The power forwards this season is a very deep group, with the potential of up to eight first-round picks, and a few more in the second-round likely. It is also a diverse group, with a nice combination of big men who can stretch the floor and your “classic” power forward-type.
As a group, many are physically ready to contribute right away, though many still have a lot of skill and game development to work through.
The players are listed in order of where they will go in my mock draft, though it doesn’t necessarily reflect how I see these players ranked in ability and long-term NBA potential.
Here are links to all of the draft rankings:
1. Kristaps Porzingis, Seville (Spain), 7’0”, 220
Porzingis, a native of Latvia, has the offensive game of a small forward, but at seven-feet tall, he enjoys some unique mismatches. He is a textbook perimeter shooter, with a quick release and NBA-range, and it can be a joy to watch as he runs off screens like a player a half-foot smaller to create space for his shot. Also, while not a great ballhandler, he puts the ball on the floor well for his size, and on occasion, he should be able to get to the rim. He doesn’t have the strength to be a consistent low-post scorer, but his footwork and shooting ability allows him to create space for a good look. Porzingis moves well for his size, which helps him on the defensive end, especially as a rim protector, but the physical nature and speed of the NBA game will be a major adjustment for him. Just 19 years old, Porzingis still has a lot of development left to do, both with his game and his body, but his size, skill and potential should see him as a top five to seven pick this year. The adjustment will be big though, and people shouldn’t expect much from him right away, other than as a spot shooter on the perimeter.
2. Bobby Portis, Sophomore, Arkansas, 6’10 ½”, 246
The SEC’s Player of the Year, Portis is one of the most skilled offensive big men in this draft. He has the ability to use his big body to get great position in the low post and his improving footwork gives him great scoring opportunities. Portis also has the ability to step out and knock down jumpers. He hit almost half of his 30 three-point attempts this past season, and he showed some consistency as a mid-range shooter. Portis runs the floor very well for his size, and though not a great leaper, he uses his body well to clear space on the offensive boards. As good as he was on offense, Portis took a giant step on defense, and he had little problem playing in Arkansas’ full pressure system which often had him out on the perimeter. He shows strong fundamentals on defense, and even without great quickness, he has a good understanding of how to compensate. Even playing halfcourt defense, Portis did a good job anchoring the low post, and even showed some ability as a shot-blocker. Portis will be one to watch on draft night as he could end up being a top-ten pick, and he should be able to contribute immediately wherever he goes.
3. Trey Lyles, Freshman, Kentucky, 6’10”, 241
Though he played out of position as a freshman due to Kentucky’s glut of big men, Lyles showed flashes of very good skill for his age at the small forward position. With a move back to the four, Lyles should be able to find mismatches with his ability to take the ball to the basket off the dribble, as well as knock down mid-range shots. His perimeter shooting wasn’t great this past season, but the mechanics are there, and he just needs to become consistent, as well as extend his range; Lyles took only 29 three-point attempts this season, hitting just 4. Lyles also has the ability to post up other forwards, showing some good footwork for his age. He uses his length well to rebound on both ends of the floor, though he will need to get stronger for the NBA. Defensively, by the end of this past season, he had come a long way as a perimeter defender, but he still needs to be quicker with his feet. Lyles is a special talent with his size and skill, and he may be the best player in this group in a few seasons.
4. Montrezl Harrell, Junior, Louisville, 6’7 ½”, 253
Undersized for the power forward position, Harrell relies on an NBA-ready body and athleticism, along with energy that ranks among the top players in this draft. Harrell won’t wow many with his skill on the offensive end, though he is greatly improved from his freshman season as both a post player and mid-range shooter. He relies more on his ability to run the floor, cut to the rim off of penetration and hit the offensive glass, and he shows his desire to dunk the ball as much as possible. Harrell has the strength to power his way through contact, and his footwork continues to improve. On the defensive end, Harrell can guard multiple positions, including guarding players much bigger than him. He has the ability to block shots around the rim, covering ground quickly when needed. His biggest contribution comes on the glass, where Harrell will battle anyone for missed shots, often just outmuscling opponents for the ball. In the right system, Harrell can easily be a double-double guy every night, but even if his skill doesn’t develop much more, he will provide a team with rebounding and defense.
5. Kevon Looney, Freshman, UCLA, 6’9”, 222
Looney got off to a great start as a freshman, tallying double-digit points and rebounds in seven of his first ten games. As the season wore on, his lack of skill and experience seemed to catch up with him, though he still was able to contribute a lot just from his physical ability. With an almost 7’4” wingspan, Looney’s length makes him a potential disruptor on defense, though he isn’t physical enough yet to compete at the NBA level. He also uses his length well to corral rebounds on both ends of the floor; Looney had five games of at least seven offensive rebounds. Looney doesn’t have a great offensive skill set; his play in the post is simple, and his footwork and ability to finish need work. He’s shown some ability to attack the basket off the dribble, though his ballhandling isn’t great, and he did hit 41 percent of his 53 three-point attempts, but when he missed, he seemed to miss badly. Looney often looked lost on the offensive end, not really knowing where he should be, though the UCLA offense didn’t help matters. He does run the floor well, and shows a lot of energy at times. Looney will be a project at the NBA level, but his physical traits will still make him attractive to a lot of teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually works out a Tristan Thompson-type niche for himself down the line.
