The 2015 draft class has all grown up. Karl-Anthony Towns, drafted first overall in 2015, and Kristaps Porzingis, drafted fourth, were both named All-Stars for the first time in their careers (although Porzingis, after tearing his ACL, won’t be able to participate). Imagine the Lakers snagging one of them with the second overall pick …
Or would they have? Four of The Ringer’s NBA staffers went back into the war room to reselect the entire lottery from the 2015 draft. The four drafters were given a number at random, and then a number generator figured out the order in which they would pick. The same order then repeated two and a half more times (no snake drafting). The drafters were given a few basic ground rules: You are selecting from the perspective of the team, and though you have the benefit of two and a half seasons of hindsight, you don’t have any of the players acquired by said team since the draft. The person responsible for the pick (i.e., the one you should @ on Twitter) speaks first in defense of it, and chaos ensues from there.
1. Minnesota: Karl-Anthony Towns
Jonathan Tjarks: This is self-explanatory. KAT is already elite on offense, and he’s starting to figure it out on defense. He’s pretty much the ideal big man to build around, and he’s the one surefire franchise player in this draft, given all of KP’s injury issues. The only thing that could hold him back from a 10-year run of All-NBA appearances is the possibility that Thibs will burn him out. He’s a priceless asset. Let’s hope he’s managed carefully.
Kevin O’Connor: Yup, he’s the one. Just like he was in college when—in some people’s eyes—he quickly leapfrogged over Jahlil Okafor in the rankings.
Tjarks: It is amazing how fast things have changed. Where would Jahlil go in this year’s draft? I’m guessing he won’t be in our redrafted lottery.
Justin Verrier: The Lakers are considering Jahlil at no. 2.
2. Lakers: Devin Booker
O’Connor: Booker has proved to be a high-end scorer who has also developed immensely as a playmaker. The only reason Kristaps Porzingis isn’t the selection is because of injury concerns, but he’s still right there despite them.
Tjarks: The first bomb!
Danny Chau: KOBE SYSTEM.
O’Connor: I just don’t see how you can take a guy with his track record of injuries and a torn ACL with the second pick over Booker.
Tjarks: Would you take Embiid over Booker if he were in this draft? Or do you feel like Embiid’s ceiling is higher so it would be worth the gamble? Or do you feel like KP is even more injury prone? That would be a strong take.
Chau: It’s a horrible question of quality or quantity. Embiid has had three major injuries to his back, knee, and foot. Porzingis has had injuries all over his body in a very short amount of time, but none of them were as severe as any one of Embiid’s, until the ACL tear. I feel like “injury prone” would be a label more appropriate for Porzingis, though I suppose it could apply to both.
As for Booker, sure: Booker is one of the purest spiritual successors to Kobe. But, I don’t know, is that healthy for Lakers fans?
Verrier: The franchise functions as if Kobe were still its best player, so it makes sense. I’m not the biggest Booker fan, but I defend him the same way I once did Kyrie during his early years: The (reasonable) gripes about his defense have obscured just how good of a scorer he is and how much progress he’s making as a playmaker.
If Booker were the pick here, the ripple effect would become super interesting. The Lakers’ core would suddenly become Booker, Brandon Ingram … and Jayson Tatum? Or, if the Celtics stay at no. 1 in last year’s draft, Josh Jackson? And will the Kyrie comp become even more pronounced if LeBron joins the Lakers?
3. 76ers: Kristaps Porzingis
Chau: There is no team more used to dealing with damaged (but transcendent) goods. Ship Embiid and Porzingis to Doha for unlimited spa days, and when the time is right, unleash the two unicorns on a league that is not at all ready.
O’Connor: And to think it could’ve (and should’ve) happened.
Chau: The whole thing was that the Porzingis clan wouldn’t release the medical reports to Philly.
4. Knicks: Frank Kaminsky
4. Knicks: Myles Turner
Verrier: Does anyone know how prominent Turner’s butt is? Nevertheless, this one feels like an easy pick for Phil Jackson’s ongoing reign of supremacy. Turner has missed good chunks of two of his three NBA seasons, and what was supposed to be a breakthrough third season in Indiana has felt more like a step in the wrong direction. But Turner is still only 21, and has flashed the ability to be an impact big man in the modern NBA. His ceiling may be lower than, say, D’Angelo Russell’s, but there’s far less risk.
