With the 2015 NBA Draft in the books, it’s now time to look forward to the future. What an eventful evening draft night was, though it was filled with surprise selections, a kid in a bowtie, and vengeful tweets resurfacing. There were some interesting landing spots for some uniquely talented players, so being the fantasy analyst that I am, I immediately began thinking of the fantasy ramifications. Mixing in some reality with the fantasy analysis, here is how I feel about each of these tiered sections of the draft:
The Difference Makers:
D’Angelo Russell, Lakers – Drafted at number two overall, D’Angelo Russell may end up being the best overall player in this draft in both fantasy and reality… and not just because he was the only guard selected early. Russell is one of just three freshmen in history to average 19 points per game (PPG), five rebounds per game (RPG) and five assists per game (APG). The other two: Kenny Anderson and Danny Ainge. From February on last season, Jordan Clarkson stepped up his scoring, and the team will likely get Kobe Bryant back for one final season. If all goes well with Julius Randle‘s return, he should be back on the floor next season giving the Lakers more quality scorers than they had last season. The Lakers will have two options when it comes to their lineup; either go small and start both Bryant and Russell together or have Russell come off of the bench. With a 30-plus percent usage rate in his one college season, Russell is used to taking the offense under his wing. However, he can learn the professional game slowly under the tutelage of Bryant. While he likely won’t score 20 PPG next season, he’ll be locked into the third or fourth scoring role from the start. The sky is the ceiling for Russell, especially after Bryant retires.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves – All of the Kentucky prospects drafted in this draft are impossible to gauge skills-wise based purely on numbers. This whole group committed to Kentucky with the pretense that their individual numbers would suffer for the betterment of the team. According to ESPN stats & info, Karl Anthony-Towns averaged 10.3 PPG in his final college season, which is the lowest ever by a number one overall pick in the common era (since 1966). He’s equipped to be among the most productive in yearly fantasy leagues due to a textbook jump shot mixed with rebounding, passing and shot blocking talent. From a daily perspective, the next player on the list seems to be a much better fit. Towns is a scorer when he needs to be but will contribute in statistics across the board such as Andrew Bogut, Joakim Noah or NBADraft.net’s comparison of Vlade Divac. He seems to have little to no bust potential, but he projects as more of a very good player than a superstar in my eyes. With Nikola Pekovic‘s ongoing foot issues, Towns should have an expanded opportunity to play from day one.
Jahlil Okafor, 76ers – Comparatively to Towns, Jahlil Okafor‘s game is better suited for daily fantasy basketball because he appears poised to become the NBA’s next 20-10 nightly threat. Al Jefferson was the pro comparison I saw for him mid-way into his freshman season, and the more I watched him the more I agreed. He goes to a team that is an absolutely perfect fit for him. Philadelphia needed a low-post scoring compliment to Nerlens Noel‘s all-around game. Noel was forced to take over the main low-post scorer role at the end of last season and probably developed offensively because of it. However, he was never fit to be a winning team’s top option down low. Okafor is as polished as I’ve ever seen in the post coming into the NBA. 69.4 percent of Okafor’s shots came at the rim in his single season at Duke and he averaged 18.2 PPG on 66.3 percent FG. His ability to gain post position, make one move and finish is special. The downside is his defense. His 4.3 block percentage, a number that generally transfers to the pro game, is a concern for a center. By comparison, Greg Monroe‘s percentage in the pros is 4.8. He’ll have problems defending the rim, but that’s where the duo with Noel comes in handy. Noel is one of the best help defenders in the game and could use the help offensively. They are a match made in heaven and could finally be the real start of the rebuilding in Philadelphia.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings – Defense is the name of the game in the NBA these days. The number one team in terms of defensive efficiency for most of the season won the title this year. The Golden State Warriors fell to four down the stretch but they were still an elite defensive team. Obviously, they had some pretty good shooters/offensive players as well, but the point is that defense certainly factored in. Heck, LeBron James was held to a 39.8 FG percentage in the Finals. Willie Cauley-Stein was drafted to add a defensive presence to a team that ranked bottom-five in defensive efficiency against power forwards and bottom-eight in frontcourt defensive efficiency overall. The Kings have preferred a reduced role for Jason Thompson for some time now and now they can create some funky lineups, assuming DeMarcus Cousins isn’t heading out of town. Cauley-Stein registered the highest overall defensive win share total of any player in Division 1 this past season en route to becoming the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. ESPN’s Jalen Rose compared him to a few players, but I think the best one was Tyson Chandler. There won’t be many plays called for Cauley-Stein, but he’ll rebound at a high clip due to his gigantic body and create offense due to second chances/putbacks. As he starts getting the minutes (which may take some time, depending on whether the team makes roster moves or not), the combination of a double-double threat plus blocks will put him on the daily fantasy basketball radar quickly.
Mid-First Round Impact Players:
Justise Winslow, Heat – Why did Justise Winslow fall to pick number 10? Things just always seem to go right for Pat Riley. It should be noted that the steal of last year’s draft was also probably pick number 10: Elfrid Payton. A confident kid, he likens his game to that of James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. I can see where he gets the Harden comparison, as he shot 41.8 percent from beyond the arc last season. He also averaged 17.3 points per 40 minutes (PP40) and shot 48.3 percent from the field overall. The athleticism mixed with his finishing skills make him an excellent scorer. As good as he is offensively, he backs it up with a similar effort on defense. According to ESPN stats & info, Winslow held opponents to 21% shooting on pick-and-roll ball-handler plays. On a Heat team that might lose Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, or even both, he could earn playing time rather quickly. He’s one of the highest upside players in the draft and the Heat seriously found themselves a steal. Keep a close eye on Winslow’s progression as he provides statistics across the board, including the steals and blocks.