6. Christian Wood, Sophomore, UNLV, 6’10 ½”, 216
Wood broke out as a sophomore, averaging a double-double for the season, and showing development in almost every area of his game. Wood’s a long, athletic forward with the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers, post-up, drive to the rim, or get out and run the floor in transition. He is still more of an athlete than player at this point, but he plays hard and finds ways to create scoring opportunities, especially on the offensive boards. Wood still needs to work on his long-range shooting, hitting just 28 percent this past season, especially since he doesn’t have the strength to do much around the basket yet at the NBA level. Wood has improved a lot as a defender, though the amount of zone UNLV played last season didn’t expose him to what he’ll see at the next level. He’s a good help defender, with the ability to protect the rim; he finished in the top twenty in blocks this past year. As I said, he will need to get stronger to contribute in the NBA, but, in the meantime, his 7’3” wingspan will still help him as a defender and rebounder. There’s still a lot of development Wood needs to do, but he’ll be a good choice in the first round for a team that can take the time to bring him along at a good pace.
7. Chris McCullough, Freshman, Syracuse, 6’9”, 199
McCullough only played 16 games as a freshman before an ACL tear ended his season in early January. Even before his season ended, McCullough was struggling after a strong start to the year. Long with a thin frame, McCullough is further ahead as a defender than an offensive threat right now. He has good instincts and reflexes, and he can challenge shots anywhere on the floor. Before his season ended, he was averaging almost two steals and over two blocks per game. McCullough’s offensive game, including his ability to finish around the basket and knock down open jumpers, will need to improve, but he has the physical tools to eventually be a solid two-way contributor. He’s still rehabbing his injury, and his timetable to return will depend on who picks him, but he would be a good pick towards the end of the first round for a team that can develop his skill over the next couple of years.
8. Jordan Mickey, Sophomore, LSU, 6’8”, 238
The nation’s top shot-blocker, Mickey has rim-protecting instincts that you really can’t teach. He gets into position quickly, and his length and timing allows him to alter anything in the lane. Mickey has shown improvement as a straight-up defender, showing good footwork and the ability to get out on the perimeter and contain his man. He is a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor, using his body well to clear space, and his reach to get to balls quickly. Mickey’s offense is inconsistent, especially in the halfcourt, but he has shown improvement as a post-player and with his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. He is an effective scorer on basket cuts and in the pick-and-roll, and once he improves his skill as a ballhandler, he can really open up his offense. Mickey doesn’t have great size for the position, but his length helps him, and he has the body to bulk up a bit more to help him battle around the basket. He could be a great value pick in the late first or early second round for a team, and he should be able to contribute soon.
9. Rakeem Christmas, Senior, Syracuse, 6’10”, 243
After three seasons with little production, Christmas finally put it all together as a senior, leading the Orange in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. He has really improved his ability to score in the lane and around the rim, using his strength well to create the space he needs, and showing good footwork as a post player. Christmas’ strength was tough for many college defenders to deal with on the offensive boards, while also allowing him to finish through contact. Christmas took more free throws as a senior than he did in his first three seasons combined, and though 70 percent shooting isn’t great, it was a big improvement. Defensively, Christmas played the middle in Syracuse’s zone, but he has the strength and body to defend the low post. He will need to show that he can defend on the perimeter if dragged out by his man, but he could also be used as an undersized center with his body. Christmas may be 23 years old, but his development in the past season shows that there is still room for him to grow as a player. Wherever he goes, he should be able to contribute right away for a team as a big man off the bench.
10. Cliff Alexander, Freshman, Kansas, 6’8 ½”, 239
One of the highest rated high school players in the country last year, Alexander was a non-factor as a freshman for the Jayhawks, before his season ended in late February due to an NCAA investigation. Strong, with an NBA-ready body, Alexander has never been the most skilled player, but his ability to have his way around the basket propelled him to his high ranking. The lack of skill hurt him this past season though, and while he still showed some good ability around the basket, he also seemed to have trouble adjusting to longer college defenders. When given minutes, Alexander showed that he could be a factor on the boards, as well as a decent defender around the basket, but in terms of understanding of how to play the game, he was far behind many other top incoming freshmen. Alexander still has a lot of potential, and even if he will never be the star many thought, he can be a serviceable role player in the NBA. It will take time though, but he is worth a second-round pick to put some time into developing.
Others to watch: Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green; Brandon Ashley, Arizona; Alpha Kaba, France; Vince Hunter, Texas-El Paso; Larry Nance, Jr., Wyoming; TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma; Alan Williams, California-Santa Barbara