This Thursday’s NBA Draft may be the most exciting and have the strongest long-term impact for any draft on the league since 2003, when the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to take some guy named LeBron James over superstar center Darko Milicic. Unlike that draft, there is no clear-cut number one pick; however the talent in this draft is the highest in years.
To put it in perspective, the top picks of last year’s draft, Anthony Bennett and Victor Oladipo, would have struggled to crack the top 7 in this year’s draft. Injuries and rumors have complicated things, so I decided to rank the players, rather than do a mock draft, since I have a feeling there will be a lot of trades in the next few days, especially with the Cavs looking to trade down after the Joel Embiid injury.
We’ll take a look at my rankings from 30-16 today, and 15-1 tomorrow.
30. Jerami Grant, Forward, Syracuse (6’8, 214)
Extremely athletic and versatile, but does not do anything exceptionally well yet. Needs to badly work on his shot, but can get to the basket on occasion. Grant could be an elite defender if he works on his on-ball skills and his anticipation. He has enough to contribute now with his defense and freak athleticism (8’ 11’’ standing reach), but will need to refine his game to become a reliable starter. Grant will probably be picked between the end of the first and mid-second round.
29. Spencer Dinwiddie, Guard, Colorado (6’6, 205)
A tall combo guard that would provide a lot of teams options when it came to their lineups. He played some point at Colorado and is a solid ball handler and distributor, but can also play off the ball with a more pure point guard. He is great when he is aggressive, but his intensity sometimes fades, making some question his competitiveness. Good shooter and quick enough to guard most wings, but he needs to get to the basket more. Dinwiddie is solid on defense, but needs to bulk up and improve awareness to be an elite defender. He is coming off of an ACL tear, but his potential should have him off the board by the early second round.
28. Cleanthony Early, Forward, Wichita State (6’8, 210)
This is the type of pick a contender can make to help their team now without signing a free agent. Early is mature, smart, and can play both forward positions even at 6’7. Early is a solid shooter from midrange and can even extend it to the three. He needs to bulk up a little, but he can immediately contribute the maturity and experience that most draftees cannot. He is also a willing and able defender with a history of success. He should be off the board by the early second round.
27. Mitch McGary, Forward/Center, Michigan (6’10, 266)
If a team is looking to take a risk to find a diamond in the rough in the late first round, this might be the guy. A smart, tough player who underwhelmed during the 2012-2013 regular season before making his presence felt at the NCAA tournament. He played eight games last season before a back injury cut his season short. He then tested positive for marijuana after the 2014 tournament after allegedly ingesting it to help with his back. If he can improve his shot, his pick and roll ability, soft hands, and work ethic could make him a valuable front-court player for any team. The back injury is concerning, but part of the reason he did not come back last year was because Michigan figured they would rather have him back full strength next season with a possible medical redshirt than rush him back, but the suspension took that option away. If he develops his skill set, he is strong and versatile enough to play both PF and Center. He should be a very late first or early second round pick.
26. Jarnell Stokes, Power Forward, Tennessee (6’8, 260)
People always seem to worry about productive undersized power forwards, forgetting how much technique and strength can overtake pure height on the boards. He is extremely strong at 6’8, 260 and has a polished postgame for someone his age. Even at his size, it is extremely hard to back him down, allowing him to at least challenge players in the post. Stokes has great length and with some improvement on his lateral speed, he could guard most 4’s and some 3’s in the NBA. Could end up anywhere from mid-first to mid-second round.
25. Jordan Clarkson, Guard, Missouri (6’4, 186)
Combo guard who played mostly point guard last season, he was up and down, struggling with his shot toward the end of the season. He will probably be a combo guard off the bench, but his point guard experience does bring another level of interest. He can defend multiple positions and score from almost anywhere on the court. He could be a difference maker like Monta Ellis for the right team. Should stay in the first round, but may slip to the second.
24. James Young, Shooting Guard, Kentucky (6’6, 215)
Young is the prototypical project player. He has shown flashes of what he could be as an athletic young wing in the league. He is not a great ball penetrator, but if he works on that, he has the tools to be a potential all-star in the NBA. He is already solid defensively and the hope is that he will develop the patience on that end of the floor to be truly great. He also rebounds and scores at ease, so if he gets into the right situation, this pick could be a steal. He should be picked up between the end of the first and beginning of the second round.
