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Looking Back at My Draft 2015 Predictions

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Time to give my draft evaluations a thorough assessment one year after I made them.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, I feel like I have a reputation as a "draft guy" that, while I enjoy the esteem it bestows, is a little unearned. I wrote my first FanPost for this site as a way of trying to spread some basic draft knowledge, and wound up delving deeper into that world than I could have ever imagined before writing that post. I've come across some really smart and nice people (as well as the normal troll clingers-on that are par for the course in this age of the internet) since starting to draft stuff, and I've appreciated a lot of the different perspectives that I've heard since starting this hobby.

Perhaps the single idea that has stood out the most to me is the importance of honest self-evaluation after the fact. The only way to avoid making the same pitfalls in draft after draft is to understand how you might have gone wrong in the past, and to incorporate that new information into future evaluations. So I'd like to take a second to look at my past Big Board, and to determine which assessments I got the most correct and, perhaps more importantly, the most incorrect.

It's important to stress that it's still too early to really know how these players will turn out. We're still projecting rookie numbers to determine their eventual NBA-status, and many will disagree with my current evaluations of players, independent of my past ones. I should also add the enormous caveat that I didn't have the time (or the inclination) to carefully scout each and every one of these players throughout the season. So my current evaluation will rest largely on statistical profiles, Basketball Twitterati, prior knowledge, and the few bits and pieces I did see of these players over their rookie seasons. That's obviously not a perfect evaluation, but it's the best that I can do right now.

You can find my 2015 Big Board here.

Players I Was Mostly Right On

Karl-Anthony Towns

2015 Ranking: 1
2016 Outlook: Future Superstar

Yes, the vast majority of the draft world had Towns correctly pegged as the top pick in last year's draft. But I was among the first to move him to that spot, bumping him to first on December 8. He was a triumph in looking at per minute and per possession statistics rather than per games, as his on-court production was elite, but Calipari's bizarre platoon prevented Towns from putting up gaudy stats. I'm satisfied at having recognized his ability very early on.

Jahlil Okafor

2015 Ranking: 5
2016 Outlook: Backup Center

My biggest regret with Okafor is not trusting my instincts and dropping him further on my Big Board. I thought he would be played off the court for his terrible defense in a playoff series, and nothing he has demonstrated in Year 1 has contested that notion. Worse, while I didn't expect him to be a great rebounder, he has been atrocious in that regard, and his passing has fallen off a cliff. While I was certainly pessimistic about Okafor before the draft, his rookie season has made me even more so.

Justise Winslow

2015 Ranking: 3
2016 Outlook: Starting Wing with All-Star Potential

Winslow is a tough evaluation after his rookie year. On the one hand, his defense translated immediately, as he vaulted himself into the upper tier of wing defenders as a rookie, and almost unprecedented season on that end. On the other hand, he struggled to score, and his shot didn't translate at all. I think there's still a decent probability that Winslow has the third best career in this draft class, but I think it's also important to point out that I misevaluated his offensive ability, and expected him to be far more useful on that end than he has shown thus far. On the whole, I think I was right to like him, just a bit too high on him overall.

D'Angelo Russell

2015 Ranking: 2
2016 Outlook: Potential All-Star PG

Russell is again hard to evaluate after his first year in the league. He wound up in a terrible situation where his strengths were not highlighted, and his coach yanked him around constantly. Still, he showed flashes from time to time, and I think it remains in the realm of possibility for him to be a starting PG on a championship caliber team. If we were to re-draft the class today, I would probably put him 3rd, behind Towns and Porzingis, which is right near where I placed him originally.

Stanley Johnson

2015 Ranking: 8
2016 Outlook: Starting Wing

This is the projection that I feel I was most correct on. His shot has translated about as expected, and his defense is stout, but not elite. He'll fit in nicely as a secondary starting wing for years to come, which is a nice outcome for the 8th pick in the draft.

Players I Was Mostly Wrong On

Devin Booker

2015 Ranking: 20+
2016 Outlook: Starting SG Potential

If there's one player I was most wrong on, we probably have to start here. I wrote a scalding take ripping Booker's inability to do anything except for shoot after the LB Community picked him 16th for our Big Board. Turns out I was wrong in that regard-- he's been far more effective as a secondary ball-handler in Phoenix than I ever would have imagined. I think some of this was due to the lack of opportunities Cal gave him to show his skills in a system that included both Harrison twins and Tyler Ulis, and I should have understood that, given more time on the ball, Booker would be more impactful.

