The 2015 NBA draft is about a month away, meaning there are only a few more weeks for mock drafts, trade rumors and speculation to rule the headlines. Therefore, back by not-so-popular demand, is the second and final act of my NBA Lottery Mock Draft where I project picks 8-14. So, once again, let the mocking begin.
- Detroit Pistons: Mario Hezonja, FC Barcelona, 6’8”, SG/SF
The Pistons may see it ideal to address the frontcourt here, but I think they’d hope one of the top bigs falls rather than reach for one of the remaining. So with no bigs available worthy of the eighth pick here, Detroit can address their other (and perhaps more glaring) need: the wing. Croatian shooting guard Mario Hezonja fits that bill as he showcased just the kind of athleticism, scoring ability and intensity that the Pistons have lacked. In my eyes, Hezonja is essentially a taller and more athletic version of the Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson. Hezonja possesses outstanding size (6’8”, 200 lbs) for a two guard and like Thompson, his most translatable trait is his three-point shooting. Also akin to Thompson, Hezonja flashes capability as a ball-handler, particularly in the pick-and-roll, where the threat of his outside shooting allows him to either lure defenders off screens to explode to the rim with his strong first step or create space with his step-back to pull up. His athleticism makes him an even more dynamic prospect on both ends as he can cut back-door to leap for lob passes with ease and use his foot-speed to lockdown on defense. However, there are concerns about his game at the next level. While Hezonja showed an ability to be a scrappy and tenacious defender, those flashes were very rare and most times he demonstrates a glaring lack of effort on that end. More pressing though, is his clearly arrogant demeanor. Hezonja has a tendency to display poor body language and bad sportsmanship when things aren’t going his way. It will be interesting to see how this is affected heading into an NBA locker room, but with Detroit being run by the no-nonsense coach/GM Stan Van Gundy it could be the perfect situation.
- Charlotte Hornets: Kelly Oubre, Kansas, 6’7”, SF
Oubre is a bit of a reach here. Is he my favorite player at this spot? Not at all, but he does have arguably the most upside in the draft. As a very flawed player with immense potential, Oubre is the type of pick Charlotte has shown a tendency to draft in the past. From a physical standpoint, he looks pro-ready, standing 6’7″ with an NBA frame and a phenomenal wingspan that measures between 7’1” and 7’2”. These physical attributes should lend themselves best on the defensive end where he has the tools to be a stopper and simply needs to develop consistent commitment to put it in effect. On offense, Oubre is very raw. Outside of good jump shot and decent flashes from long range (36 percent), Oubre struggles finding a feel for the offense. His tendency to dribble high and apparent insistence to rely on his left hand makes him a fairly easy player to neutralize in the half court. This shows as he surprisingly struggles with getting to the rim despite his natural tools. Oubre also tends to force the issue on offense which usually prevents opportunities for his teammates as he only averaged a bottom-tier assist percentage for college SFs according to DraftExpress. In the end Oubre is certainly not at an immediate go-to player but his fixable flaws combined with his rare physical traits will be the ultimate allure for a team like Charlotte who tends to draft based on potential.
- Miami Heat: Stanley Johnson, Arizona, 6’8”, SF
Miami is getting away with robbery here. Despite what was a rough end to the season for Johnson, in which he shot 1-12 in the Round of 32 matchup against Ohio State and then struggled against Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, Johnson still possesses the physical gifts that had some considering him in the top three early on. Standing at 6’8” and weighing in at a rock solid 248 pounds, Johnson has a natural frame that is rare for a 19-year-old; add in his 6’11” 1/2 wingspan and elite mix of power and speed and he leaves no qualms about his size translating to the NBA. These attributes lend themselves best to Johnson’s defensive potential as he has the ability to guard three positions at the next level. Offensively, Johnson has a strong first step which shows itself best when creating in both the fastbreak and halfcourt. While a bit inconsistent beyond the arc, he showed improvement throughout the season, shooting 37 percent on the year while also displaying more fluid mechanics. Johnson surprisingly struggled when having to finish at the rim, though, which led him to develop a floater late in the season. If this order plays out, Johnson would be a coup for Miami, who could certainly use athleticism and youth on the wing. And with Dwyane Wade’s future currently up in the air, he has the work ethic and skill set to be their next franchise centerpiece.