5. Magic: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Tjarks: The top four guys are locks, so this is where the draft really gets interesting. I’d take Oubre narrowly over Russell because the Magic, in this scenario, already have Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo. Oubre is a 22-year-old who has established himself as a high-level 3-and-D player in Washington, and he still has some untapped potential because he hasn’t yet had a chance to be anything more than a secondary option on offense. Oubre is basically who Orlando thought it was getting in Mario Hezonja.
The question, of course, is how much of his development has been the result of getting eased into a smaller role on an established team, and whether Oubre would have flamed out in much the same way as Mario Hezonja has if he had been thrown into the fire right away in Orlando.
Verrier: Wow. Curveball.
Chau: It’s telling that we’re nearly three years removed from the draft, but there is still a significant amount of projection being done for these picks—as much as players like Towns and Porzingis wowed the masses immediately, there are a lot of talented players from this draft who have still yet to find their identity. I like Oubre, and I think he’s particularly interesting going forward as a small-ball 4 considering his strong frame and long-ass wingspan—but I don’t know that he’s shown enough flashes of shot creation for me to go all in here.
Verrier: Orlando doesn’t have a Supreme, either.
6. Kings: D’Angelo Russell
O’Connor: This is Russell’s age-21 season. He’s had three coaches in three seasons, dealt with the Kobe Farewell Tour, and only recently returned from an injury. Point guards named to an All-NBA team don’t do it, on average, until age 24. Russell has made some progress, has flaws, and has a long way to go, but the talent is there.
Verrier: Watching Russell is still too much of a slog. I’m dubious of him right now.
O’Connor: What’s with the D’Angelo Russell slander?
Verrier: I’m in Believe It When I See It mode from here on out. I get the talent. But it’s still in flashes. The Nets pulled him late in favor of Spencer Dinwiddie against the Pelicans the other day because he just gunks things up with his decision-making.
7. Nuggets: Willie Cauley-Stein
Chau: A hyper-agile 7-footer who still flashes rim-protecting potential and two-way ability seems like a sound building block next to Nikola Jokic. This is a reach only if you don’t buy into WCS’s belief that he is who Kristaps Porzingis is supposed to be.
Verrier: What do we think is Cauley-Stein’s ceiling? Is it this?
The ceiling is the roof.
Tjarks: I’m worried more about his floor.
O’Connor: What’s wrong with his floor? He’s already a contributor.
Tjarks: Rim-running bigs are common these days. You can basically pick up Nerlens Noel for pennies off the ground at this point. I don’t know that Cauley-Stein has shown that much more.
O’Connor: I had WCS at no. 16 on my personal redraft rankings, so I also feel that he was selected too high. But he’s fine.
Chau: KOC, thank you for dunking on me so softly. I kinda forgot who was still on the board, so I have a few regrets, but we’ll roll with it. I think I just ruined my chances of working in a front office, guys.
8. Pistons: Josh Richardson
Verrier: … Right?
Chau: Sure! This is by far the biggest IRL-to-URL jump in the draft. Richardson was the 40th pick in 2015, and in three short seasons has gone from an anonymous cog in a slew of interchangeable wings to arguably the best player on a playoff team. I feel like there’s a kind of best-kept-secret vibe to Richardson this season, and players who are regarded as such generally end up having their value overstated by those in the know. But we’re still in the honeymoon stage, and Richardson is certainly the best two-way 3-and-D player in the class so far.
9. Charlotte: Trey Lyles
Tjarks: After a disappointing first two seasons in Utah, Lyles is really starting to put it together in Denver. He’s a 6-foot-10, 234-pound guy who just gets buckets (he has per-36 averages of 19 points on 49.9 percent shooting this season) and he’s starting to knock down 3s consistently (39.8 percent this season). He doesn’t really play much defense, but he’s a much-higher-upside version of Frank Kaminsky, whom Charlotte took with this pick. Let this be a lesson not to fall in love with NCAA tournament performances: Kaminsky dominated Towns and Lyles in the 2015 Final Four, but who cares about that now?
Verrier: Is Lyles good?
Tjarks: It’s a legit question, but I’m still a believer. I’m not sure about the long-term fit in Denver because of the defense, but there’s a place for him in the league somewhere.
10. Heat: Justise Winslow
O’Connor: Winslow hasn’t developed as expected and has suffered some injuries, but give me him, at age 21, over some of the role player types to follow. Winslow has leadership qualities, versatile defensive upside, and playmaking skills. It’s still all about the development of his shot.
