It’s no secret; in today’s NBA, it’s the small forwards, led by LeBron and Durant, that are generally the most versatile, athletic players on the floor. This year’s draft class contains a menagerie of talented guys who bring a lot of different skills to the table. Some are seasoned recent graduates who led their teams all season. Some are underclassmen who blossomed in the postseason. And a few are international or JUCO prospects who come in as a bit of an unknown quantity. It’s not necessarily the deepest position in the draft, but several of these guys could hear their name called in the lottery and perhaps even the top 10.
1.Justise Winslow, Duke
Much like fellow swingmen Luke Hancock and DeAndre Daniels in recent tournaments, Justise Winslow was the breakout star of this year’s postseason. The freshman averaged 14.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG in Duke’s run to the title, and created countless hustle plays that helped the Blue Devils eke out wins over Wisconsin and Utah. Most of Winslow’s assets are centered around his hustle and drive, as well as his elite athleticism. He’s very strong and very quick and can get to the rim with ease, a skill that will likely translate to the NBA because of how strong and aggressive he is. On the other end, Winslow is already a stellar defender thanks to his combination of lateral quickness, strength, intensity, and above-average length. And in transition, Winslow gets up and down the floor in a flash both with and without the ball, and has proven to be a great finisher in transition, as well.
Perhaps the main knock on Winslow is his perceived lack of consistency. In high school, especially, he didn’t always appear to be completely engaged and didn’t always make the kind of impact expected of him. We saw how he had some minor struggles to adjust to ACC conference play when he shot under 44% in 6 of his first 7 conference games. One of the only other major items that could set him back in comparison to the rest of this draft’s top tier is the fact that he doesn’t quite seem to have the star potential of guys like Okafor and Russell and Towns and Mudiay because he is such a hustle play, team-first, do-the-little-things, stuff-the-stat-sheet kind of guy. But don’t let his skillset fool you; Winslow is a more than capable outside shooter, in addition to his tenacious, bruising slashing ability. He connected on 42% of his three-pointers last season on a decent volume of 3’s, a fantastic number for a freshman. His mechanics are still a little rough, so that percentage may not be sustainable, but if he’s left open at the next level, he can knock down enough outside shots to keep defenses honest. All in all, Winslow put it all together in the tournament this season and showed consistency in every game in stepping up and leading a young Duke team to the title. His vast skillset was on full display, and, for a 19-year-old, who won’t turn 20 until late in next year’s regular season, he can already contribute so much to an NBA squad. Ultimately, he may have the highest floor in this draft in my opinion, and if he doesn’t blossom into a star player, he will, at the very least, be a super-role player a la Andre Iguodala or perhaps Draymond Green of the defending champs. His potential for greatness on both ends of the floor makes him massively intriguing, and the small forward prospect with the best chances of cracking the Top 5.
2. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Though he came in as the 7th-rated recruit in the Class of 2014, Stanley Johnson surprised a lot of people with how big a part he played in Arizona’s success last season, particularly during the regular season. He was inserted into a mix that already included stud upperclassmen like Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski, and T.J. McConnell, and still, despite not being the most scoring-minded player, he led the team in scoring, and also was second in rebounding and steals. Johnson’s season was almost the reverse of Winslow’s. Both came in as highly-touted recruits surrounded by a group of talented upperclassmen or even more highly-touted recruits. But unlike Winslow, Johnson led his team in the regular season, then struggled in the tournament as his team made it to the Elite Eight. In Arizona’s Round of 32, Sweet Sixteen, and Elite Eight contests, Johnson averaged 7.3 PPG on 27% shooting. But he’s a developing player who more than held his own in the entirety of the regular season, so we can’t read too much into his postseason performance.
Johnson plays like a much older, more seasoned player than he actually is, having just turned 19 at the end of May. His well-roundedness and feel for the game are both very rare in a one-and-done prospect, and he really brings more to the table as far as having a varied skillset than most of the wing players in this draft. His versatility is most apparent on defense, where he can guard almost any position on the floor, with the exception of center. His strength and length allow him to defend inside against power forwards, and his quickness, effort, and sound defensive technique allow him to defend smaller players on the perimeter. His offensive game is more of a work in progress, but when you’re the leading scorer on a team that earns a 2 seed in the tournament, you still have some offensive skills. He uses his massive, muscular frame to both drive to the hoop and post up on more slight small forwards. His jumper is passable, and appeared to improve as the season went along. And he attacks the offensive glass and gets a fair amount of second-chance opportunities. Johnson’s combination of strength, length, athleticism and a good, unselfishness mentality makes him unique among this year’s class, but he lacks some skill and polish. His youth is most apparent when he tries to be too aggressive on offense and turns the ball over, takes a bad shot, or gets called for a charge. He’s not the tallest swingman, but his strength and length will allow him to keep up with NBA small forwards and give him great potential to develop into a strong lockdown defender in the mold of Metta World Peace (back in his Ron Artest days). The advantage that Winslow has over him is rooted mainly in Winslow’s elite athleticism and the way he excelled in the postseason. But Johnson still has a strong chance at being a Top 10 selection due to his tremendous versatility, maturity, and potential.
