Though there is a good chance Flip Saunders covets Jahlil Okafor’s polished offensive game, it’s going to be tough for him to pass on Karl-Anthony Towns, the better athlete, defender and shooter.
He’s even been showing off his three-point range during predraft workouts, something he didn’t get to flash at Kentucky.
Towns’ potential versatility as a stretch big and rim-protector is also missing in a frontcourt anchored by an injured Nikola Pekovic.
Most of the time, teams typically go with the prospect who offers the highest ceiling. And in this case, Towns’ physical tools, improving offensive game and two-way outlook reflect greater upside.
They’ll consider all options, including guards, but odds are, the Los Angeles Lakers will be prepared to take whichever big man falls to them.
Jahlil Okafor would be quite the consolation prize for a team looking to compete right away. He should be able to give the Lakers an immediate option to feed in the half court, given his size, strength and spectacular post skills.
Though D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay may be enticing, expect general manager Mitch Kupchak to sign a veteran orchestrator—as opposed to moving forward with a rookie running the show in the backcourt.
If Okafor goes to the Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns becomes the no-brainer option for L.A. at No. 2.
Having traded Michael Carter-Williams, general manager Sam Hinkie must have felt really comfortable with the new point guards from the 2015 draft class. The question is: Which one?
Considering Emmanuel Mudiay’s year lasted just 12 games, we’re assuming it’s D’Angelo Russell, who put up historic freshman numbers and flashed future-superstar potential.
When you consider he can play either backcourt position, Russell also gives the 76ers rebuilding flexibility. His versatility should allow him to play off both ball-handlers and 2-guards.
Still, regardless of team fit, Russell’s passing skills, scoring ability and shooting stroke are all topnotch. It wouldn’t be a complete shocker if he eventually emerged as the top player from this class.
Emmanuel Mudiay may be the top talent on the board, but it’s just tough picturing Phil Jackson moving forward with a rookie floor general who struggles with shooting and decision-making.
In a triangle offense that values minimal dribbling, Mudiay—a ball-dominant pick-and-roll point guard—just isn’t a great fit.
While there is some uncertainty attached to Mudiay, who’s played only 12 games in the past year, there isn’t much to question about Willie Cauley-Stein or his fit.
He’s the top defender in the draft. Right off the bat, Cauley-Stein would give New York one of the more unique defensive weapons in the league. There just aren’t many centers who can protect the rim, switch onto guards and pressure full court.
And though he didn’t show off much of an offensive game at Kentucky, he also wasn’t asked to. His jumper may actually be better than advertised. Cauley-Stein made 41 percent of his 30 shots taken outside 11 feet this past season, per CBS Sports’ Sam Vecenie. And his free-throw percentage has risen in every year.
It might make sense to move down for Cauley-Stein. But whether it’s at No. 4 or later in the lottery, he appears to be the most likely player capable of making an immediate impact in New York.
5. Orlando Magic: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7’1″, PF, 1995
Orlando will likely be looking at the top two available international prospects—Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja—both of whom would work for the Magic at No. 5 based on talent and team needs.
But the mismatch Porzingis has the potential to create could be too enticing to pass on.
At 7’1″, Porzingis has plenty of shooting range to match above-the-rim athleticism. Despite his size, his skill set more closely resembles a wing’s than a center’s. Porzingis has the ability to face up, rise for a jumper or separate into one with a pull-up or step-back.
Between Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, Orlando could really use a floor-spacer. Porzingis’ skill set, as well as his defensive versatility and upside, should be a nice complement to Vucevic up front.
Alarms should sound in Sacramento’s draft room if the New York Knicks pass on Emmanuel Mudiay. The Magic aren’t likely to take him, given the promise Elfrid Payton flashed last year.
Mudiay would be an ideal get for the Kings, who would be able to upgrade their backcourt and point-guard position long term.
He’ll be working out for the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks, according to SNY’s Adam Zagoria. But there is a real chance he ends up slipping past all three.
Mudiay is loaded with upside fueled by 6’5″ size, athleticism, scoring ability and vision. He’ll have to improve as a shooter and decision-maker, but both weaknesses are ultimately correctable.
The Denver Nuggets won’t be worrying about fit, given their need for talent and a possible franchise rebuild.
Justise Winslow is ultimately one of the safer yet potentially more rewarding options in this year’s field. He’s an electric athlete who should be able to contribute defensively right out of the gate.
Winslow still has a ways to go on offense, but in one year at Duke, he flashed a promising jumper and dangerous attack game.
With Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari entering the final year of their deals, the Nuggets could spend next season grooming Winslow as their small forward of the future.
8. Detroit Pistons: Mario Hezonja, 6’8″, SG/SF, 1995
You’d like to imagine that Mario Hezonja will have been a target for Detroit all along, given the Pistons’ need for athleticism and firepower on the wing.
Hezonja has mismatch 6’8″ size, effortless above-the-rim bounce and a deadly three-point jumper. He also has promising defensive tools, vision and ball-handling ability.
Any team drafting outside the top three could really make a case for Hezonja, whose skill set and body are built for today’s NBA game.
Assuming Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja, Justise Winslow and Willie Cauley-Stein each go top eight, Stanley Johnson can offer terrific value at No. 9.
Not only is he arguably the top available prospect, given his 6’7″, 242-pound frame and developing offensive attack, but he fills a need right in the middle of Charlotte’s lineup.
Johnson averaged 19.4 points per 40 minutes, looked sharp in between with the pull-up and floater and flashed plenty of promise as a long-range shooter. He also has excellent defensive tools capable of guarding multiple positions.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showed some improvement, but he might ultimately be best used as an energizer off the bench. Johnson offers two-way starter potential in the form of Jimmy Butler.
At No. 10, there isn’t an obvious answer on the board for the Miami Heat. It would make sense for them to fill a need with one of the top available options.
And Devin Booker does just that. Booker projects as a complementary weapon who can score without needing to dribble. He’s lethal from behind the arc (41.1 percent), having flashed textbook shooting mechanics. And he’s excellent at knocking down jumpers off movement, as well as finishing in the open floor.
Booker even recorded the fastest lane-agility and shuttle-run times at the combine, something that bodes well for his defensive outlook.
Miami ultimately needs another 2-guard, and Booker’s shot-making skills should hold value in a lineup that already has go-to options and playmakers.