Chau: Yeah, Winslow at 10 doesn’t feel like the steal it did in 2015, but I’m still a big believer.
Verrier: Danny’s up at 11. He’s shook.
Chau: I really am.
11. Indiana Pacers: Mario Hezonja
Chau: I don’t make another pick after this.
O’Connor: Good pick. I don’t see any reason to give up on Hezonja at this point in the draft.
Tjarks: Frank Vogel and Mario—it was meant to be.
Chau: He gets two seasons learning under Paul George. I’ll take that over his situation in Orlando any day.
Verrier: First: The Magic somehow managed to screw up the contract situation of a player they’d already screwed up on. Orlando didn’t pick up his fourth-year option, unintentionally causing a ripple in the space-time continuum.
Second: What’s a reasonable deal for Mario this offseason?
Tjarks: He’s coming to Dallas.
Verrier: Living in your guest bedroom?
Tjarks: Bloggers don’t have guest bedrooms; we live in them.
O’Connor: Why Dallas?
Tjarks: They don’t have much else going on—ton of cap space, good coach, great opportunity for him to establish himself.
Verrier: The Aminu System.
Chau: If the Grizzlies had money, I’d toss some his way if Tyreke jets. They don’t, but maybe the midlevel exception is enough?
Tjarks: Dallas has ridiculous cap room this summer. If they don’t throw a max at DeMarcus Cousins, I could see them going after Rodney Hood and Mario.
O’Connor: I’d put my money on the Pistons because of the Arn Tellem connection.
Chau: I know some Pistons fans who were willing to do a Hezonja–Stanley Johnson swap, straight up. Bust for bust.
Tjarks: Speaking of, Johnson is still on the board.
O’Connor: Still available:
Larry Nance Jr.
Verrier: And T.J. McConnell!
12. Jazz: Terry Rozier
Verrier: We’re in eye-of-the-beholder territory now. Danny Ainge probably would probably trade up for this pick.
Chau: We’re in an alternate universe, right? One in which Dante Exum is a solid starter and already deserving of the lead guard spot? I’m appalled by this pick.
Verrier: Some things were meant to be.
13. Suns: Delon Wright
Tjarks: The Suns are the team most hurt in this scenario because there’s no one left on the board with anywhere near Booker’s upside. Wright would at least give them stability at point guard, and he’s quietly developed into a solid player while backing up Kyle Lowry in Toronto. He has the size (6-foot-5, 190) to play the wing, so he gives you some defensive versatility while also being able to run a team. And he’s developed a 3-point shot this season. I think he’s a good two-way starting PG in the NBA, which is a nice value at no. 13.
Chau: I love him as a backup on what has been the best Raptors team in franchise history. He’s big, he’s smart, and he knows exactly what his role is, even if it seems like there might be more just beneath the surface. There’s a lot of George Hill in his game. That’s worth a lotto pick.
Verrier: So we’re almost done, and Jahlil Okafor hasn’t been picked. Does he even get drafted at all?
Chau: Yes, he gets drafted.
Tjarks: In the top 14? No, but he’s probably a late-first.
Chau: I’d take him at 25, where the Grizzlies took Jarell Martin.
Tjarks: Jarell is going to have a better career than Jahlil. But this draft really thins out around 22 to 23.
Verrier: Okafor has a minus-26.2 net rating on the Nets. Just gonna throw that out there.
So we’re saying he gets another contract in the NBA?
Tjarks: I’m not sure there are 30 guys in this draft who’d get a second contract, anyway.
Verrier: T.J. will.
Chau: I think there’s an “I can fix you” element to taking chances on guys like Okafor. He’ll get another opportunity, I think.
14. Oklahoma City: Stanley Johnson
Chau: Stanley Johnson to OKC is super-interesting to me. Does having another big, multipositional body make a difference for them? Does it change history?
Verrier: Fast Roberson?
Chau: Buff Roberson.
Like, remember SJ’s swag against the Cavs his rookie year in the playoffs?
Tjarks: His swag was phenomenal.
Verrier: Someone’s going to teach him to shoot, and he’s going to win a playoff series.
Chau: Give him spot minutes, and maybe the Thunder would’ve won the Western Conference finals against the Warriors in 2016.
I’m fucking delusional.