3.Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Sam Dekker was about four minutes from winning the title and usurping Justise Winslow as the breakout star of this year’s tournament. In Wisconsin’s 6-game run to the final, the junior averaged 19.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG while knocking down 15 three-pointers, some of which came at huge moments for the Badgers. Offense has always been his calling card, and he certainly delivered, both in the tournament and throughout the regular season. Dekker has a fantastic combination of size (6’9” with a near-7 foot wingspan), athleticism, and an excellent shooting stroke. His offensive versatility is reminiscent of Gordon Hayward, as are his tournament heroics. He’s a crafty scorer who also moves well off the ball and really helps move the ball around and keeps the offense flowing. His ability to create with his perimeter play, his play above the rim, and his developing face-up game where he goes to work on smaller defenders makes him one of the more dangerous wing players on the offensive end in this class.
Dekker embodies the versatility that is so prevalent in this crop of small forwards. His wingspan was a little longer than expected when measured at the combine so there’s some potential here for Dekker to evolve into a face-up/stretch 4, but for that to happen, he would need to become a better post defender and a more comfortable post scorer. His shooting is advertised as one of his calling cards, but only connected on 33% of his three’s this past season, so he’s not really an elite shooter, and he doesn’t have any great dribble moves, but there’s still plenty to like about his offensive game. And defensively, he’s solid as he can stay in front of his man with his quickness and length. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism that Winslow and Johnson possess, but his performance in the clutch has been incredible over the course of his college career, and he appears to have an offensive skillset packaged and ready to go in the NBA.
4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
Oubre has displayed an ability to do several different things at an elite level and, if he can really put it all together and find more consistency, he has the potential to be one of the stars of this draft. The first thing that stands out about him is his outstanding wingspan. His 6’7” height isn’t outstanding, but his 7’2” wingspan is the largest among all point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards, and even surpasses that of many of the power forward and center prospects. He puts it to good use, too, as he has already proven himself as a solid perimeter defender who gets a lot of steals by disrupting the passing lanes, and he also uses his reach to pull down rebounds at a really high rate. He averaged over 5 rebounds per game last season despite only playing 21 minutes a game. In addition to his monster wingspan, Oubre is one of the elite athletes in this class, as demonstrated by his stellar vertical numbers at the combine, particularly his 34.5 standing vert.
All these incredible physical gifts that Oubre possesses nearly overshadow the fact that he’s a really solid shooter. As a freshman, he shot 36% from outside and displayed outstanding consistency on his mid-range jumpers. He’s not a great shot creator, but he can shoot very well, create second-chance opportunities with his athleticism, and get out in transition and be a really solid finisher on the fast break. And as I touched on above, he has the potential to be an elite defender even at the NBA level. His college numbers don’t jump off the page (9.3 PPG) but for being a freshman coming into a program like Kansas in a year where the Big 12 was absolutely stacked, his contribution was not bad. His passing isn’t great (only 0.8 assists per game, in addition to 1.2 turnovers per game) so he may need some time to adapt to NBA offenses, but his potential and shooting touch alone make him a wildly intriguing prospect who could be a real steal for whichever team he falls to.
5. Justin Anderson, Virginia
Like several of the players we’ve covered so far, Anderson has an excellent combination of athleticism, shooting ability, and length. Perhaps the best college player on this list, Anderson was the star for a Virginia squad that began its season 21-1 before Anderson was out for an extended period of time with an injury. The well-coached team still won most of their games without him, but they were struggling to win over vastly inferior teams and, when Anderson finally returned for the postseason, but wasn’t his normal self post-injury, the Cavaliers continued to struggle and their season came to an ignominious end in the Round of 32 at the hands of the Cinderella Michigan State Spartans. Anderson was the heart and soul of this team. He’s a very complete and well-developed player at this stage in his career, and he has shown what a hard worker he is in how dramatically he improved his outside shooting from his sophomore to his junior season. He went from a poor shooter (29% from 3 as a sophomore) to a really great shooter (45% from 3 as a junior) and that, combined with his slashing ability and mid-range game, make him a real weapon offensively. And defensively, he helped anchor one of the nation’s best defenses. He has good length (6’11” wingspan) and great athleticism (a stunning 43” max vertical), which, in addition to a strong body, make him a really great stopper on the perimeter. He’s unselfish, he’s a proven winner, and he plays with aggressiveness as a defender and a slasher.
