It was nearly impossible for teams to acquire first-round picks last season due to the depth of the 2014 NBA Draft, but this season has already seen potential picks moved in all three major NBA trades. While there are protections involved with these picks, one reason for the increased movement is the level of talent expected to be available near the end of the first round. It is reasonable to question whether or not the quality of talent in picks 20-30 is worth the guaranteed salary a contending team is obligated to pay. As a result, I expect to see more movement of picks near the end of the first round prior to the trade deadline as contending teams look to add missing pieces.
Despite this draft lacking depth, the top of the draft has gotten stronger since the opening of college basketball season. The top 5-10 players are not as strong as last year, but they likely have exceeded the expectation of the 2011-13 classes. Getting a pick in both the top 5 or in the lottery is a significant difference over other slots in the draft. For the Atlanta Hawks, sneaking into the lottery via swapping with the Brooklyn Nets would be a significant advantage over selecting in the late twenties.
I have chosen to rank the top 30 prospects, but this list comes with the caveat that players listed after pick 20 are nearly interchangeable along with another 10-15 behind them. Conference play will allow more of these players to be matched up with other prospects for better assessments, but for now this draft appears to have a whole lot of "just another guy" types after the first 20. Without further delay, here is the first listing of the first Peachtree Hoops Draft Rankings with a few special comments.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Freshman, C, Duke (6'11, 272)
2. Karl Towns, Freshman, PF/C, Kentucky (7'0, 248)
3. Justise Winslow, Freshman, SF, Duke (6'6, 221)
4. Stanley Johnson, Freshman, SF, Arizona (6'8, 243)
Johnson has made the deepest impression over the last month. Johnson had a dominant defensive performance against Michigan's Caris LaVert where his athleticism overwhelmed another strong prospect. He needs to develop a reliable jumper to become a star, but I believe he has the rare ability to impact games on the defensive end earlier than most young players.
5. Emmanuel Mudiay, 19, PG, China (6'5, 200)
6. Kristaps Porzingis, 19, PF, Latvia (7'0, 220)
7. Caris LeVert, Junior, SG, Michigan (6'7, 200)
8. D'Angelo Russell, Freshman, SG/pg, Ohio State (6'4, 175)
Russell will be watched strongly throughout Big 10 conference play as he has been able to physically outclass most of his competition to this point. He has star potential as shown in an explosive 25-point first half against Minnesota, but he also has bust potential as a player who may not be as elite as his swagger. I have him this high because he has the best balance of potential and skill of players outside the top 5.
9. Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky (7'0, 244)
10. Frank Kaminsky, Senior, PF/c, Wisconsin (7'0, 242) [PROFILE]
11. Bobby Portis, Sophomore, PF, Arkansas (6'10, 235)
12. Myles Turner, Freshman, PF/C, Texas (6'11, 242)
13. Kelly Oubre, Freshman, SF/sg, Kansas (6'6, 204)
14. Tyus Jones, Freshman, PG, Duke (6'1, 191)
15. Cliff Alexander, Freshman, C/pf, Kansas (6'9, 254)
16. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sophomore, SF, Arizona (6'6, 212)
17. Justin Anderson, Junior, SF, Virginia (6'6, 222)
Anderson has developed into a lethal shooter with a 56/59/76 slash. He plays outstanding on-ball defense although he does not create a lot of turnovers. Total team player who fits the 3-and-D profile and has a 6'11" wingspan. Currently, Anderson is the most underrated prospect in the class.
18. Kevon Looney, Freshman, PF, UCLA (6'9, 220)
19. Devin Booker, Freshman, SG, Kentucky (6'6, 186)
While it is hard to evaluate Kentucky players due the depth of prospects and limited playing time, Booker is an elite shooter who handles the ball well, defends his position, and makes good decisions with the basketball. He is a very good athlete, but may be swallowed up a bit by the wing athleticism at the next level. He could move up if he capitalizes on higher-pressure opportunities as the season progresses.
20. Mario Hezonja, 20, SG/SF, Croatia (6'8, 200)
21. Sam Dekker, Junior, SF, Wisconsin (6'9, 229)
22. Montrezl Harrell, Senior, PF, Louisville (6'8, 230)
23. Tyrone Wallace, Junior, SG/pg, California (6'5, 200)
24. R.J. Hunter, Junior, SG/pg, Georgia State (6'5, 180)
25. Jordan Mickey, Sophomore, PF, LSU (6'8, 234)
Mickey continues to be undervalued on most boards and rated behind more highly regarded teammate Jarell Martin. Mickey is a workhorse who averages 16 points, 11 rebounds, and nearly 4 blocks a game. He has improved as a passer this season. While he is held back by limited range, his 72% stroke from the free throw line shows that he could develop a reasonable mid-range game.
26. Kennedy Meeks, Sophomore, PF, North Carolina (6'9, 279)
27. Alan Williams, Senior, PF, UC-Santa Barbara (6'8, 264)
28. Delon Wright, Senior, PG, Utah (6'5, 179)
29. Jerian Grant, Senior, SG/pg, Notre Dame (6'5, 204)
30. Josh Richardson, Senior, SG, Tennessee (6'6, 200)
Richardson is outside the top-100 on most respected boards. The senior has emerged from third option throughout most of his career to a do-it-all leader. He has primarily played point guard this season and maintained being an efficient player despite the increase in responsibility. Younger than some junior prospects, Richardson is a huge sleeper who may play himself into SEC Player of the Year.