In addition to the Warriors reshaping the mindset on how to win in today’s NBA, the 2014-15 season may go down as the year of the point guard. In a year where Stephen Curry won the MVP award, Russell Westbrook led the NBA in scoring and 8 of 24 NBA All-Stars ran the point, the position has unprecedented depth and talent. It used to be that having a high level floor general was a luxury, and now it has become a virtual necessity. Similar to the quarterback position in the NFL, it may still be possible to win a title without a top tier PG, but it is proving more difficult than ever before.
This year, the top two PG prospects are considered locks to go in the top half of the lottery, if not the top 5. And another, Payne, has been on a tear and seen as a potential top 10 pick now. You have the Final Four MVP who took over late to carry the Blue Devels to the title. Plus others that pushed their teams to great heights this past season, as well, with a combination of speed, size and playmaking ability that are sure to entice NBA GMs. This draft has a very strong PG class that should help enhance the deepest postion in the league.
1. Emmanuel Mudiay, Guangdong
Mudiay took the road less traveled when he decided to bypass SMU to play professionally in China. Time will tell how this affects his stock, though it certainly has added some uncertainty that might not have been there had he played in the NCAA this past year. He has received praise for his focus and some have suggested that playing in China gave him added maturity and perspective. Despite severely spraining his ankle after 10 games, Mudiay decided to rehabilitate in China and came back for the last two games of the season. He posted averages of 18 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 5.9 apg in 27.8 mpg, scoring over 20 points in half of his games.
Combining size, quickness, body control and court vision, Mudiay had no trouble establishing himself as a top level player in China. Granted, the level of guard play is low. He shot 13-38 (34.2%) from 3-point range and 27-47 (57.5%) FT, highlighting some question marks about his shooting touch. But watching him in workouts and having seen him numerous times during high school, concerns about his shot are likely overblown. Decision-making will be a key for him; as he has a tendency to force the issue, he averaged 3.3 topg. Even with the statistical drawbacks, he has size and explosive ability that very few point guards posses. His time in China may have compromised his development as a point guard to a degree, but it gave him a lot of experience in being a professional and how to conduct himself. Mudiay is a rare talent and as our top overall prospect, if he falls out of the top 5 as some mock drafts suggest, he figures to be the steal of this year’s draft.
2. D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Known as one of the top combo guard prospects entering college, his shiftiness and playmaking ability made it evident that Russell could thrive running a team. Leading all freshmen in scoring at 19.3 ppg, he also averaged a fantastic 5.7 rpg and 5.0 apg in 33.9 mpg. With an uncanny ability to spot teammates before they even knew they were open, he showed a great understanding of floor spacing. Furthermore, he was a very high-level long distance shooter, going 95-231 (41.1%) from 3-point range. Add to this his consistent mid-range shooting, and the fact that he a terror on the pick-and-roll, and the intrigue in his offensive package is considerable.
Russell was a consensus 1st Team All-American, immediately adapting to the college game and providing a court sense well beyond his years. His leadership has received high praise as well. The main concerns with him are regarding his, at times, overly-ambitious decision making. His lack of explosiveness also hurts his efficiency finishing at the hoop. He is over reliant on his dominant left hand and it will be interesting to see how long it takes him to adjust to the physical play at the next level. Also, like many young guards, he at times struggles with staying low in his defensive stance. His overall intensity level on defense needs to be better. But with a 6-9 wingspan, hope remains for him as a defender, it will just require more focus and desire to contribute on that end of the floor. Russell’s wizardry with the basketball both passing and ball handling and ISO ability give him a chance to be special, espcially as a scorer.
3. Cameron Payne, Murray State
Payne made a splash in two seasons at Murray State, which turned into a tidal wave in the scouting world as his sophomore season came to a close. Seen as more of a role player during his AAU days, the lefty caught the attention of the Murray State coaching staff. Payne turned out to be an absolute star for the Racers, finishing this season as Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year after averaging 20.2 ppg. The most intriguing aspect of his game seems to be his playmaking ability, as he averaged 6 apg to only 2.5 topg, while lifting his shooting efficiency considerably. His body is still in the development stage and he is just an average athlete for a NBA PG, which will cause a steep early learning curve. But his speed is better than his athleticism, which helps a lot. He will really need to adjust to defense at this level as well, though he has shown promise and willingness to compete. He’s a steady hand as a floor leader and his great development in his short career makes him very promising. His diverse array of finishing abilities and all around PG skill has made him an intriguing option for lottery teams.
4. Terry Rozier, Louisville
Rozier made strides under Rick Pitino this past season, possessing athleticism and speed that you don’t often find in a PG. He seemed to help himself greatly during the NBA Draft Combine, as he was a standout in games while shooting lights out from long range in drills. It will really be about showing his capability to run a team, as he never fully adapted to being the teams primary decision maker in Louisville’s chaotic system. He was more of a volume shooter than a pure scorer, though he has shown signs that this can improve with time. He possesses great length and leaping ability that allow him to him to play much bigger than his size (his 5.6 rpg shows his willingness to compete for the ball). He is a boom or bust type pick and will need time to learn the nuances of the position and improve his shot selection. He’s a kid with natural leadership abilities who we view as a potential steal late in the first round and have him above Wright, Grant and Jones, despite very few teams having him this high.
