The 2015 NBA draft featured some obvious outcomes (Karl-Anthony Towns going No. 1 to Minnesota) and some surprises (Justise Winslow dropping all the way to Miami at No. 10). Overall, the incoming class shows a lot of promise top to bottom, but which teams did right by their fan base with the pick(s) they made?
For each team’s first-round pick, we’ll assign draft grades corresponding with the player and his team fit. In the case of trades, we’ll be grading the team that nets the incoming rookie, rather than the team who traded the selection for different assets.
So which picks were the best of 2015’s first round?
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns
The two-way potential of Karl-Anthony Towns was too much to ignore in this spot, as Flip Saunders and the Minnesota Timberwolves showed by making the no-brainer choice at No. 1 overall.
Towns is a tremendous rim protector and shot blocker who can also make an impact on the offensive end. He has all the tools necessary to succeed at the next level.
Los Angeles Lakers: D’Angelo Russell
Provided that the Lakers have a big need at the center position, it was thought that they’d opt to nab Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and his impressive post moves at No. 2 overall.
Instead, Lakerland went with D’Angelo Russell, a tweener guard who’s specialty is scoring the rock. Russell can shoot from deep and finish around the basket, but he did have his fair share of ugly shooting games. Included in that was a dreadful 3-of-19 shooting performance against the Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps we’ll view that as more of a red flag in the future, but we’ll have to see.
It will also be curious to see how he can coexist with a ball-dominant, in-house guard by the name of Kobe Bryant. But if the Black Mamba can take the rookie under his wing, the youngster will benefit in a huge way.
Philadelphia 76ers: Jahlil Okafor
The Philadelphia 76ers were handcuffed here by the Lakers taking Russell, who would have been a better fit for Philly. The Sixers could have panicked and made a snap decision to trade back, but they took the best player available instead.
Of course, tough decisions will have to made now. The Sixers already have Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid on the roster, meaning that Okafor is joining a crowded frontcourt. Don’t be surprised if general manager Sam Hinkie dangles the big men in trade talks.
New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis
This pick is a gamble, but for the Knicks, it’s a gamble worth taking.
Many Knicks fans in attendance certainly weren’t on board with Phil Jackson’s decision (go figure), but that’s pretty typical. The 7’1″ Latvian prospect could be the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki. He could also fall in line with other European prospects taken in the lottery (Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Yaroslav Korolev) who have been large busts. This is a classic risk vs. reward pick.
Orlando Magic: Mario Hezonja
Like Porzingis, Mario Hezonja falls into that largely disappointing pool of International lottery picks until he proves otherwise. The last International prospect taken in the lottery to make an All-Star team is Yao Ming from way back in 2002…
That being said, Hezonja is a 6’8″ guard who can shoot the lights out. He has no shortage of confidence, but we’ll have to see if that translates into success against NBA stars.
Sacramento Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein
Willie Cauley-Stein has the ability to become an elite post defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Unfortunately, his skills offensively (like the DeAndre Jordans and Tyson Chandlers of the world) are limited to throwing down alley-oop dunks.
He’ll be an asset if he can continue being a game changer on defense, but he’s an odd choice for a Sacramento Kings team that (for the moment) already has an All-Star-caliber center on the roster in DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins doesn’t have the lateral quickness needed to play power forward. He also doesn’t need another big man clogging the interior on offense. It’s tough to be convinced at this moment that Cousins and the incoming rook can coexist on the court at the same time.
Denver Nuggets: Emmanuel Mudiay
Point guard prospect Emmanuel Mudiay opted to play a season in China, rather than heading to college. He never started overseas, but in 12 games he still averaged 18 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per contest.
Signs hint that he’ll be a dynamic floor general in the pros, and this no doubt means the end for incumbent point guard Ty Lawson. If the Nuggets can land assets for the UNC product via trade, this draft pick will look even better.
Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson
Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit Pistons were set at every starting position save for small forward entering this draft. With Stanley Johnson, Motown addressed that weakness in a big way.
The former Arizona Wildcat is built like Ron Artest and Evan Turner, an NBA-ready body that can contribute on day one from a physical standpoint. His shooting is still a work in progress, but he showed he was already further along than scouts thought by converting 37.1 percent of his triples for Sean Miller’s crew.
He projects as a solid everyday contributor who could even develop into an All-Star.
Charlotte Hornets: Frank Kaminsky
The Charlotte Hornets entered the 2015 NBA draft in desperate need of outside shooting. They finished the 2014-15 dead last in three-point percentage at a woeful 31.8 percent, and while Frank Kaminsky can’t remedy that flaw by his lonesome, he will help.
