2015 NBA Draft Big Board: The 10 Best Prospects for the Sixers

Who should the Sixers draft Thursday evening? Here's what I'd do.

From left: Emanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, D'Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns (all USA Today Sports) and Kristaps Porzingis (Twitter)

From left: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns (all USA Today Sports) and Kristaps Porzingis (Twitter)

Basketball writer Derek Bodner is covering the NBA draft for Philadelphia magazine at Sixers Draftland

We’re now only 24 hours away from the 2015 NBA Draft, and the question today is simple: What would I do?

Here is my ranking of the top 10 prospects in the NBA Draft, specifically as they relate to how I would prioritize them if I were running the Sixers.

I’m going to break them down into tiers, with the basic premise that players in the same tier are roughly equivalent. Fit and team need may then have an impact on players within the same tier, but almost never moves a player up or down into a different tier.

Click on a player’s name to view a more detailed write-up.

Tier 1

Mar 19, 2015; Louisville, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns (12) shoots the ball against Hampton Pirates forward Jervon Pressley (30) during the second half in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at KFC Yum! Center. Kentucky wins 79-56.

Mar 19, 2015; Louisville, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Karl-Anthony Towns (12) shoots the ball against Hampton Pirates forward Jervon Pressley (30) during the second half in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at KFC Yum! Center. Kentucky wins 79-56.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky

In my mind, Towns is far and away the best prospect in this draft. If I had to look at the draft and ask myself which prospect has the best chance to realistically become a top-10 player in the NBA, to really have the ability to almost single-handedly make his franchise relevant, it’s Towns. Big men who can dominate on both ends of the court change the complexion of a team, and Towns has it all. If there’s one player I’d give up significant assets to go up and get, it’s Towns.


Tier 2

2) D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State

At the top of the second tier is Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. His elite three-point shooting potential and incredible creativity as a passer give Russell a chance to be really good. What is perhaps most interesting about Russell is his potential to form a two-man game with Joel Embiid (should the big man be able to remain healthy). I do think that Russell is a little bit riskier than some, however; he could become one-dimensional on offense and, against good defenders struggle to create offense in the paint at a high enough volume to really be a superstar, but the upside is there and the fit is fantastic.

3) Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke

Okafor is going to test the “best player available” theory. Okafor is right there with Russell as a prospect, but his fit with the Sixers — both Embiid and Nerlens Noel — is so bad, and Russells’ is so good, that it impacts the ranking. Down the line, if both Embiid and Okafor become dominant players, it’s hard to see a scenario where one of them isn’t moved. Still, especially with Embiid’s injury concerns, if both players turn into franchise cornerstones, that seems like a problem I’d happily take. The scenario I’m absolutely trying to avoid if I’m the Sixers is to be two or three years further into the rebuild and still not have a dominant player on the roster. To me, Okafor helps mitigate the risk of that worst-case scenario enough to overlook the (major) concerns about his fit.

Porzingis (left, via Twitter; right, via YouTube)

Porzingis (left, via Twitter; right, via YouTube)

4) Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Baloncesto Sevilla

I wrestled with what tier to put Porzingis in. I do believe Porzingis has the talent to be in the discussion with Okafor and Russell. The debate between Okafor and Porzingis has the potential to be a fascinating one, as Porzingis is about the perfect conceptual fit to pair next to Embiid. If you have the opponent’s power forward — likely their second big rebounder, shot blocker and post defender — chasing Porzingis off of screens 20 feet from the hoop, Embiid will have a lot of opportunities. On the other hand, I can’t envision Okafor’s game fitting with Embiid long-term. So, if Porzingis has similar upside and a much better fit, why is he below Okafor in the ranking? Risk. Despite the very real concerns I have with Okafor’s defense, I’m extremely confident in him being a dominant offensive player. Porzingis has the higher likelihood of flaming out.


Tier 3

5) Mario Hezonja, SG, F.C. Barcelona

Hezonja’s one of those guys who I think has a pretty good chance of being a good NBA player, and also somebody who fits in well as a piece alongside Embiid. His deep three-point range, ability to run off of screens, and incredible athleticism would open things up for Embiid down low, and he has enough defensive potential to give Brett Brown something to work with. His cocky demeanor and exciting style of play would also endear him to Philadelphia fans. The concern — and reason he’s not higheris that he’ll likely need one, if not two, high-level shot creators playing alongside him, and if Embiid doesn’t pan out (for whatever reason), the Sixers will still have some tough positions to fill.

