Each year we take a look at which prospects stand out the most in various categories. Here is a look at this year’s "top 5 superlatives" lists.
Most Athletic: Justise Winslow
Justise Winslow provided a number of intangible factors that were crucial to Duke’s 2015 NCAA Championship run, but it is his athleticism that makes him one of the draft’s top prospects. The son of former “Phi Slamma Jamma” alumnus Rickie Winslow, Justise is an incredible run and jump athlete with pro level strength at all of 19-years old. He had his head at the rim constantly this season, plus had one of the most jaw dropping feats of the college season when he cleared Stanford guard Chasson Randle’s head on a chase down block. He was also a big help on the boards and provides big time lateral quickness that made him a major factor on defense. His athletic prowess alone makes him a safe bet to become a positive factor for whichever team he ends up with.
Strongest Player: Jahlil Okafor
A major part of the reason Okafor was such a dominant force as a low-post scorer during his freshman season was his ability to establish and maintain position. While the league seems to be moving towards the speed game as opposed to raw power, there are many different ways to take advantage of match-ups. If you have a center that can get and capitalize on post attempts, it can draw in the defense and make life easier for those on the perimeter. While Okafor will definitely not get the sheer amount of good post touches he got in college, there are just not many players that he will not be able to impose his will on. This is what could make him a huge factor offensively, even in a league that seems to be moving away from the classic back-to-the-basket big man.
Fastest Player: Emmanuel Mudiay
His combination of size and speed are what make Mudiay such an intriguing point guard prospect. While he does possess some explosive ability as well, he seems to have that rare extra gear that helps him get some great looks at the hoop. What makes this even more dangerous is that Mudiay is also very agile, plus great at changing speed and direction. His first step is explosive, which could lead to major things for Mudiay if he works on his shooting and tightens his decision-making.
Least Athletic: Dakari Johnson
You did not need the NBA combine to tell you that athleticism is not the young big man’s strong suit. Johnson is more about power and craft as opposed to exploding around the rim. Luckily for him, he has prototype size for a NBA Center, along with some knowhow using his body to create some space. Youth also may play a part in his having upside to at least gain a bit more spring to his step. At this current point in time, though, it seems like his lack of athletic ability could keep Johnson from getting a role any different to the one he had at Kentucky.
Longest Player: Robert Upshaw
The mammoth Upshaw was leading the nation in blocked shots at 4.5 bpg before being dismissed from the Washington basketball team. He has the arms of an aircraft, as he measured with a 7’5.5” wingspan and a ridiculous 9’5” standing reach. His off-the-court issues really hurt his draft stock, but his absurd size and potential as a rim protector still make it highly likely he hears his name called on June 25.
Best Shooter: Mario Hezonja
Hezonja takes this spot not just with his deadly shooting stroke, but also for his ability to create opportunities. His release is a blur, has a great concept of spacing and even has shown an ability to create some looks off of the dribble. While there are some who are known as “shooting specialists”, the best shooters this game has seen use this weapon to do more than just drain the occasional open look. This is where Hezonja separates himself from others with his shooting ability in this draft, with the potential to make a lot of shots from long range, with other tools that can lead to him being a devastating all-around scorer.
Best Ball Handler: Tyus Jones
Some people see the best dribblers as those who complete incredible crossovers and complex dribble moves to finish awe-inspiring individual scoring sequences. The aspect that is sought after in the NBA is a ball handler who can make the game easier for their teammates while limiting costly mistakes. Tyus Jones excels in this sense, as he takes care of the ball while using the dribble very effectively to get to good spots on the floor. He is constantly in control, which is what coaches’ love from their floor general.
Best Passer: D'Angelo Russell
Even in games where he might have struggled shooting the ball, Russell could still make a huge impact with his ability to see the floor. He has the ability to find teammates before they even know they are open, with a number of jaw dropping bounce passes to cutters. He has enormous potential in the pick-and-roll at the NBA level, especially considering that he was a very efficient outside shooter on a consistent basis. He is incredibly creative and his vision should lead to a lot of great plays as soon as he hits the floor.
Best Defender: Willie Cauley-Stein
Kentucky was the most feared defense in the nation last year, with Cauley-Stein as the catalyst. 7-footers are not supposed to have his lateral quickness or the agility to get as low as he does. This gives him tremendous versatility both defending his natural post position, or even the perimeter. While upper body strength still will be a factor in defending post men he sees on a nightly basis at the next level, he will provide the much sought after help in pick-and-roll situations. He is a player who will provide defense that shows up on and off of the stat sheet, which is all you can hope for on that crucial end of the court.