I have been correct in my defensive assessment of Booker so far, though. He has been a large minus on that end of the floor and will have to make significant improvements to become even average defensively. If he doesn't, his ceiling remains quite a bit lower than many journalists are projecting right now. Still, on the whole, I was very wrong about Booker's game.

Kristaps Porzingis

2015 Ranking: 7
2016 Outlook: Future Star; 2nd Best Player in Class

There were a couple of different factors that put me off from Porzingis. The two statistical scares for me were his rebound and assist percentages, both of which were astoundingly low. I worried that he lacked feel and would be unable to help teammates get shots. I was wrong in both respects. His rebounding ability jumped much more than I could have foreseen, which helped his translation quite a bit. His AST% may have been hindered in part by his poor teammates, as he was on one of the worst teams in the ACB.

The other large factor that hurt my evaluation was simply a lack of scouting. I only watched a little tape of Porzingis' game, and I could have had a better grasp of his feel if I had spent more time on it. I'm incorporating this aspect a bit more into my projections this year by simply being very reserved when dealing with Europeans. Their rankings should not be seen as corresponding with my confidence level, as I'm often operating from a lack of information.

At any rate, Porzingis may have been my biggest miss of last year.

Trey Lyles

2015 Ranking: 16
2016 Outlook: Potential Starter

This is one that I don't know how I could have improved. Lyles' unique role at Kentucky (i.e. playing out of position) probably hampered my evaluation ability in some regard, but the single biggest factor in Lyles' first year success in Utah was his 3-point shooting, and there simply weren't very many indicators that he would be able to shoot well. He shot a dismal 13% on his 30 attempts from the closer college line, and his 73% FT conversion was solid but not outstanding. Somehow, he managed to shoot 38% on 130 attempts as a rookie. Some of that may be noise (he only shot 69% from the line), but it's far beyond what I ever would have expected Lyles to shoot after UK, and I don't know how I could have predicted that from his college profile.

Mario Hezonja

2015 Ranking: 4
2016 Outlook: Bench Shooter

It may still be too early to tell with Hezonja, but I'm starting to think I (and most people) was (were) wrong on him, and that he has minimal NBA upside. He was mostly lost on the defensive end of the ball while creating almost no defensive events. His offense looks to be pretty dimensional. While he actually displayed pretty good passing acumen relative to his usage rate, Hezonja is a one-skill jump shooter at this point, and has a long way to go before becoming much else. His handle is just not good, and his FTr is anemic because he just can't attack anyone. While I was certainly wrong on Hezonja, I don't know that I was much more wrong than most mainstream draft outlets.

Players I'm Confused About

Myles Turner

2015 Ranking: 14??
2016 Outlook: Starting Center

I'm actually a little befuddled by why Turner was so low on my final Big Board. I remember liking him, generally, and I selected him with Orlando's 5th pick in a mock draft with Matt, so I'm not sure what caused me to drop him so far before the draft. 14th was clearly pretty wrong, and I think 5th was a reasonable outcome for him. Perhaps we'll never know what caused me to drop him so far. (Edit: Turns out I only dropped him because it was a Sixers'-centric board. So it seems I was pretty close on Turner. I assume that's also why Cauley-Stein was so low, and that I had him in the 8-11 range as I remember it.)

Too Soon to Tell

Emmanuel Mudiay

2015 Ranking: 6
2016 Outlook: No Idea

If I had to bet, I would guess that Mudiay is never going to be a great starting-level point guard. His rookie season was so poor from an efficiency and turnover standpoint that it's hard to see him ever becoming an All-Star level floor general. But he's still so young and so physically talented that he may come right. I would err on the side of me being wrong (along with everyone else) about him, but I'm open to the possibility that he'll be useful in the middle of his career.

Players I Will Always Be Right On

Christian Wood

2015 Ranking: Irrelevant
2016 Outlook: G.O.A.T.



On the whole, I think I did decently last year. If I were to re-draft the Top 10 today, it would probably look something like this:

1. Karl-Anthony Towns
2. Kristaps Porzingis
3. D'Angelo Russell
4. Justise Winslow
5. Stanley Johnson
6. Myles Turner
7. Willie Cauley-Stein
8. Devin Booker
9. Trey Lyles
10. Emmanuel Mudiay

I had 8 out of those players in the Top 10, and was higher than most on Winslow and Turner. The biggest black mark was my evaluation of Porzingis, which would have been a sizable miss had I been running a team. Both Booker and Lyles showed much more than I expected, but I wouldn't necessarily project them to be Top 5 players in this class. Perhaps next year we'll know a bit more how I did on each of them.