Synopsis: Since starting this site one year ago, I have analyzed the production of all NBA players drafted over the last 40+ years. Based on my research, I’m ready to offer my evaluation of players taken in the 2015 NBA Draft. Specifically, I have identified potential Top 10 Busts from this year’s draft. As of now, my early favorites include Mario Hezonja, Kristaps Porzingis, and Willie Cauley-Stein.
PROJECTED 2015 NBA DRAFT BUSTS
To manage any expectations, I have limited my review of the 2015 NBA Draft to the first ten picks. Of note, the likelihood of success drops off dramatically for players taken outside of the top 10. Specifically, over 1/4 of players taken 11th-14th and 1/2 of all other 1st round picks have completely unproductive NBA careers. While these players certainly can be labeled as busts, I don’t think they can meet the threshold of being ranked as a Top 10 Bust.
As a quick overview, the following table provides a statistical summary of the players taken at the top of the 2015 NBA Draft.
2015 NBA DRAFT – COLLEGE / INTERNATIONAL STATS
|Per 40 minutes**|
* International players. Note: Mudiay played overseas prior to the draft despite growing up in the U.S.
** Reflects averages per 40 minutes of playing time. Adjustment made to provide a better comparison between players
2015 NBA DRAFT OVERALL OBSERVATIONS
If the averages in the previous table seem high, you should note that I adjusted them for 40 minutes of playing time. Generally, I disagree with using this adjustment because it can distort the potential contribution from the players. In this case, however, it’s necessary to offer a better comparison between players. For instance, Towns and Cauley-Stein played the same position on the same team so they limited each other’s time on the court. Additionally, the international players experienced limited time as teenagers on professional teams with much older players.
KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS DESERVED TO BE THE #1 PICK.
- Best rebounder and shot blocker.
- Impressive scorer (in top tier of group).
- Shot over 55% from the floor and 80% from the line.
- Had highest FT% despite being a “big man.”
JAHLIL OKAFOR SHOULD BE THE HIGHEST SCORER.
- Best offensive player
- Led NCAA in totals FGs.
- 2nd highest FG% in NCAA
- Watch-out: Embarrassingly low FT% percentage of 51.1%.
- If he doesn’t improve, he can expect a lot of trips to the line instead of getting easy buckets down low.
MARIO HEZONJA COMES OUT OF THE GATE AS LEADING TOP 10 BUST CONTENDER.
- International player
- High uncertainly based on playing time and level of competition
- Averaged the fewest points and rebounds in the group.
- Both PGs averaged more rebounds than Mudiay.
FRANK KAMINSKY AND WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN MAY NOT OFFER THE SAME UPSIDE POTENTIAL
- Kaminsky (22 yrs old) and Cauley-Stein (21 yrs old) can be considered the senior citizens of the group.
- Kaminsky recognized as best player in college basketball last year.
- Based on draft position, not considered best going forward.
- Cauley-Stein viewed as defensive specialist who needs to develop on the offensive end
- Potential red flag: Decent overall production, but didn’t improve during three years in college
EMMANUEL MUDIAY MAY HAVE HURT HIMSELF SKIPPING COLLEGE TO PLAY INTERNATIONALLY.
- Viewed as best point guard coming out of high school in 2014
- Put up decent numbers playing in China
- However, got injured so his draft stock fell relative to one year earlier.
- Selection after D’Angelo Russell could be attributed to being “out of sight, out of mind”
POTENTIAL 2015 NBA DRAFT BUSTS – PLAYER EVALUATION
The player evaluation the following section summarizes comments made by analysts during ESPN’s televised broadcast of the draft. Frankly, I haven’t watched enough game tape to provide better insight. Instead, my unique spin involves a statistical analysis of players based on their specific draft positions
TOP 3 PICKS
Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Kentucky (selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves)
- Strong in the post.
- Has a mid-range jumper.
- Able to put the ball on the deck / good finisher.
- Good mobility.
- Good shot blocker with great wing span
As previously mentioned, Towns had the most impressive all-around numbers so his selection as the first overall pick was justified. He was only a consensus 2nd Team All-American (behind both Okafor and Cauley-Stein), but what do writers know anyway.