The unanimous National College Player of the Year from 2015 knocked down a stellar 41.6 percent of his threes as a senior with Wisconsin. As a stretch 4-5, he can greatly improve Charlotte’s spacing around Al Jefferson on the interior. However, questions remain as to whether or not he can defend opposing bigs at the next level.
Miami Heat: Justise Winslow
If you told Pat Riley before the draft that Justise Winslow was about to fall to the Miami Heat at No. 10, he probably would have laughed.
Some mock drafts had the talented Duke freshman being taken in the top five, but he took a tumble to Miami. With questions surrounding Luol Deng’s future, adding Winslow simultaneously makes the Heat younger and less volatile.
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner
The Indiana Pacers opted to go with the upside and high motor of Myles Turner at pick No. 11. At 19 years old, the University of Texas standout likely won’t contribute much right away. Fans should instead think of this as a long-term investment.
If nothing else, he’ll be a solid rim protector. Turner averaged 2.6 blocks per game as a freshman.
Utah Jazz: Trey Lyles
At first glance, Utah selecting a big man when the team already has Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors on board might be a head-scratcher. When accounting for Utah’s lack of depth in the frontcourt behind those two studs, however, picking up Lyles as insurance when those guys go to the bench is a smart move by the Jazz.
Lyles didn’t get to play a huge amount at Kentucky with so many other talents around him, but he still managed to make a meaningful impact. He could wind up being a steal here down the road.
Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker
The Phoenix Suns already have a glut of guards on the roster, but nabbing 18-year-old sharpshooter Devin Booker still made perfect sense for a franchise looking to return to prominence.
No matter how you slice it, shooters have tremendous value in today’s NBA. Sharing the ball and spreading the floor is more important than ever before (just look at the meteoric rise of the Atlanta Hawks). Phoenix doesn’t necessarily need another guard, but the upside of Booker as a three-point specialist who can develop into an impactful defender should still excite the fan base.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Cameron Payne
OKC fans don’t have to worry about Cameron Payne being able to score. The Murray State point guard averaged 20.2 points on 45.6 percent shooting from the field as a sophomore.
He was also a great distributor. His assists percentage of 37.5 percent led this year’s draft class. The only question is how he’ll fit with the Thunder behind Russell Westbrook. If he’s simply a Lou Williams-type spark plug off the bench who can also find teammates for easy buckets, he can help solidify a weak second unit.
Atlanta Hawks: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Note: Rights traded to Washington Wizards
The Wizards were clearly keen on picking up Kansas swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. in this draft, trading up via the No. 19 pick and two second rounders.
The youngster faced questions about his work ethic and consistency, but a 7’2″ wingspan and above-average athleticism make him an intriguing prospect. NBA skills trainer Drew Hanlen, who worked with Oubre leading up to the draft, told me, “I think he’s going to surprise people by being a really good on-ball defender.”
Add Oubre to Washington’s dynamic in-house perimeter talent (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr.) and the Wiz should be even better than they were a season ago.
Boston Celtics: Terry Rozier
“Defensively, he’s the real deal.”
That’s what NBA analyst Jay Bilas said of Rozier after Boston made their selection at No. 16.
Couple that skill with volume scoring that Rozier could stand to reign in a bit, and the Celtics simply continue to add assets. Of course, Rozier’s 30.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc last season in college leaves a lot to be desired. Also, keep in mind Boston already has Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley in tow (two defensive-minded guards).
Milwaukee Bucks: Rashad Vaughn
“He’s one of the best shooters in this draft, if not the best shooter in the draft.”
That’s what Hanlen said of Vaughn, who he also worked with leading up to the draft. A tremendous shooter off the dribble, Vaughn can certainly help buff Milwaukee’s often tepid offensive flow. He just needs to limit some of the ill-advised shots he launched while in college at UNLV.
Houston Rockets: Sam Dekker
Wisconsin wing Sam Dekker raised a lot of eyebrows during the NCAA Tournament. He scored 23 points against North Carolina, then drained five out of six three-pointers en route to a season-high 27 points to dispatch the Arizona Wildcats.
Those performances buffed his draft stock, but he was still just a 34.8 percent shooter from long range in his three years as a Badger. He also went 0-of-6 from deep against Duke in the title game, so it’s fair to wonder if his outside shooting is fool’s gold. Still, nabbing him at No. 18 makes this an appropriate value pick for Houston.
Washington Wizards: Jerian Grant
Note: Rights traded to New York Knicks from Atlanta Hawks.
There’s a lot to take in here, so we’ll provide a synopsis. The Wizards traded this pick to Atlanta to net Oubre (pick No. 15). The Hawks then used their new first-round pick to take Jerian Grant, who they sent to New York in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr.
