The gift of hindsight makes everything easier, but especially when it comes to the NBA Draft. Looking back, how should the 2015 NBA Lottery be re-drafted?
With the rise of small ball in the modern game, the NBA has been buoyed by an over-abundance of point guards and wings. After 25 of the first 28 MVP awards went to big men, only 10 of the last 34 have. Of the last 12 winners, the only “big” to win the award was Dirk Nowitzki, arguably more different from Wilt Chamberlain or Bob McAdoo than some early guards to win the award.
Whether the lack of great bigs sparked the change in the modern NBA, or the changing game and rules lessened the impact of that position, the reality is that the league’s best player has not been a big man since Tim Duncan’s run in the early 2000s. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, LeBron James, Stephen Curry – these are the names that dominated the last decade and more.
That may all begin to change with draft classes like 2015, where superstar centers begin to flow back into the league. This draft had three centers that could eventually be top-10 players in the league; that doesn’t include Nikola Jokic, a 2014 draftee who first entered the league alongside this class. It also doesn’t include another eight centers who have started at least four games already in their careers.
The class is headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns, a truly special talent that is the embodiment of a modern center. But he is followed by many others, as the 2015 draft looks to seize back the image of a big-dominated NBA and not allow it to be marginalized in the new league, but rather adapt the position into something even greater.
Some quick ground rules: teams are drafting in the re-draft primarily on quality of player, more so than positional needs. The potential for players to continue improving is evaluated as of today, not then, and more weight is obviously given to proven contributors. We are also including notable undrafted players who were eligible for the 2015 draft, although none end up being taken in this re-draft.
Finally, as a reminder: we are in a separate alternate universe than the one we created the last two weeks. That means teams are selecting in this draft as if the 2013 and 2014 drafts happened as they truly did, not how it should have gone based on 2017 knowledge.
The re-draft begins in the land of 10,000 lakes, where the Minnesota Timberwolves are seeking another future star to pair with 2014 first overall pick Andrew Wiggins.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
Original Pick: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Re-draft Pick: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky (1-1)
The crown jewel of both the 2015 draft and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ bright future is Karl-Anthony Towns, a player who has delivered on every expectation and more during his first two seasons in the league. As a rookie, Towns’ numbers were matched only by a who’s who of Hall-of-Fame big men: Shaq, Duncan, Hakeem, ‘Zo, The Admiral, and Ralph Sampson.
In his second year, Towns upped the bar, putting up 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocked shots per game. Only two other players have matched those numbers in the past 20 years – Shaq and Duncan. Only five have done so for the entirety of NBA history, spread out over 14 individual player seasons. Combined, those 13 individual seasons include one three-pointer; Towns dropped in 101 this past season.
Not only does Minnesota not change their pick here, but there is no flicker of doubt. Towns is a dynamic offensive force who is putting things together on defense, and he has an outside shot at making an All-NBA team as early as this season. If he improves even a little next season, he not only makes the All-Star team, but he is well on his way towards an MVP.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Original Pick: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Re-draft Pick: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia (1-4)
In many other drafts, Kristaps Porzingis would own the right to best player, but even Porzingis fades in the shadow of Towns’ pure dominance. That being said, the league’s “unicorn” has served as the lone bright spot for the Knicks, and could do the same for a Lakers team ready to win. Porzingis can score inside and out, one of only five players in the league seven feet or taller to hit at least 100 three-pointers.
On defense, his incredible arm length allows him to contest shots even when he is slightly out of position. The “Zinger” finished with two full blocks per game, good enough for fifth in the league. A true two-way threat at either big position is a much better selection than Russell, a point guard that still possesses upside but hasn’t hit high-level production yet. After two seasons, Porzingis is already an above average starter in the league.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Original Pick: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Re-draft Pick: Devin Booker, Kentucky (1-13)
Hindsight helps the 76ers in two ways here. First, they understand that Jahlil Okafor is a polarizing young player with dynamic strengths and crippling weaknesses, and his role in a modernizing NBA is hard to determine. He has plenty of talent and has a future in the league, but he isn’t worthy of the third overall pick.
The other thing Philadelphia can see is that they don’t need a center. At the time, the organization had no idea whether Joel Embiid would pan out, and they thought Nerlens Noel could be a reasonable fit at the 4. They now know Embiid is one of the league’s best centers when healthy and Noel needs to be a 5, thus closing down the need for another big. That means that here at No. 3 the 76ers look at Myles Turner and Devin Booker- but go for the guard.
Booker has shown himself to be a dynamic scorer from all three levels of the court, and on top of that he has a strong ability to get to the line. While he certainly has some defensive limitations, a wing player able to generate offense no matter who is surrounding him gives a team plenty of flexibility. Booker and Embiid paired together have the upside of a Kobe-Shaq combo for Philly.