With respect to being a potential Top 10 Bust, Towns would have to be worse than Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi because those guys are only Honorable Mentions. While #1 picks like Brown and Olowokandi have been some of the worst all-time picks because of the success of other players taken after they were, it’s highly unlikely for a #1 pick to become a complete bust. As of now, the Top 10 Busts doesn’t include one #1 overall pick; however, I have a feeling that one will be making the list in the near future (I’m talking about you, Anthony Bennett). Only time will tell if Towns will be the best pick in the draft, but it’s almost certain (i.e. less than 1% chance) that he won’t be a Top 10 Bust.
D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State (selected by the Los Angeles Lakers)
- Great vision.
- Excellent passer.
- Not elite athlete like Derrick Rose.
- Effortless scorer.
- Good decisions / game comes easy.
- Not a good pick-and-roll defender.
In addition to being named a consensus 1st Team All-American, Russell was considered the best point guard coming out of college. As a quick reminder, don’t forget that #7 pick Emmanuel Mudiay played overseas last year.
Generally, teams do well using a top pick on a point guard. From 1990-2010, teams took the following point guards with a 2nd-5th overall pick.
POINT GUARDS TAKEN WITH A TOP PICK (win shares in parentheses)
(Win shares updated after 2016-2017 season)
- Gary Payton (146)
- Mahmoud Abdul-Raul (25)
- Kenny Anderson (63)
- AnferneeHardaway (62)
- Jason Kidd (139)
- Stephon Marbury (78)
- Chauncey Billups (121)
- Antonio Davis (47)
- Mike Bibby (73)
- Steve Francis (54)
- Baron Davis (63)
- Jay Williams (1)
- Shaun Livingston (19 / 26)
- Deron Williams (71 / 77)
- Chris Paul (131 / 155)
- Raymond Felton (33 / 38)
- Mike Conley (48 / 64)
- Russell Westbrook (53 / 81)
- Ricky Rubio (11 / 24)
As of now, the only players from this list who fall into the bottom quartile of all 2-5 picks include Jay Williams, Shaun Livingston, and Ricky Rubio. Williams’ career ended prematurely after a bad motorcycle accident so it’s unfair to call him a bust. With respect to the other two, they both have more time to avoid the label. Based on past history, it highly improbable that Russell will be a bust, much less a Top 10 Bust.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke (selected by the Philadelphia 76ers)
- Most dominant post-up player in the draft.
- Explosive and strong with the ball.
- Excellent finisher around the rim.
- Commands double team.
- Ability to put ball on the floor.
- Excellent passer out of a double team.
- Not great rim protector or pick and roll defender.
In addition to being a consensus 1st Team All-American, Okafor earned recognition as the USBWA Freshman of the Year. Given the number of “one-and-done” players, that award usually translates into a very high draft pick. This year didn’t provide an exception to that rule.
In order for Okafor to be considered a bust, he would have to fare worst than 2003 #2 pick Darko Milicic. Despite having an underwhelming NBA career, the now-kickboxer accumulated almost 3,000 points and 2,000 rebounds. As such, he produced enough to avoid Top 10 Bust status. Is is possible that Okafor fares worse than Milicic? Sure. Is it probable? Heck no.
Perhaps the biggest potential contributor to any downside in Okafor’s career relates to being selected by the dysfunctional Sixers. Given the team’s desire to accumulate high draft picks at the cost of winning games, Okafor’s best hope may be that he does well enough to get traded. Otherwise, he might be stuck in an untenable situation which could permanently damage him as a young player.
NOVEMBER 2017 UPDATE
Despite starting out strong with a 17.5 ppg average as a rookie, Okafor has found himself in an untenable situation. Gee, I wonder where I read that before. After failing to find any trade partners, the Sixers have decided not to exercise their option to extend his rookie contract. Granted, Okafor may have caused some angst based on questionable off-field behavior (e.g. late-night brawl). Still, it’s hard to wonder how different his career would have been if selected by another team. Hopefully, the damage isn’t permanently done.
Kristaps Porzingis, PF – Latvia (selected by the New York Knicks)
- 7’1”, 220 lbs (skinny) – needs to get stronger.
- Good shooter – maybe best in draft.
- Rim protector, at times (light rebounder).
- Will struggle as rookie.
- Could mature into great player.
- Swinging for the fences.