That’s a great trade for ATL as it lands yet another capable wing contributor. As for the Knicks, well, Grant is already 22 years old and doesn’t appear as if he has much more room to grow as a player. He could certainly be a solid role player at the next level, but it’s pretty unclear why NY would give up Hardaway Jr. (a guy who showed flashes of great promise) for him.
Toronto Raptors: Delon Wright
The Toronto Raptors aren’t showing much confidence in Kyle Lowry here by taking Utah point guard Delon Wright (granted, the Raps did trade backup PG Greivis Vasquez).
Wright was a steady two-way contributor in his two seasons for Utah, so he could fill in seamlessly at the backup role previously held by Vasquez. He averaged 15 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals in college.
Dallas Mavericks: Justin Anderson
Justin Anderson contributed in a big way to one of college basketball’s best defenses at Virginia. His offense had always been a point of contention, but he made gigantic strides on that end as a junior.
In fact, his three-point percentage skyrocketed from 29.4 percent as a sophomore to 45.2 percent this past season. That’s a testament to his ability to put in the time necessary to improve. He could be a meaningful role player as a three-and-D perimeter guy for Dallas.
Chicago Bulls: Bobby Portis
Bobby Portis is a fluid big man who plays with a lot of energy. He runs the floor incredibly well for his size, which usually serves as a solid indicator of whether or not a guy can succeed at the NBA level.
With Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson all fighting through injury problems recently, Chicago made a smart decision to add depth to take some pressure off the other bigs.
Portland Trail Blazers: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Note: Rights traded to the Brooklyn Nets.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson appeared to be a solid fit for a Trail Blazers team that just surrendered arguably its best defender in Nic Batum via trade with the Hornets. Instead, Rondae’s defensive chops was shipped to Brooklyn along with veteran guard Steve Blake in exchange for Mason Plumlee and Pat Connaughton.
Adding a high-energy guy in RHJ to an aging roster without many draft picks moving toward the future is a step in the right direction.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Tyus Jones
Note: Rights traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Cavaliers probably should have kept this pick to add a backup point guard to the fold via Tyus Jones. Their depth was exposed when Kyrie Irving went down with yet another injury in the NBA Finals, but Cleveland instead opted to trade the Duke floor general to Minnesota.
Ricky Rubio has disappointed early in his career as a result of poor shooting and injury woes. Jones, while a lackluster athlete, at least provides poise and a great basketball IQ.
Memphis Grizzlies: Jarell Martin
Memphis stormed right ahead with its grit-and-grind mentality by selecting Jarell Martin out of LSU.
The power forward is a fierce offensive rebounder who loves flying in for put-back tip slams. He’s also great at drawing fouls on the interior, as he went to the free throw line more than 200 times in just 33 games last season.
He’s raw as a defender and shot poorly from outside the paint, but those are both skills he can develop down the road.
San Antonio Spurs: Nikola Milutinov
Serbian center Nikola Milutinov is not ready to come over to the NBA yet. He’s still a raw talent who doesn’t show enough assertiveness on the interior.
He also needs to add bulk to his frame, but the Spurs have an incredible track record with discovering and developing International talent (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, etc.). It’s logical to assume Gregg Popovich and Co. know what they’re doing.
Los Angeles Lakers: Larry Nance Jr.
Larry Nance Jr., son of the NBA’s first ever Slam Dunk champion Larry Nance, clearly impressed the Lakers’ brass in workouts. The Wyoming standout was projected by a number of pundits as a second-round pick, but Lakerland reached to get its guy.
As a guy who has battled Crohn’s disease and come back from a torn ACL, there’s no doubting Nance’s resolve and desire.
Boston Celtics: R.J. Hunter
You might recall Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter as the guy who buried a deep game-winning three against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament. Boston’s decision to nab him shows that the Celtics both want a number of different guards they can utilize and that they’re content with a rather ho-hum frontcourt.
Still, Hunter can score and has good size at 6’6″, so we’ll just have to see if he can carve a niche as a late-first-round selection.
Brooklyn Nets: Chris McCullough
Listed at 6’9″ and 199 pounds, Chris McCullough will need to continue filling out his frame to avoid getting bullied down low at the next level.
That being said, he’s a tremendous athlete for his size and he knows how to block shots. He sent away more than two shot attempts in college at Syracuse before suffering a torn ACL.
The injury is a concern, but it’s worth the ramifications late in the first round.
Golden State Warriors: Kevon Looney
Golden State doesn’t have many holes to fill to get better than it already is, but having Kevon Looney fall to them at the end of the first round could prove to be a very nice pickup.
The UCLA product led the Bruins in rebounding at 9.2 per game. He also drained 41.5 percent of his three-pointers, showing that he’s comfortable stepping out and stretching the floor. He has a fluid jumper and a soft touch around the basket. In a limited role, he can certainly be an asset to the Warriors as they look to repeat as champs.