The main thing separating Anderson from his higher-ranked counterparts is the fact that his ceiling simply isn’t as high as theirs. He’s 21 and he’s already done a good portion of the developing he’s going to do, one would think. He is currently mostly the player he is going to end up being, and while he’s a very good prospect, he doesn’t really do any one thing at an elite level besides jump. His shooting was good last season, but 26 games and 104 three-pointers isn’t a huge sample size. And the injury setbacks he faced at the end of the season probably hurt his stock a bit and limited his exposure to NBA scouts. Regardless, his strengths are well-advertised and what he brings to the table as a shooter, slasher, defender, team player, and winner make him an interesting prospect in the bottom half of the first round.
6. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Arizona was certainly loaded at the wings this past season, as Stanley Johnson was paired with sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to form a long athletic tandem on the perimeter. Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best perimeter defenders in this class. His terrific wingspan (7’1”), elite athleticism, and broad shoulders allow him to be an excellent stopper who routinely matches up with the other team’s best offensive player. He also uses his athleticism, strength, and aggression to be a great finisher who draws a lot of fouls. He hustles and makes winning plays and really contributes a lot to his team. He plays bigger than he is, too, as he led a tall, athletic team in rebounding with a solid 6.8 RPG rate last season. He’s also a really good shot-blocker, using his athleticism and instincts to chase down opponents and rotate over to swat shots away. His entire game has a power and force that will translate to any level of competition.
The main criticisms of Hollis-Jefferson revolve around his vast shortcomings as a shooter. Beyond mid-range (and even that is shaky for him), he’s not a great shooter by any stretch of the imagination. He was 6 of 29 (21%) all of last season from behind the arc, and nearly all of his points came at the rim or the free throw line, a place he visited often. His draft status is reminiscent of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s a few years back: excellent, athletic defenders with high motors who are really hampered by their lack of shooting ability. Hollis-Jefferson’s offensive skillset is limited enough that it could really negate his defensive prowess when it comes to earning playing time in the pros, but I’m higher on him than most, and when I look at him, I see a guy who’s a hard-worker who already has great athleticism and technique on defense and the boards. He can come in and contribute right away defensively and in the transition offense and he will likely end up being selected in the post-lottery shuffle, between picks 15 and 25.
7. Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Here’s where we start to see a bit of a drop-off in small forward draft stock as the seventh player on our list is Terran Petteway, a high volume scorer in college who is a bit of a wild card when trying to evaluate what kind of production he’s capable of in the NBA. A rangy, aggressive wing player who can score in all kinds of ways, Petteway is a strong shooter who average over 18 PPG in both seasons at Nebraska. Every time he step son the court, he brings and intensity and a competitive fire that is unmatched by almost everyone else he plays against. He wants to win, and sometimes, this causes him to try and do too much. He’s not an ultra-efficient player because he puts up a lot of questionable shots that are often contested and/or just inside the three-point arc. He also turns the ball over at a very high rate as he tries to do too much with the ball. His combination of a sub-40% FG percentage and a 3.4 TOPG average may scare away some scouts. But Petteway is a born leader and a born winner. If he is willing to accept a drastically more limited role for an NBA team (and let’s be honest, Nebraska needed Petteway to take a lot of shots in order to stay competitive), he could find a niche as a versatile scorer with good length (6’11”) and a high motor that gives him solid potential as an NBA defender. He has the maturity to make the transition, but the main question is, how will he fare in a limited role, and, after he struggled a bit last season compared to his sophomore season, will an NBA team give him a chance? He’ll likely get chosen in the second round, but if you don’t make the first round, there are no guarantees. It could be an uphill battle for Petteway, but he’s a competitor and he’ll give his utmost to find a place in the league.