Whereas Okafor should avoid drawing comparisons to Milicic, Porzingis might. First, Porzingis went into the draft as a relatively unknown international player. Second, he’ll be playing alongside the player most connected to the former NBA bust. Specifically, Detroit took Milicic instead of Carmello Anthony with the 2nd pick in the 2003 Draft. Playing in the spotlight of New York City, Porzingis will have to be twice as productive as Milicic to avoid the stigma.
When rationalizing his team’s selection of Milicic, Detroit Pistons President Joe Dumars referenced the infancy of international scouting. It’s okay Joe, just admit that you got duped thinking you found the next Dirk Nowitzki. At the time, Nowitzki had just averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game in his 5th season in the league. Despite improved scouting, no team has been able to find an international player who has come close to Nowitzki’s production.
Unlike Milicic, however, Porzingis should have the support of his team. Of note, Milicic didn’t get much of a chance to get off the bench during the Piston’s run to the 2004 Championship. In contrast, the Knicks are abysmal without a legitimate to make the playoffs. As such, team President Phil Jackson will make sure that Porzingis has every opportunity to develop.
While it’s highly improbable (okay, virtually impossible) for Porzingis to match the career of Nowitzki, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be less productive than Milicic. Regardless, he’s on the radar screen as a potential Top 10 Bust.
Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia (selected by the Orlando Magic)
- 6’8”, 235 lbs.
- Best shooter in draft.
- Similar to J.R. Smith (could win dunk & 3-pt shooting contest).
- Toughness, confidence.
- Similar NBA player: Chandler Parsons.
Every year, I have at least one of these moments during the draft.
TAKE IT AWAY ARSENIO
While the selection of Porzingis may have been unconventional, I viewed it as a high-risk, high-reward pick. On the other hand, I just don’t understand the selection of Hezonja.
Could Hezonja be the best shooter in the draft? Perhaps. Does he have the potential to be as good as Chandler Parsons? I guess so. However, I’ll leave those questions to the experts. Instead, I’ll offer up that he only averaged 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist last year while playing for FC Barcelona. In addition, he only shot 38% from behind the 3-point arc and 77% from the charity stripe. While those numbers aren’t bad, I don’t associate them with the great shooters in the league.
With respect to top five picks from the 2015 NBA Draft, he’s the one I’ll watch most closely as a potential Top 10 Bust.
Willie Cauley-Stein, C – Kentucky (selected by the Sacramento Kings)
- Freak athlete – fast.
- 7’3” wing span.
- Not a big time rebounder.
- Not an offensive player.
- Good shoot blocker.
- Can switch off on pick-and-roll (can guard every position).
- Elite finisher in transition.
- Potential to be similar to Tyson Chandler.
As a 1st Team All-American, Willie Cauley-Stein deserved consideration as a top overall pick. Then again, his selection by the Kings at #6 seems questionable upon further reflection.
During his three years at Kentucky, Cauley-Stein put up respectable numbers. For me, however, it’s problematic that he didn’t seem to get better over time.
WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN – COLLEGE STATS (KENTUCKY)
Actual Per Game Averages
Per 40 Minutes
Based on averages per 40 minutes, Cauley-Stein peaked in points and rebounds as a freshman, and in assists and blocks as a sophomore. Except for a significant decrease in blocks, his junior season totals didn’t trail his peak numbers significantly. Still, his lack of progression might be problematic. Arguably, he declared for the draft because another year of similar production might have hurt his draft stock even more.
After leading the NCAA in defensive win shares during the 2014-15 season, Cauley-Stein demonstrated that he has the potential to become an elite NBA defender. At the same time, he draws a comparison to #3 Top 10 Bust Hasheem Thabeet as an underdeveloped offensive threat. Of note, Thabeet only averaged two points and three rebounds per game as an NBA player. Regardless, I just can’t imagine Cauley-Smith being that unproductive.
More realistically, the former Wildcat might put up similar numbers to 7-footer Yi Jianlian. During his 3½ year career, the 2007 #6 overall pick averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds per game. Based on that production, Jianlian escaped Top 10 Bust status. Still, he certainly registered on the radar screen. As such, Cauley-Smith has made my watch list as a potential 2015 NBA Draft Top 10 Bust.
