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2015 NBA draft grades for top five picks
4:17 | NBA
2015 NBA draft grades for top five picks
Monday June 29th, 2015

We aren’t even a week removed from the 2015 NBA draft, which means it’s the perfect time to start planning for 2016. Once again, the top 15 is filled primarily with potential one-and-done prospects. Some of them will underperform or choose to remain at school, while other college upperclassmen may emerge as lottery picks, a la Frank Kaminsky or Willie Cauley-Stein.

1. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
Freshman | 7-foot, 216 pounds | center

Labissiere could become the second Kentucky 7-footer in a row taken atop the NBA draft. He isn’t yet the post player that Karl Towns is, but remember that Kentucky coach John Calipari forced Towns to play more in the paint as a freshman and helped him to develop those post moves. If Labissiere can develop a few go-to post moves to pair with his perimeter skills, he’ll be a no-brainer in the top spot. The biggest potential problem for Labissiere would be an NCAA investigation into the prep school he played for in high school.

2. Ben Simmons, LSU
Freshman | 6’10”, 239 pounds | forward

An Australian native, Simmons came to the U.S. in 2013 to play for Montverde (Fla.) prep, which regularly churns out college and NBA prospects. His godfather, David Patrick, is an assistant at LSU and helped to secure his commitment. Simmons has experience playing all five positions and has the ballhandling to prove it. At 6’10” and 225 (and counting) pounds, he’ll be a matchup problem for almost every opponent in the SEC.

• MORE NBA: Draft winners, losers | Top undrafted players | Draft grades

3. Brandon Ingram, Duke
Freshman | 6’9”, 196 pounds | forward

The next in the line of one-and-done prospects at Duke, Ingram is a 6’9” power forward with an impressive 7’3” wingspan. He was a winner in high school, securing four straight state titles; and he’ll be beloved in Duke, considering he spurned North Carolina in choosing to become a Blue Devil. He needs to add some serious weight to his frame in order to be an NBA scorer, but he won’t turn 18 until September, so teams will love the idea of his upside.

4. Dragan Bender, Maccabi Tel Aviv
17 years old | 7’1”, 216 pounds | forward

SI introduced most of the world to the legend of Dragan Bender in an August 2014 piece from Luke Winn. A skilled 7-footer who is a three-point threat, Bender will no doubt draw comparisons to Kristaps Porzingis. Of course, if that means that he will be selected in the top five, that shouldn’t be a problem for the Croatian big man. Bender has international and professional experience and could be ready to jump to the NBA right away after being drafted.

5. Jaylen Brown, Cal
Freshman | 6’6”, 222 pounds | forward

Brown was one of the biggest recruiting coups so far in the early tenure of Cuonzo Martin at Cal. Golden Bears fans will love watching Brown drive to the basket and finish at the rim. He’s a raw defensive prospect but is athletic enough to guard multiple positions in college and potentially even the NBA. He and fellow five-star prospect Ivan Rabb will help raise each other’s draft profiles.

6. Jakob Poeltl, Utah
Sophomore | 7-foot, 235 pounds | center

The first returning college player on this list, Poeltl was one of the key’s to Utah’s unexpected run to the Sweet 16 last season. He benefited a lot from having Delon Wright (the No. 20 pick in 2015) running the point for his Utes, but now will be given an opportunity to be the focal point of his team’s offense. He’s a back-to-the-basket center who could work on his rebounding and passing but has quick feet and excellent defensive instincts.

7. Diamond Stone, Maryland
Freshman | 6’10”, 250 pounds | center

Stone is slightly undersized as a center, but he is a big man in the mold of Jahlil Okafor, who prefers to play underneath the rim. He should shine at Maryland and could see his NBA draft prospect rise. The Terrapins could open the season as the No. 1 team in the country and will be a threat to take home a national championship. Stone will have room to work thanks to a number of skilled three-point shooters, including fellow potential first-round draft picks Melo Trimble and Jake Layman.

• MORE NBA: NCAA route, not abroad, is better track

Kelly Kline/Getty Images

8. Malik Newman, Mississippi State
Freshman | 6’4”, 185 pounds | guard

Newman is the prized recruit of Ben Howland’s first summer at the helm in Starkville, Miss. The son of former Mississippi State star Horatio Webster, Newman has basketball in his blood. And since he will come into school as far and away the most talented player for the Bulldogs, expect him to put up big numbers in likely his only season.