4. New York Knicks
Original Pick: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia
Re-draft Pick: Myles Turner, Texas (1-11)
The Knicks cannot be happy that Porzingis is gone in their re-draft, as he is one of the franchise’s lone bright spots in the midst of a culture of dysfunction and disappointment. But Turner is a strong consolation prize, a player already putting together his defensive chops in the fires of the NBA Playoffs. Turner can step out beyond the arc in pick-and-pop actions on offense, and also has the foot speed to stay with opposing wings on switches. He blocks a lot of shots as well, something the crowd at MSG will enjoy. A hidden benefit is that Turner is clearly a pure center, so the Knicks would most likely not spend $72 million on Joakim Noah in the summer of 2016.
5. Orlando Magic
Original Pick: Mario Hezonja, Croatia
Re-draft Pick: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (1-2)
The first gut-punch of the draft, where the Magic have to look in the mirror and realize they used a top-5 draft pick on a player who may not even deserve a rotation spot. Mario Hezonja has proven himself an incredible athlete, but little else has gone his way so far in his short career. D’Angelo Russell represents the type of player the Magic do not have – an offensively dynamic guard who can pass and shoot. Russell hasn’t quite hit the levels expected when he was selected second overall by the Lakers, but given their struggles as an organization he hasn’t necessarily disappointed either. He would be a great addition to this Orlando roster.
6. Sacramento Kings
Original Pick: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Re-draft Pick: Norman Powell, UCLA (2-46)
The original pick from Sacramento looks better now than it did just three months ago, as Willie Cauley-Stein came on strong during the last month of the season and showed flashes of running the floor, cleaning up the boards, and defending a wide swath of the court. While his upside is still murky and his weaknesses still stark, there might be a solid player underneath. [Side Note: Combining Jahlil Okafor and Willie Cauley-Stein would create a great player. Willil Okley-Forstein would dominate the paint on both ends of the court].
Norman Powell has undergone a similar adjustment in value recently, proving to be the piece that broke open the Toronto Raptors’ series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Powell is long and tough, able to provide positive value on defense while spacing the floor on offense. Every NBA team needs as many 3-and-D players as they can find, and Powell would give the Kings a starter on the wing that they desperately need.
7. Denver Nuggets
Original Pick: Emmanuel Mudiay, China
Re-draft Pick: Justice Winslow, Duke (1-10)
The Nuggets needed a point guard and went for Emmanuel Mudiay, who skipped college to play a year overseas in China. Mudiay has shown flashes of dynamic offensive ability during his two seasons in the league, but overall his inconsistency has put his long-term upside in doubt. That means the Nuggets pivot to another player here in the re-draft.
Winslow’s injuries have kept him from truly highlighting himself, but his athleticism and defensive chops are unquestioned. He’s already one of the league’s best defensive wings, fast and long enough to guard perimeter players and strong enough to take on bigs. Last year against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the rookie Winslow shifted to center for the Heat after Hassan Whiteside went down with an injury. His fit alongside Nikola Jokic is excellent, as Jokic can space the floor with his shooting and passing, while Winslow can pick up the defensive slack and be a slasher on offense.
8. Detroit Pistons
Original Pick: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Re-draft Pick: Josh Richardson, Tennessee (2-40)
There are plenty of players left on the board with high ceilings, the possibility of greatness still within the realm of possibility. Stanley Johnson, Detroit’s original pick, is one of those players. But Johnson has also struggled to find a role offensively, and while he is long and strong on defense he has a ways to go to reach an elite level on that end. Josh Richardson was a second-round steal for the Miami Heat, a tough backcourt defender with range beyond the arc. While he does not have the same elite upside, his floor is higher than anyone’s remaining, and for a Detroit team trying to piece together a consistent lineup he could be a valuable piece here.
9. Charlotte Hornets
Original Pick: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Re-draft Pick: Willy Hernangomez, Spain (2-35)
This is a pick that seems out of place, with a number of high-profile players yet to be taken in the re-draft. But the reality is that Frank Kaminsky has failed to deliver on the excitement Charlotte had when they drafted him ninth overall two years ago; for a stretch-4, Kaminsky is too slow to guard forwards and does not shoot quite well enough from deep. Instead he has become a small-ball 5 who doesn’t protect the rim, something teams don’t really need.
Enter Willy Hernangomez, the Knicks’ second gem from this draft. The older brother of Denver Nuggets’ rookie Juan Hernangomez, Guillermo “Willy” Hernangomez has been the Knicks’ best center this season, starting 22 games amidst the injuries and suspensions of Joakim Noah. Advanced metrics love Hernangomez and suggest he could develop into an above-average starting center. At worst, Hernangomez can start for a team, bringing his floor higher than those coming after. With all of the problems Charlotte had this season replacing an injured Cody Zeller, Hernangomez would have been much appreciated.
We have now reached the muddled center of this 2015 Draft souffle. The nine players already selected have high floors, proving in just two seasons (or less) that they are worthy NBA rotation players – and starters on the right squads.
Moving forward we no longer have any such assurances. A player such as Jahlil Okafor or Kelly Oubre have shown flashes of high-level skills, but pair them with glaring weaknesses. Others are all untapped potential, still without the playing time or opportunity to show whether that potential will come to pass. While this team or that may have preferences as to which players they prefer, at this point it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between imperfect prospects. It’s one big “I dunno” tier, and we’re jumping in!