- Indiana Pacers: Cameron Payne, Murray State, 6’2”, PG
This early in the draft process, Payne may seem like a reach, but as my ninth player overall (and most complete point guard in the draft) I expect to see his name eventually rumored in the top ten. But, enough with professing my man crush. The Pacers seem to have an affinity for him as well as they interviewed Payne during the combine and brought him in early for a tryout. The team needs a point guard and Payne would bring a much-needed mix of ball-handling ability, outside shooting, perimeter defense and natural court vision to the position. Payne’s presence would also allow George Hill to move to his better-suited role as the off-guard while taking some ball-handling pressure off of superstar Paul George. The main knock against Payne is his size as he stands at a decent 6’2” but has a slim 183 pound frame that has to fill out at the next level. In the game, though, he displays a masterful balance of scoring and facilitating. Payne is rare in that he is an outstanding passer (39.5% assist percentage) who can also score from the outside (2.5 three-pointers per game). While his mechanics aren’t superb, Payne seemingly wills the ball into the basket as he has the ability to heat up at any given moment. These mechanics, however, do lead to some streaky shooting from Payne, but he has a smooth floater that he will be able to rely on at the next level. On defense, Payne is a mixed bag. On paper he averaged 2.1 steals per game, but the film shows a lot of unnecessary gambles and plays taken off that suggest an overall lack of commitment on that end. Despite these concerns, Payne can step in as a starter for the Pacers and give them the dynamic weapon in the backcourt that they have been searching for.
- Utah Jazz: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, 7’0”, PF/C
Frank Kaminsky will be an interesting player to watch come June. Do I think he is a top-10 talent? No, but I could certainly see him rising up towards the end of that group not only due to his winning pedigree after four years at Wisconsin but due to the premium on playmaking bigs in the league. For now, though, I have the 2015 player of the year landing just outside that top 10 in a great situation with the young Utah Jazz. The Jazz have two young frontcourt players already vested in their starting lineup with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert; Favors being the more offensive-minded of the two while Gobert is among the best low post defenders and rebounders in the league. Yet as talented as these two are, they both take away something vital to an offense: spacing. Both bigs primarily operate down low and this makes Kaminsky’s skill set a perfect fit to come off the bench as the third big. Kaminsky’s perimeter shooting ability (41 percent three-point shooter last season) would not only spread the floor for either of the big men, but it would also allow small forward Gordon Hayward more room to operate in the midrange where he excels. Kaminsky is also a phenomenal passer and playmaker for his size with an ability to face up and take his man off the dribble quite akin to a young Pau Gasol. After drafting a project player in the 19-year-old Dante Exum last season, Utah should look to the 22-year-old Kaminsky as a seasoned player who can step into a leadership role in the Jazz locker room. Love the fit.
- Phoenix Suns: Myles Turner, Texas, 7’0”, PF/C
This pick is a bit of a wild card based on Phoenix’s tendency of drafting the best player available rather than for need. However, I do not believe those two criteria are mutually exclusive. A former McDonald’s All-American whose stock fell due to a bad system at Texas and concerns of a long-term foot injury, Turner still possesses the combination of stretch shooting and elite rim protection (2.6 blocks per game) that had some considering him a top-five talent early on. And, luckily, what he excels in is exactly what the Suns need. Even with Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris in the power forward rotation, a stretch four who can rebound and block remains at the top of Phoenix’s priorities. Now don’t get me wrong, Turner has some pretty significant concerns. Though he does mask it with his remarkable 7’4” wingspan, Turner has a very nimble frame and lacks NBA-level strength, which shows itself when having to battle for boards. More pressing though, is the concern of his long-term durability. Turner underwent a large growth spurt in high school and with that, minor foot and ankle injuries ensued. There have been a multitude of career-ending foot injuries to great big men and there is no question that the fear of this weighs heavily in the minds of NBA decision-makers. Nevertheless, Turner’s unique skillset as a two-way stretch big is a huge commodity in the new age of the NBA and a team such as Phoenix with their highly-lauded medical staff should feel comfortable taking the risk on him for the potential reward.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Devin Booker, Kentucky, 6’6”, SG
As a team ready to contend next year with essentially no holes at any position, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in a prime position to trade this pick for more established talent. However, assuming they stay put, I think they’ll go with the sharpshooting guard Devin Booker. As his pace adjusted per-40 numbers show (2.8 makes per game from beyond the arc at a 41.1 percent clip), Booker is an elite shooter. And in an NBA where perimeter scoring is more-than-ever becoming extremely vital to an offense, sharpshooters such as Booker are better valued. However, as great as Booker is from beyond the arc, he struggles doing much else. His ability to create offense is almost nonexistent as is his potential on defense, making Booker the prototypical three-point specialist. As a team with little time to develop talent, though, the Thunder will view his obvious niche as a chance for him to contribute right away from the outside. With his youth (18 years-old) and solid size (6’6”, 208 lbs), Booker has the potential to expand his offensive game down the line, but for now, he can give Oklahoma City some much-welcomed sure-handedness from the perimeter.