8. Cedi Osman, Turkey
The first international player in our list, Osman doesn’t have the name recognition of the first seven guys, who each started in high school or college or both. And with his recent announcement that he will play in Europe for two seasons after he’s drafted, it will be a while before Osman makes an impact stateside. But he’s certainly an intriguing player worth knowing about and worth being picked in the draft. He’s another athlete with length, giving him great potential as a defender and allowing him to finish well in transition. He’s a guy who you want to have the ball in his hands because not only is he an excellent slasher who can finish with either hand and a very consistent spot-up shooter, but he’s also shown real potential as a point forward. He can pass the ball well and has great vision for a 20-year-old. When he enters the league, he’ll have been tested for several years against tough European competition and will be much more developed when he enters the league as a 22-year-old. Were he to try and transition to the NBA today, he might struggle because he still gets bullied a bit in the paint when he tries to finish against stronger guys. He also struggles as a shot creator, despite his ballhandling skills, so against NBA size and speed, the 20-year-old incarnation of Cedi Osman would potentially be in over his head. The fact that he missed some time recently to a nagging ankle injury also has not helped his exposure. And with all European “draft-and-stash” prospects, there is certainly some risk in picking a player who will wither not play for you for two years or never play for you at all. But he still has some developing to do, so in two years, he will likely be a very polished player point forward for whichever team has the patience to select him. Osman should go in the second round somewhere.
9. JP Tokoto, North Carolina
Unlike Osman, Tokoto got a lot of exposure playing for one of America’s perennial college basketball powerhouses in UNC. But while there, he was generally overshadowed by other more talented, more consistent players. Essentially, Tokoto is a skinny kid who can jump and play surprisingly good on-the-ball defense. Skill-wise, there’s only so much he can do with the basketball, although he developed into a very good passer last season, averaging a solid 4.3 assists per game and earning high praise from coach Roy Williams. Defense is the main are where he will initially make an impact. Like Hollis-Jefferson, Tokoto generally matched up with the opposition’s best player, who he generally fared pretty well against thanks to his solid length and his excellent quickness. He’s an above-the-rim player thanks to his 40 inch vertical, and he’s able to go up and grab a fair amount of rebounds. His length, speed, and athleticism make for a good physical combination, but his jumper is pretty broken, and his shot-creating ability is underwhelming. In college, Tokoto never averaged more than 9.3 PPG in a season, so there are few indicators that, at this point in his career, he can make NBA-level contributions on offense. But there is potential there, and Tokoto has already shown he can put in work and improve, and shows promise as a ball-hawking perimeter defender. Some time in the weight room and with the shooting coach could make him a second round steal.
10. Luis Montero, Westchester Community College
The final player on our list certainly took a more unconventional road to the draft, but unlike some players from small schools (or in this case, a junior college) who ludicrously enter their name in the NBA draft, Montero has a real chance to hear his name called on draft night. There’s only so much to be said about Montero because he’s still very much an unknown quantity. On top of the massive NBA scout exposure handicap of playing at a junior college, Montero didn’t even play basketball last school year because his team’s season was canceled due to transcript issues for several players. But this kid is the real deal, and probably had the talent to take on entire JUCO squads himself and come out on top. I use hyperbole here, but Montero is a good athlete with good handles, solid passing ability, and a somewhat odd-looking, though fairly effective jump shot. He’s also very thin, very untested, and most importantly, very underscouted. But Montero has been busy on the workout circuit and word is he has fred very well against a number of first rounders. He’s shown flashes of brilliance at the JUCO level and a spot likely awaits him in the second round of the draft. He even has some late first round buzz, as crazy as that sounds.
Anthony Brown 6-7 210 SG/SF Stanford Sr., Branden Dawson 6-7 230 SF/PF Michigan St. Sr., Shawn Dawson 6-6 190 SG/SF Maccabi Rishon Lezion 1993, Daniel Diez 6-8 220 SF Gipuzkoa Basket 1993, Treveon Graham 6-6 220 SG VCU Sr., LaDontae Henton 6-5 215 SF Providence Sr., Darrun Hilliard 6-7 220 SG Villanova Sr., LeBryan Nash 6-8 232 SF/PF Oklahoma State Sr., Sir’Dominic Pointer 6-6 190 SF St. Johns Sr., Michael Qualls 6-5 205 SF Arkansas Jr., Sam Thompson 6-7 200 SF Ohio State Sr., Juan Vaulet 6-7 200 SG/SF Bahia Basket 1996, Adin Vrabac 6-8 200 SF TBB Trier 1994, JD Weatherspoon 6-6 215 SF Toledo Sr., Aaron White 6-9 220 SF/PF Iowa Sr.