10. Miami Heat
Original Pick: Justice Winslow, Duke
Re-draft Pick: Kelly Oubre, Kansas (1-15)
If you squint when you are watching Kelly Oubre play, you see a solid wing player who can shoot from outside and lock down opposing scorers. The latter half is close to true – his wingspan allows him to harry smaller wings, and his strength lets Washington downsize and slot him at the 4. But there is a reason that Boston chose to hide Isaiah Thomas on Oubre, as he has very little offensive skill outside of catching and shooting. Until he develops further, he will continue to be a weakspot for opposing coaches to exploit. For the original 15th pick in the draft, that’s a fine return at this stage.
11. Indiana Pacers
Original Pick: Myles Turner, Texas
Re-draft Pick: Trey Lyles, Kentucky (1-12)
With all of the drama swirling around Paul George and this Pacers organization, it is nice for them to be able to look to Myles Turner as a franchise cornerstone for years to come. The young big was third in the league in blocked shots per game this season, and has the upside to make All-Star games. But with Turner long off the board in this re-draft, the Pacers instead go for Trey Lyles. Although buried on a deep Utah team, Lyles has shown flashes of high potential as a 4/5 who can move his feet well and score on offense as a secondary or tertiary option. For the Pacers, that’s a perfect role to fill.
12. Utah Jazz
Original Pick: Trey Lyles, Kentucky
Re-draft Pick: Terry Rozier, Louisville (1-16)
Many analysts criticized the Boston Celtics for taking Terry Rozier as high as they did, pointing to other supposed surefire prospects that the team was missing on. And while Rozier has not put together a magnificent season yet, his performance in the playoffs thus far has highlighted his ability to get to the rim and generate shots for both himself and others. Utah has a full backcourt but no confidence in most, giving them a need for a solid two-way guard off the bench.
13. Phoenix Suns
Original Pick: Devin Booker, Kentucky
Re-draft Pick: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona (1-23)
The Phoenix Suns have a never-ending cycle of guards coming through town, from Goran Dragic to Isaiah Thomas to Eric Bledsoe to Devin Booker to Brandon Knight to Tyler Ulis. They also have two centers fighting for playing time, and most recently a pair of stretch-4s to develop in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. But what the Suns have neglected is wing defense, as the combination of Devin Booker and T.J. Warren is abysmal on that end of the floor. In this scenario, with Booker gone, the Suns go for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. While he has struggled to make an offensive contribution, on the other end he is already a strong perimeter defender – matching up with the opponent’s best player on most nights. That is a sea change for Phoenix, and a welcome consolation prize.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
Original Pick: Cameron Payne, Murray State
Re-draft Pick: Emmanuel Mudiay, China (1-7)
The Thunder without Russell Westbrook struggled in two major areas: spacing and backup point guard. Ideally they could swap out this pick for a 3-and-D prospect, but those players are rare and have already been selected for the most part. Josh Richardson and Norman Powell both went early in the re-draft for just this reason. That leaves Oklahoma City to fill their need at backup point guard, as the Thunder learned about Payne when he came to town. Mudiay may still show great potential one day, and thus agony for the team that owns his rights.
Honorable Mentions: Jahlil Okafor, Duke (1-3); Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky (1-6); Stanley Johnson, Arizona (1-8); Sam Dekker, Wisconsin (1-18); Tyus Jones, Duke (1-24); Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming (1-27); Briante Weber, VCU (undrafted); Montrezl Harrell, Louisville (2-32); Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green (2-37)
Looking things over, we get three major takeaways from this draft. One has already been mentioned but needs to be again – this draft was absolutely loaded with centers, many of whom are already making an impact. One of the centers not making an impact is Jahlil Okafor, who put up excellent offensive numbers in his rookie season but got played off the court by defensive limitations. He is perhaps the best post-scoring big since a young Tim Duncan, but Oak did not even get picked in the re-draft, while four other centers did.
Secondly, the importance of the second round comes to light again. Teams may scoff at the value of second round picks and use them as fodder in trades, but the reality is that every year players are found in the second round that go on to make an immediate impact, which Richardson did in Miami. Meanwhile, Norman Powell, Richaun Holmes, and Montrezl Harrell took a little longer to become regular contributors for their respective teams, but all three have stepped up and exceeded all pre-draft expectations.
Finally, the reality of the modern NBA is brought front and center: you need to have shooting, and you need to be switchable on defense. If you can only do one of those things, it’s hard to be a star player; if you do neither it’s hard to be in a rotation. The bigs at the top of the draft all have defensive foot speed and range out to or beyond the three-point arc; that’s becoming key to dynamic offenses.
Emmanuel Mudiay is a gifted passer, but struggles on defense and with shooting – which lead to him dropping to the edge of the lottery, and the Nuggets looking to other players to fill their starting point guard spot. The aforementioned Jahlil Okafor can neither switch on defense nor shoot outside the paint, and his team is struggling with how to incorporate him.
Overall the 2015 NBA draft has provided the league with star power, with four players boasting legitimate upside to reach All-NBA teams during their career – and potentially as early as this year. It also boasts a number of players with a dynamic skill but not the complete package. These players have only been in the league for two seasons, and there is plenty we do not know. But what we did know shook things up quite a bit.