Trey Lyles, Jazz – Similarly to Towns, Lyles was not fully able to put his skills on display in college. In his interview after being drafted 12th overall, he said people don’t realize what a well-rounded offensive game he has because he had teammates at other positions who took care of that in college. The Jazz can really use consistent scoring behind Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and sometimes Trey Burke. What Lyles adds more than scoring though is versatility on a team that doesn’t have a whole lot. Rudy Gobert is a true center, Favors can play the four or five if need be, and I guess Hayward can play the two if necessary. The team didn’t have a long, athletic forward who could guard either the three or the four. Scouts seem to believe the jump shot is going to develop. He’s a versatile, do-everything kind of player, so it’s hard to project exactly what the numbers will look like. There’s no doubting he’ll fit right in on a team that could use his offensive presence, and his hustle will mesh perfectly with a team built on defense.
Devin Booker, Suns – Team General Manager Ryan McDonough stated before the draft that he needed to go out and find a shooter. He acknowledged the team had guys who could penetrate on the pick-and-roll and they could really stretch out a defense with a reliable deep threat. Well, in drafting Devin Booker, they found just that. Booker shot 41.1 percent from behind the arc as a freshman. ESPN made comparisons to him at this point in his career to Klay Thompson and stated how he is further ahead in his development. He has star potential, but will not have an immediate path to the starting lineup unless the Suns decide to use Brandon Knight off the bench (which is doubtful). At only 18-years old, he likely will not be incredibly fantasy relevant for at least a year or two unless the team suffers a major injury. In a fast-paced Suns offense, there is plenty of scoring potential for Booker, so it’s hard to knock the fit at all. The question will be whether or not the team really envisions the offense moving forward being run by two point guards starting next to one another (Knight and Eric Bledsoe).
Potential Late First Round Steals:
Justin Anderson, Mavericks – Really, the Mavericks needed any kind of youth they could find. The team’s projected starters into next season are J.J. Barea (30 years old), Monta Ellis (29), Chandler Parsons (26), Dirk Nowitzki (37) and Tyson Chandler (32). So yeah, adding a young building block was instrumental this offseason, and I think they chose a good one. When Justin Anderson injured his hand this season, the Cavaliers went on a rough stretch immediately following and eventually were booted from the NCAA tournament. He was sort of the engine that made them go and their team needed him full health. Again, on this Mavericks team there does not seem to be a starting role immediately, but the backup SG role (currently Devin Harris) is certainly there for the taking. Anderson improved his three-point percentage from 29 percent as a sophomore and 45 percent as a junior. He actually plays more as a slasher, so he has a well-rounded offensive game. Playing on the best defensive team in the nation, he certainly helped contribute on that side of the court as well and NBADraft.net projects him as an “eight” defensively (out of 10). I see a 15-20 minute bench role offered to him from the get-go with the ability to build on that. He’ll likely never score 15 PPG, but he’ll contribute across the board in fantasy categories enough to make him useful when he earns a consistent role.
Bobby Portis, Bulls – The Bulls, and myself, were shocked to see Portis fall to the Bulls at pick 22. Tom Thibodeau must be furious having to leave this team and then they add his type of player… a fierce post scorer. They’ve needed a guy like this off the bench for a few years now. The Bulls have only had Taj Gibson to go to off of the bench, who isn’t much of a scorer but plays stout defense. Portis was the SEC Player of the Year and was the only player in the conference to score at least 17 PPG with eight RPG. The pro comparison is Greg Monroe, but I would be shocked if he ends up quite that good. That being said, Joakim Noah is an unrestricted free agent after next season and Pau Gasol has a player option the season after. If/when one of both of them leaves, Portis will earn a major role in this offense. For fantasy purposes, he’s a little further down the road until the nightly relevant production should come, but when it does he could have greater upside than say, even Trey Lyles (at least in terms of fantasy numbers).
Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks –Even in the interview after making the pick, Phil Jackson suggested this guy was a project. The Knicks do not expect his development to happen quickly, but do expect a long career out of him and for him to possibly have the most upside of any player in this draft. Okay, first of all, it is never encouraging for a team to take a long-term prospect at fourth overall. At least when the Bulls selected Nikola Mirotic, they waited for him to keep playing professional ball and he came over already polished. Taking a prospect and developing him over a long period can sometimes be code for “high probability of a bust for a player who seemingly has the skills.” There have been no foreign players selected in the lottery to make an All-Star game since Yao Ming. In my opinion, they whiffed here. This kid could be the next Dirk Nowitzki or he more than likely will not. Justice Winslow was a polished player, as was Emmanuel Mudiay, and they instead went this route of a long-term project? It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s hard to disagree with Phil Jackson’s methods too much. He does have 11 rings… so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Sam Dekker, Rockets – Who is the real Sam Dekker? The one who shot 52.5 percent for the year, 57.1 percent overall in the NCAA tournament, or the one who went six for 15 when it really mattered in the NCAA Championship? Did the elite level of competition stifle him or was it just an off game? Apparently, NBA executives soured on him nearing the draft because he was at one point projected as a lottery pick. At pick 18, he fell to the Rockets, who supposedly are going to let Trevor Ariza walk in order to sign a big free agent (Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge). Maybe, just maybe, that frees up a role for him early and he’s given a chance to play. It remains to be seen if he can attack the basket at an NBA level. If not, he will just end up as a pure shooter without much else. When looking at the prospects of rookies, there are plenty whose futures I prefer investing in over Dekker’s.