5. Delon Wright, Utah
Wright inherited a Utah team that had finished near the bottom of the Pac-12 conference and left as the leader of a group that put fear into the eventual champion Duke Blue Devils in the Sweet 16. He filled up his stat line while with the Utes, finishing his two years with averages of 15 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 5.2 apg. He also had a fantastic 2.36:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while also shooting 53.5% FG and 81.4% FT. Also, his steal and block rates were both tremendous, as he shows athleticism and effort that belie his combine testing numbers. The knocks on Wright have to do with his age (he is currently 23), his somewhat underdeveloped body and his lack of consistency as a jump shooter. He did improve his shot and was a very high level foul shooter, but he still is a player that defenses will force to shoot. Improvement in his intermediate game will be a must and it will be interesting to see whether his wiry strength will carry close to the same effect as it did in college. He still possesses great height and length with a playmakers mentality, with enough to add in other facets that give him a chance to make a difference down the line.
6. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant has been called a potential lottery pick by scouts so the fact that he is sixth on this list demonstrates the great talent at the position in this year’s draft. His statistics might not have been as flashy as those he put up during his junior season, shortened due to academics. What was clear was that his ability to run a team and take leadership improved a great deal during his final season. With a plus 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, his drop in offensive production could be partially contributed to other players making huge leaps. Even so, his jump shot was not as consistent this past season and is something to work on. His off-hand needs improvement and another puzzling thing is his lack of activity as a rebounder. The rebounding is not often seen as an attribute guards must possess, though it is an analytics stat that often equates to success. It is a bit puzzling with Grant possessing a size and strength advantage over a vast majority of the players he faced. He also will be 23-years old at the time of the draft, though he seems ready to come in and play minutes and contribute at the professional level.
7. Tyus Jones, Duke
Always known for his ability to run a team and maturity far beyond his age, Jones was the on-court maestro that led Duke to the 2015 NCAA Championship. He played his best basketball in the biggest games, highlighted by his capturing the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Jones tends to let the games come to him and is the epitome of a classic pass-first PG, rarely making mistakes with an over 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is very adept at running the pick-and-roll, has a great ability to get the ball to players in their spots and changes speeds quite well. He is definitely on the small side and he is not a high caliber athlete, which leads to questions about how well he will be able to defend NBA point guards. What he does possess is a leadership and adaptability that give him the look of a quality teammate. He even shows potential as a shooter, plus was a fantastic 88.9% FT. He is not one to back down and while his quickness leaves some questions regarding whether he can be a full time starter, his competitive streak and IQ makes it hard to bet against him at least contributing.
8. Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
It was pretty difficult for Hanlan to come by wins during his time at Boston College, though the opposition had no easier task in guarding him. He had a major role at BC as soon as he arrived, none greater than this past season. The 2015 ACC scoring champ, Hanlan averaged 19.5 ppg, while upping his assist numbers and showing more ability to play the point. With off-guard size, he still can create off of the dribble and has some promise as a next level combo. His athleticism may not be outstanding by NBA standards, but teams had to love seeing him compete and his commendable effort during his time in college. If he finally gets the talent around him that he never quite had at BC, good things can happen for him at the pro level.
9. Travis Trice, Michigan State
It is always hard to bet against Tom Izzo in March, and Trice was the extension of his coach on the floor for the surprise Spartans run to the Final Four. He went from role player to leading scorer, while also finishing with a 2.81:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was a 39.5% 3PT shooter during his time at Michigan State, particularly excelling as a spot-up shooter who can make plays without the ball in his hands. This would be the strength he would bring to the table, which might be difficult for NBA teams to fathom given his streakiness as a senior (39.7% FG). Trice still showed tremendous growth and while his size is not ideal, it is probably at least a bit better than what he was listed in college. He still will need to prove he can defend at the NBA level and it is uncertain whether his final run in college gave him enough steam to be a certain draftee. Still, much like Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, do not completely count out Trice from making an NBA team. He’s become one of the biggest sleepers available that no one is talking about.
10. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
His career at Kentucky certainly was a yo-yo effect, full of ups and downs. Even if he did not live up to his billing coming into college, he was a vital part of two Final Four teams and showed some improved decision making in his sophomore season. The intrigue of the “point guard Harrison” was his ability to get to the basket, which leads to kick outs and trips to the foul line. The major problem Andrew seemed to face was with his ability to finish at the basket, along with overall shot selection that led to him finishing his UK career as a 37.2% FG shooter. He still possesses intriguing size and ability that should pique a team’s interest. It will be very interesting to see how he adapts to life without his twin and backcourt mate, Aaron. The questions regarding maturity and body language will be up to him to answer, though he will have a brand new platform on which to do so.
Ryan Boatright 5-11 170 PG UConn Sr., Askia Booker 6-2 170 PG Colorado Sr., Quinn Cook 6-1 180 PG Duke Sr., Will Cummings 6-1 180 PG Temple Sr., Ryan Harrow 6-1 165 PG Georgia St. Sr., TJ McConnell 6-2 190 PG Arizona Sr., Kevin Pangos 6-2 185 PG Gonzaga Sr., Shannon Scott 6-1 185 PG Ohio State Sr., Juwan Staten 6-0 190 PG West Virginia Sr., Keifer Sykes 6-0 170 PG Wisconsin Green Bay Sr., Corey Walden 6-3 190 PG/SG Eastern Kentucky Sr.