23. Tyler Ennis, Point Guard, Syracuse (6’2, 180)
Although he lacks elite speed at his position, Ennis is also one of the few pure point guards in the draft that could run an NBA offense immediately. He does everything he needs to do well as an NBA point guard, including securing the ball, shooting, and distributing. He may not dominate games, but as long as he improves his one-on-one defense, he could be a Tony Parker-like steal at the end of the first round and run a team from the point for years.
22. CJ Wilcox, Shooting Guard, Washington (6’5, 201)
Another great shooter coming out, questions about consistency and his future potential has limited his stock. He will turn 24 this year, and his struggles toward the end of last season introduced questions about his potential as a shooter in the league and whether the foot he had surgery on last year is fully healed. He has shown the ability to drive the ball some, but his game at the rim is average at best. He could enter a rotation immediately as a shooter and should be off the board by the start of the second round.
21. Glenn Robinson III, Small Forward, Michigan (6’7, 211)
Great athlete and solid defender who could contribute right now to an NBA team, but the question is whether he can become a star by taking the next step up and putting all of his talent together. He was often content to take a backseat to Michigan’s other scorers on offense, and would sometimes lose concentration on both ends of the court. Robinson seems to have good shooting form, and shot 49% from the field last season, but his three-point numbers (31%) are oddly low for a player with his shooting ability. He could be a starter down the road, but the team that drafts him should at least get a reliable role player who can defend and score when needed. He should end up being picked around the end of the first round.
20. Rodney Hood, Small Forward, Duke (6’8, 208)
Another guy who may end up as a three point specialist, Hood showed flashes of other skills at Duke, including defensive ability and some athleticism. Rarely goes to the basket probably due to his slight frame and lack of strength. He can take people off the dribble as well, but his shooting is the only skill that really pops from his game. If he improves his awareness, he could also be an impact defender in this league. Like Staukas below, he should end up off the board towards the end of the lottery or middle of the first round.
19. Nik Staukas, Shooting Guard, Michigan (6’6, 207)
Although many experts have him higher, Staukas would be best served going to a playoff team. His offensive game is more limited than McDermott’s and he is pretty bad defensively, but he is also the best three-point shooter in the draft and maybe one of the top ten already in the NBA. That one skill is apparently enough to get him into the middle of the first round because his slow foot speed, lack of athleticism, and shortcomings on defense prevents him from being much more than a specialist or role player. Considering some of the best three-point shooters in the league are signed to veteran minimum contracts, it is rarely worth taking a pure shooter in the first round. He will still probably be off the board towards the end of the lottery.
18. T.J. Warren, Small Forward, NC State (6’8, 220)
The best scorer not named McDermott last season, Warren is not a great jump shooter, but he is one of the best players in the draft finishing at the rim. Warren is very good off the ball and making cuts toward the basket. He definitely needs to improve his shooting, especially from three-point range if he is going to play the 3 in the NBA, but he should be able to step right into a bench role as the first scorer in a second unit. He should be picked mid- to late first round.
17. Jusuf Nurkic, Center, Bosnia & Herzegovina (6’11, 280)
Even though teams have recently went away from having a pure center, the Spurs’ success with their traditional two big man lineups have brought attention back to traditional big men like Nurkic. He is a smart prototypical center who excels at the pick and roll and with his back to the basket. He has great footwork and is reliable with the ball in his hands. He is a banger so he does not avoid contact, which is aided by his solid free throw shooting. He does have a temper, which has limited his playing time with his team in Europe, but if that can be contained, the team drafting him could be getting a low-post anchor. He should be a mid- to late-first round pick.
16. Adreian Payne, Power Forward, Michigan State (6’10, 260)
Teams are always looking for rebounding and three-point shooting, and Payne can do both. He extended his range to beyond 20 feet while at Michigan State, but at 6’10, 260, he can also bang inside. He reportedly has reduced lung capacity so he may be limited to under 30 minutes a game, but I doubt any team taking him will be expecting 40 minutes a game from him. His skill set makes him the perfect first combo big off the bench, especially since he has proven to be a hard worker and a high character guy. He should stay in the mid-first round.
Be sure to check back tomorrow at noon for the second half of my rankings.