Emmanuel Mudiay, PG – China (selected by the Denver Nuggets)
- Highly touted high school recruit.
- Decided to play overseas instead of being a “one-and-done” college player.
- Big and athletic – (6’5” / 190 lbs).
- Can get to the rim.
Since 2006, the best high school players have faced the decision of where to play for one year before becoming eligible for the NBA draft. While most decide to play college ball, others have gone overseas for a year. To date, Brandon Jennings has been the best player to forgo college. As a high school senior in 2008, Jennings won numerous national player-of-the-year awards. That year, he averaged 33 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game. In addition, he was considered one of the best players coming out of high school that year.
Despite a lackluster season in the Euroleague with six points and two assists in 18 minutes per game, Jennings was selected as the 10th overall pick in the 2009 Draft. He was the fourth point guard taken that year (after Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Steph Curry), but it’s uncertain whether his decision hurt his draft position. Regardless, he has averaged approximately 17 points and six assists per game since joining the league so he has proven his worth at a top ten overall pick.
Similar to Jennings, Emmanuel Mudiay was a highly touted high school player who decided to play overseas instead of going to college for one season. Unlike Jennings, however, Mudiay seemingly was penalized because he fell five spots behind fellow 19-year-old point guard D’Angelo Russell. As shown in the summary table earlier in this post, both Russell and Mudiay put up strong numbers last year but Russell played in the U.S. while Mudiay played in China.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
No one knows what would have happened if Mudiay decided to play college ball, but he has to question his decision purely for financial reasons. Russell received a guaranteed contract of $8.7 million as the #2 pick while Mudiay received a guaranteed contracted of $5.3 million as the #7 pick. In addition to this $3.4 million difference, Russell stands to earn an extra $4.0 million combined in years 3 and 4 based on the rookie pay scale. Mudiay earned $1.2 million from his professional contract in China, but his decision to skip college probably cost him in excess of $7 million over the life of his rookie deal.
Using Mudiay as an example, future high school stars are better off opting for college and buying an insurance policy worth the value of a one-year professional contract in Europe or Asia. The NBA D-League eventually may become a third option, but that’s still a few years away. In the meantime, we’ll be able to watch Mudiay’s progression and evaluate his career relative to Russell’s. With respect to this site, Mudiay has a much lower hurdle in order to avoid being declared a Top 10 Bust. However, I’m sure he’d rather have the additional money.
Stanley Johnson, SF – Arizona (selected by the Detroit Pistons)
- Body for NBA / NFL (6’6” / 240 lbs).
- Not superior athlete but good defender with 6’11” wingspan.
- Not elite finisher but can get to the foul line.
- Winner (4 high school state titles).
- Very good in transition / hard to stay in front.
- Not a natural shooter.
- Similar NBA player: Caron Butler.
At this point of the draft, a player has to be absolutely horrendous to be considered a Top 10 Bust. As the 2008 8th overall pick, SF Joe Alexander scored fewer than 300 points in his 67-game NBA career. Still, I could only rank him #7 as a Top 10 Bust. Can Stanley Johnson be that bad? Sure, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Years from now, pundits will evaluate Johnson’s selection based on the career of #10 overall pick Justise Winslow. Of note, both players are small forwards. As such, the Pistons’ front office runs the risk of having its decision second guessed if Winslow turns out to be a superstar. Given Detriot’s preference to take Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, there’s a bad precedent. Then again, Joe Dumars is long gone so any blame would belong to Stan Van Gundy instead.
Frank Kaminsky, C – Wisconsin (selected by the Charlotte Hornets)
- Excellent shooter for big guy (7’1″ and 230 lbs).
- Versatile player who can stretch floor.
- Not elite athlete at 4 spot.
- Hard to guard / good footwork.
- Can play pick and pop.
- Not big presence inside, but willing to battle to block shots and make some rebounds.
- Similar NBA player: Ryan Anderson.
I must admit that I had to look up Ryan Anderson to understand the reference as to whether Kaminsky had the upside worthy of the 9th overall pick. As the 21st overall pick in the 2008 Draft, Anderson has averaged 16 points and six rebounds coming off the bench in 30 minutes per game. In addition, he shoots 38% from behind the arc, which is impressive for a 6’10” player. While Anderson is not a bad comparison for a someone targeted as a “Stretch-4,” I’m sure Kaminsky would prefer to be viewed as someone with the upside of Kevin Love instead.
