG | 6-6, 227 | Junior
Last Big Board: 17Anderson’s fractured finger likely ended his regular season and could cost him time in the NCAA tournament. His shooting slipped some before the injury—he bookended a 16-point effort against North Carolina with an 11-point game (including 1-6 from three) against Duke and a two-point stinker against Louisville—but overall his perimeter game has been a pleasant surprise. Like everyone else at Virginia, Anderson is a terrific defender, which will certainly keep him in the top-20 mix.
2020Cliff Alexander, KansasSF | 6-8, 240 | Freshman
Last Big Board: N/AAlexander received an honorable mention in the last Big Board, and though he has not set the world on fire since (just one double-double in his last nine games) there is a growing swell of support for him among scouts to move him into the top 20. What Alexander lacks in height he makes up for in brute strength. There is not a lot of polish to his game yet but a playoff team could snatch him and stick him in the D-League to develop.