USATSI_emmanuel-mudiay-940x540

6) Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Guangdong Southern Tigers

Mudiay’s the type of player where fit definitely dropped him down a spot or two, as building an offense around a point guard who struggles shooting the ball is tough, especially with an offense that would feature Embiid in the post. If I were relatively confident that Mudiay would fix his jump shot, he has enough potential to be much higher in this list, and you could make an argument for him starting at the No. 2 position. My confidence in his shot isn’t all that high, however, and I think he’ll struggle to be a real elite point guard, in a league with incredible point guard depth, without that.


Tier 4

7) Justise Winslow, SF, Duke

As I mentioned in my write-up, I think Justise Winslow is going to be a very valuable player, and I could easily see him ending up as one of the five most valuable players in this draft. He’s a relatively safe prospect, and one with a decent amount of upside. But in a draft with so many prospects who have legitimate chances to become top offensive options, the Sixers may be looking for a player who has a little bit more of a chance to be an offensive focal point, at least with their top pick in the draft.

8) Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona

Johnson falls into a similar spot as Winslow, as I think there’s a very high probability of him being a good NBA player, and likely a quality NBA starter. Johnson is a very good and versatile defender who connected on 37% of his three-point attempts and has pretty good passing skills and a solid feel for the game. Where I think Johnson struggles — and a part of what makes Winslow a more interesting long-term prospect — is in finishing in the paint, which limits his offensive upside a little bit.


Tier 5

Mar 7, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Murray State Racers guard Cameron Payne (1) passes against Belmont Bruins guard Craig Bradshaw (23) during the first half at Nashville Municipal Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 7, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Murray State Racers guard Cameron Payne (1) passes against Belmont Bruins guard Craig Bradshaw (23) during the first half at Nashville Municipal Auditorium. Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

9) Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State

After Johnson is where I think the draft starts to fall off a little bit. I think there are some good role players (Devin Booker, for example) who would be nice pieces to the puzzle if the Sixers acquired a second first-round pick. In the end, I’d probably go with Murray State point guard Payne here, who has the kind of offensive versatility (62.8% field goal percentage at the rim, 37.7% from three) and pick-and-roll game to be an intriguing long-term option. If the Sixers do end up opting to go with a big man with the third overall pick, Payne could become an option if they’re able to acquire that second first rounder.

10) Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky

Cauley-Stein, by all accounts, deserves to be higher than this. We’ve been prioritizing pick-and-roll point guards for so long now that it’s only natural to place a high priority on big men who have the kind of defensive versatility to slow pick-and-rolls down, and Cauley-Stein is as good at that as almost any big man to come out in recent memory. I say “almost” because of Nerlens Noel. It would be hard to envision Cauley-Stein and Noel meshing well on the offensive end of the court, and Noel is the better prospect, so the interest in Cauley-Stein for the Sixers is minimal. Still, he’s too useful, and too unique, to drop any further than this.

Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.

Previously in Sixers Draftland:

Report: Sixers Locked In on D’Angelo Russell?
Rumor Mill: Sixers Reportedly in Discussions to Acquire Another First-Round Pick
Justise Winslow: A Defensive Maverick With Big “O” Questions
Dario Saric Not Coming Over This Season
Mario Hezonja: Is Elite Shooter Confident… or Cocky?
Emmanuel Mudiay: The Point Guard With a Shooting Problem
• Kristaps Porzingis: International Man of Mystery
• NBA Mock Draft Roundup: Who the Experts Think the Sixers Will Take
D’Angelo Russell: The Guy Everyone Thinks the Sixers Are Drafting
Jahlil Okafor: One of the Best Low-Post Scorers We’ve Seen

D’Angelo Russell to Work Out for the Sixers After All
• Karl-Anthony Towns: The Big Man the Sixers Probably Want — and Likely Can’t Get
Does Joel Embiid’s Setback Change Sixers’ Draft Plans?
Welcome to Sixers Draftland