FRANK THE TANK
As a 22-year-old, Kaminsky is the senior citizen of the top ten overall picks. Throughout his college career, he evolved from a freshman who averaged 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds per game into senior who averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. In addition, he became a potent outside threat improving his 3-point shooting percentage from 29% as a freshman to 42% as a senior. As a consensus 1st Team All-American who led the NCAA in win shares and finished second in field goals (only behind Okafor), Kaminsky swept just about every player-of-the-year award. In particular, he was honored as the best player by the AP, National Association of Basketball Coaches, Sporting News, and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. In addition, he won the Naismith and Wooden Awards.
Given his pedigree, Kaminsky seems like a steal at #9 in the draft. I like him and think he’ll be worthy of the pick, but I must say that I’m most concerned that Michael Jordan agrees with me. While Jordan was the greatest NBA player in history, his track record as an evaluator of talent is less than stellar. After all, he was responsible for the selections of Kwame Brown as the 1st overall pick in 2001 and Adam Morrison as the 3rd overall pick in 2006. It’s highly unlikely that Kaminsky will be bad enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Brown and Morrison, but no one can be too sure based on Jordan’s inability to identify talent.
Justise Winslow, SF Duke (selected by the Miami Heat)
- 6’10” wingspan / plays bigger than height.
- Able to grab rebound, bust out and take it himself.
- Can put on deck and drive – better to left than right.
- Can get to the tin, get fouled and finish shot.
- Good in transition on offense and defense / magnificent in the open floor.
- Amazing timing to block shots on fast break.
- Good at catch and shoot but needs to expand range to 3-point arc.
- Similar NBA Player: Ron Artest.
Based on the number of bullet points, EPSN’s analysts clearly had done their homework on Winslow. Based on their commentary, it seemed like they expected him to be drafted much higher. Assuming they were accurate, Winslow is more likely to be an overachiever than an underachiever. As the 10th overall pick, he doesn’t have nearly the risk of underachievement as the other picks so he’s in the best position to avoid being named a Top 10 Bust.
In contrast to Jordan, Pat Riley was an underwhelming player who became an incredible executive. First and foremost, Riley’s selection of Wade in 2003 not only set up the Heat’s title in 2006 but also set the stage to attract LeBron James and Chris Bosh prior to the 2010-11 season. Despite a down season in 2014-15, Miami seems poised to rebound in the standings assuming that Wade and Bosh remain healthy, Hassan Whiteside continues to improve, and Winslow contributes at least half of what the analysts expect.
PROJECTED 2015 NBA DRAFT BUSTS – SUMMARY
In summary, here’s my assessment of potential 2015 NBA Draft busts from the top ten overall picks. Specifically, I have handicapped them based on the odds that each one will be a bust / Top 10 Bust.
- Karl-Anthony Towns – 5.0% bust / 0.5% Top 10 Bust.
- D’Angelo Russell – 10.0% bust / 1.5% Top 10 Bust.
- Jahlil Okafor – 10.0% bust / 2.0% Top 10 Bust.
- Kristaps Porzingis – 30.0% bust / 6.0% Top 10 Bust.
- Mario Hezonja – 40.0% bust / 8.0% Top 10 Bust.
- Willie Cauley-Smith – 25.0% bust / 5.0% Top 10 Bust.
- Emmanuel Mudiay – 12.0% bust / 2.0% Top 10 Bust.
- Stanley Johnson – 15.0% bust / 2.5% Top 10 Bust.
- Frank Kaminsky – 20.0% bust (note: 10% chance added just because he was picked by Michael Jordan) / 4.0% Top 10 Bust.
- Justise Winslow – 12.0% bust / 2.0% Top 10 Bust.
Based on these individual probabilities, there’s almost a 90% chance that at least one of these players will become a bust. Furthermore, there’s almost a 30% chance that at least one of these players will become a Top 10 Bust. To quote Deflategate investigator Ted Wells, it’s “more probable than not” that at least two will become busts (approximately 57%) but none will become a Top 10 Bust (approximately 71%). As of now, my money’s on Hezonja as being the most likely bust with Porzingis, and Cauley-Smith battling it out for the second spot.