Best Rebounder: Karl-Anthony Towns
Every level Towns has played at; he has seemed to excel on the boards. His size and athleticism play a part, but so do his desire, effort and fundamentals. He genuinely seems to have a knack for where to be on the floor and even with Kentucky’s bevy of able big men, Towns stood out as a rebounder on both sides of the floor. He can get rebounds out of just his area and he also has the potential to be even more effective than he was in college on the professional level. He averaged close to a rebound every 3 minutes on the floor, an incredibly encouraging sign for his prospects cleaning the glass in the pros.
Best Post Skills: Jahlil Okafor
This was absolutely no contest. In a position where first year players tend to struggle to make an impact offensively, Okafor had one of the most dominant seasons we have seen from a freshman pivot. His footwork is exemplary, he can use either one of his massive hands and he is into his move as soon as he feels contact when he is single covered. His raw athleticism may not be on par with the top big men in the league, but his ability to make moves gracefully when close to the hoop is something only a handful of centers have mastered close to Okafor’s level. He is far ahead of the learning curve and the chances are that the best has yet to come.
Best Competitor: Emmanuel Mudiay
The NBA is full of strong competitors and it is our feeling that Mudiay has a killer instinct that makes him stand out in this category. He is a player that hates to lose more than he loves to win, which is what tends to separate the good from the great. He truly seems to be one of those guys that competes to win in every aspect of life, whether it be video games, ping pong, etc and it shows with his taking losing very personally. In turn, with the competitiveness that he shows, the sky is the limit with him.
Most Versatile: Frank Kaminsky
What made the (unanimous) NCAA Player of the Year so dangerous was his ability to excel in a wide number of facets on the floor. He was dangerous from the inside-out offensively, with the ability to handle the rock you don’t often see from a true 7-footer. He also was a big time playmaker as a passer, while hugely buying in to Wisconsin’s defensive identity that had him moving his feet rather than planted in the middle of a zone. His versatility in a wide number of scenarios is what makes him a likely top-20 draftee and gives him the chance to be a valuable rotational big man.
Highest Risk: Kelly Oubre
The NBA Draft tends to love talent and potential, with Oubre possessing both in spades. The risk is more in concerns about whether he puts everything together. He is an excellent athlete with a massive 7’2 wingspan, yet he often left you wanting more consistency and in particular defensive intensity. His lack of ball skills and questionable decision making led to a steep learning curve at the start of his lone year in Lawrence. His ball skills need a lot of work and may be a reason he settles for so many jump shots. He has an very high ceiling; it will be up to him to show he has the maturity and focus to reach it.
Lowest Risk: Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns has the qualities that make a top notch post prospect on either side of the ball. He has an incredibly soft shooting touch which could make him a three-point shooting threat, along with a developing post ability that improved as his freshman season progressed. He was a shot blocking presence, active rebounder and is incredibly communicative. His personality is also dynamic, he communicates with his teammates and genuinely seeks to improve his game. With all of these tools, with a body that is already well on its way to absorbing the physical contact he will face on a nightly basis, he certainly seems to be the safest choice one has in this draft to at least become a solid contributor.
1st Round Sleeper: Kevon Looney
His stock has seemed to have taken a hit with worries surrounding his energy and asthma condition. He will also need to add weight, as he definitely fits more as a PF as opposed to his once projected wing spot. Even given these concerns, Looney dropping in the draft could lead to a team getting a great value pick. He still has really solid ball skills given his size and is a very aggressive rebounder. Players with his physical profile do not grow on trees, plus he still has a chance to provide some versatility as a defender in time. If his asthma is treated properly and he puts on 15-20 pounds of muscle, someone could be getting a very productive player in the long run, in the 2nd half of the first round.
2nd Round Sleeper: Richaun Holmes
The 2015 MAC Defensive Player of the Year was one of the stars of this year’s Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, with averages of 14.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 3.7 bpg. He also registered impressive vertical leaping ability at the NBA Combine, while being a major factor in the scrimmages that took place there as well. On top of this, Holmes was one of the few players who measured much better in these settings than his listed height and weight in college. With age also constantly being taken into consideration, Holmes will still be only 21-years old at the time of the draft. If he can show more face-up ability, he certainly has some post tools on both ends to make him a very strong 2nd round choice.
Undrafted Sleeper: Travis Trice
There are teams that do like Trice so there is a chance he gets drafted. We have him projected in the late 40s. But many prognosticators have him going undrafted after Trice failed to receive an invite to the NBA combine, while teammate Brandon Dawson was invited. Trice showed excellent leadership and clutch play in the tournament leading the Spartans to the Final Four. He gets knocked for his shooting efficiency and size, but he showed very good athleticism dunking the ball on breaks, and appears to play bigger than the 6-foot-0 height he was listed at. is it possible he’s closer to 6-1 1/2 and has a 6-4 to 6-5 wingspan? He wasn’t a strong defender, but could gain strength in his core base. One of our sleepers for this year’s draft who may go undrafted.
High Risk/High Reward
1st Round Sleepers
2nd Round Sleepers