9. Kris Dunn, Providence
Redshirt junior | 6’3”, 205 pounds | guard

As with every season, there were too many players who declared early for the NBA draft and not enough spots for them to be selected. Dunn, in a rare move, spurned the chance of being selected in the lottery—he certainly wouldn’t have slipped out of the first round—to return to school. He’s been hampered by injuries and could use another full season to show off his dynamic game. He could also work to reduce his turnovers and prove that he can be an NBA point guard.

10. Cheick Diallo, Kansas
Freshman | 6’9”, 220 pounds | forward

Diallo could suffer early in his NBA draft scouting reports because of comparisons to Cliff Alexander, the Kansas prospect who only played part of his freshman season before an NCAA investigation ruled him ineligible. He went undrafted in 2015. The comparisons between Diallo and Alexander end, though, with them being slightly undersized power forwards who chose to play for the Jayhawks. Diallo is more athletic, with excellent leaping ability and a more natural ability to score. He could be an immediate offensive impact for the team that drafts him.

11. Furkan Korkmaz, Anadolu Efes
17 years old | 6’6”, 170 pounds | guard

It’s hard to imagine an NBA in which a 6’6” guard with ball skills isn’t a coveted prospect. He helped Turkey win gold in the 2014 FIBA Europe U-18 championship and moved quickly through Efes’s youth system and onto its first team. He’s a confident shooter and an adept passer who projects as an off-the-ball scorer and facilitator in the NBA.

12. Jamal Murray, Kentucky
Freshman | 6’5”, 201 pounds | guard

Murray may be the quickest riser in this NBA draft. He quickly reclassified from 2016 to 2015 so that he could play at Kentucky this fall. Murray made an impression at the Nike Hoops Summit in April, leading all scorers with 30 points. With Tyler Ulis seemingly locked into the point guard slot for the Wildcats, Murray will have a chance to play off the ball and become the next in a line of strong Kentucky guards under Calipari.

13. Caris LeVert, Michigan
Senior | 6’7”, 201 pounds | guard

LeVert’s junior season was cut short when he fractured his foot against Northwestern in January, but he is such an intriguing prospect that he still considered jumping to the NBA and probably would have been selected in the late first round or early second round. LeVert should be able to plug into any NBA offense, as he’s an excellent (40.7%) three-point shooter and is adept at handling the ball in screen-and-rolls.

• MORE NBA: Draft superlatives | Lakers embrace future with Russell 

14. Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
Sophomore | 6’10”, 231 pounds | forward

Sabonis will shine again this season as the best forward on a team stacked with frontcourt talent. Playing alongside center Przemek Karnowski and wing Kyle Wiltjer, Sabonis was the Bulldogs’ top rebounder and low-post scorer. According to hoop-math.com, he finished 76.5% of his field-goal attempts around the rim. He has a natural feel as a rebounder and will project as an offensive weapon in his rookie NBA season.

16. Henry Ellenson, Marquette
Freshman | 6’9”, 231 pounds | forward

Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski made waves in October when he landed a commitment from Ellenson. Ellenson, a big man with elite offensive skills for his age, was the No. 4 player in his class, according to Rivals.com. He will instantly become the primary offensive threat for the Golden Eagles, who are only beginning the rebuilding phase.

15. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
Sophomore | 6’1”, 194 pounds | guard

If you watched the Fighting Irish last season, you probably spent most of your time keyed in on Jerian Grant. And rightfully so—Grant was an SI All-American last season and was one of the most valuable college basketball players in the country. Jackson will step into his shoes as the leader of Notre Dame this season. He is an ideal, pass-first point guard who can run an offense but also can find his own points. He was a 43% three-point shooter last season.

16. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Junior | 6’7”, 235 pounds | forward

Hayes is perhaps best known for pranking stenographers in Wisconsin’s run to the national championship game last season, but you’ll soon be familiar with his on-court hijinks as well. He looks like the next in the line of Wisconsin big men who can stretch the floor with a three-point shot. Although he doesn’t have the size of Frank Kaminsky, he does have some low post skills and is a 40% three-point shooter. 

17. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas
Sophomore | 6’6”, 191 pounds | guard

The 18-year-old—yes, 18-year-old—sophomore will be Bill Self’s secret weapon this season. After struggling to adjust to the college game as a freshman, expect Mykhailiuk’s numbers to rise rapidly during his sophomore season. He’s a strong scorer and has a feel for handling long rebounds.

• MORE NBA: Why Towns is perfect No. 1 pick for Wolves

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

18. Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
Junior | 6’10”, 248 pounds | forward/center

Don’t look now, but Vanderbilt basketball could be back in 2015-16. After an awful January in which the Commodores lost seven of eight, they slowly climbed into the top 40, according to kenpom.com. Jones was a big reason why. He used more than 25% of possessions and took more than 25% of shots for Vandy last season while posting impressive rebounding and shot-blocking rates.

19. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Sophomore | 6’7”, 168 pounds | forward

Jackson will be one of the top offensive threats on SI’s Way-Too-Early No. 1 team. The former McDonald’s All-American struggled at the start of conference play but became a key contributor for UNC down the stretch and in the NCAA tournament. His midrange game is strong, but improving that 30.4% three-point shooting will be the difference between being a potential lottery pick and possibly falling out of the first round.

20. Zhou Qi, Xinjiang
19 years old | 7’2”, 209 pounds | center

Qi is already being hailed as the best Chinese prospect since Yao Ming, but he has some work to do before he begins living up to expectations. The first item on the check list is putting on some weight. His lanky frame allows him to get pushed around in the frontcourt, but he has a surprisingly soft touch on his shots and can play well in pick-and-roll settings. Until he has an NBA-ready body, though, Qi will be a high-upside, high-risk prospect.

21. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
Junior | 6’9”, 279 pounds | center

Meeks trimmed down for his sophomore season at Carolina after playing at around 320 pounds as a freshman. As a result, he improved in almost every category, including minutes per game and defensive block percentage. He’ll get plenty of attention as North Carolina looks poised to contend for a national title this season.

22. Brice Johnson, North Carolina
Senior | 6’9”, 225 pounds | forward

Johnson, the third Tar Heel in the top 30, was North Carolina’s most consistent player this season. He may be thin, but that hasn’t prevented him from cleaning up rebounds or blocking shots, both of which he excelled at last season. He shows off his athleticism in the open court and has a penchant for finishing above the rim.

23. Jake Layman, Maryland
Senior | 6’9”, 205 pounds | forward

Layman’s size and shooting ability should help propel him into the first round. Maryland is counting on him to stretch opposing defenses with his three-point shot this season. NBA teams will worry about what position he’ll guard in the pros, but his offensive skills will be too enticing to pass up.

24. Troy Williams, Indiana
Junior | 6’6”, 195 pounds | forward

Williams made big strides as a sophomore, using a higher percentage of Indiana’s shots and possessions while also increasing his offensive rating. To be a successful NBA wing, he’ll have to improve his three-point shooting (he only took 13 threes last season) and become a more consistent defender.

25. Melo Trimble, Maryland
Sophomore | 6’3”, 190 pounds | guard

Trimble is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. He was Maryland’s best scorer a season ago, but had fewer chances than he should have because of how many shots and possessions Dez Wells took. With Wells out of the picture but plenty of talent left, Trimble should be able to show off his ability to facilitate for teammates and create for himself.

26. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island
Junior | 6’5”, 190 pounds | junior

Matthews was one of the standouts in the adidas Nations camp in 2014, which featured recently drafted NBA players like Kelly Oubre, Stanley Johnson, Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell. As a freshman at Rhode Island, he averaged 16.9 points per game but was just 32.5% from three-point range.

27. Malik Pope, San Diego State
Sophomore | 6’10”, 205 pounds | forward

Pope’s biggest battle this season will once again be staying healthy. After missing his junior and senior seasons of high school, Pope struggled to play consistent minutes for the Aztecs as a freshman. When he’s on the court, he’s a really skilled wing who shines on the perimeter with his ballhandling skills and three-point stroke.

28. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Senior | 6’4”, 214 pounds | guard

Hield was one of the best scorers in college basketball a season ago, and he helped lead Oklahoma on a Sweet 16 run. He’s somewhat small for an NBA shooting guard, but a long wingspan and strong upper body help him make up for his slight stature. He is best known as an offensive threat, but he has all the tools to be an effective NBA defender.

29. Egemen Guven, Karsiyaka
18 years old | 6’11”, 210 pounds | forward

This Turkish star-in-the-making has already drawn Pau Gasol comparisons because of his size, footwork and ability to drop in baskets over both shoulders in the post. He’ll have to add weight to his frame in order to play on the low block in the NBA, but he could develop into a dangerous four in the right system.

30. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
Senior | 6’7”, 200 pounds | guard

Gbinije will be 23 years old by the time the 2016 NBA draft rolls around, so he will need to use his senior season at Syracuse to show that he has a complete game. Syracuse was overshadowed by Duke and Notre Dame in the ACC last season and all-but forgotten after it self-imposed a postseason ban, but quietly, Gbinije kept the Orange together. He does everything well for a guard, and he’ll be a breakout player this season.

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