Welcome to the Fifth-Annual YouTube Draft. As in years past, we will be selecting the best players in the upcoming NBA draft based solely on how much we enjoy their YouTube presence. This process has led us to sing the praises of past draft sleepers like Kenneth Faried, Steven Adams, and, uh, Tomislav Zubcic. Here are the top 12 picks for 2015.
1. Cedi Osman, 20, 6-foot-8, 190 pounds, SF, Turkey
Rafe Bartholomew: Based on this pretty standard highlight package, I feel comfortable calling myself a fan of Cedi Osman’s game. (Even if there’s ample video evidence of Osman playing shameful one-on-one defense against some Turkish CrossFit munchkin.) Osman appears to be all aggression, a lanky beast of the open court who wants to sprint through every possession until it ends with him poking away a steal, swatting a shot from behind, or snaking through defenders to finish on the other end.
But what impresses me most about young Cedi is how he manages to trounce no fewer than four NBA legends (OK, three plus Stephon Marbury) and one martial arts icon through a series of visual references in a 20-second Head & Shoulders commercial. Start with that vibrant shock of head lettuce: You will never catch Cedi Osman hawking Rogaine à la Karl Malone. And then he’s threading the ball through the space between the delivery man and his pushcart? Shades of Steph’s classic ballhandling expo through the NYC subway for an And1 ad. But Cedi is only halfway finished. Next, he pulls up for a H-O-R-S-E shot for the ages, shooting a 30-footer with his off hand1 over the fence of a construction site and into some kind of suspended-in-midair sewage pipe. That might be enough to win a Big Mac off Larry and Michael. And if the sewage swish weren’t enough, the shot doubled as a pass to Osman’s pal, who catches it in midair and tosses an alley-oop for Cedi to catch and slam through a hoop inexplicably placed in a drained pool. But hey, I’m not complaining. Jean-Claude Van Damme has done some of his best work in a pool.
2. Mario Hezonja, 20, 6-foot-8, 200 pounds, SG/SF, Croatia
Unless that’s a left-handed body double …
Jason Concepcion: I already love Mario Hezonja. He’s fearless, possibly insane, with balls the size of Ganymede. I’m generally a fan of dudes who eschew the easy play in order to dunk on the entire opposing team. So, here’s a fun game to play with your hoopaphile friends: Which lottery team head coach would allow Hezonja to spread his tawny Icarus wings and soar?
Flip Saunders, Timberwolves — Would likely chain Hezonja to the Flip Saunders Memorial Doghouse after the Croatian rookie refuses to let Ricky Rubio take the ball up the court.
Byron Scott, Lakers — Truthfully, few things in this world short of a San Andreas–level tsunami are capable of troubling Scott enough to make him uncross his arms. It’s Kobe’s reaction to his brother-from-another-gunner that would interest me. Certainly, Hezonja passes the Jeanie Buss Test. Would Bryant dedicate what little time he has left to destroying Hezonja, instinctively, like a beta fish when it sees another beta fish? Would Kobe mark the locker room and training facility with his pungent alpha-urine? To quote Kevin Garnett, anything is possible.
Brett Brown, 76ers — I know the Sixers ostensibly run a modern-Spursian offense, just without the Spursian players. But, realest talk: Methinks Philly would let Hezonja unleash two-handed fire emojis for 35 minutes a night.
Derek Fisher, Knicks — Hezonja’s swagger was made for the Madison Square Garden stage, but the question is, can he operate in the triang— [slits wrists in a bathtub filled with warm Scotch whisky]
Scott Skiles, Magic — Skiles would bench Hezonja on principle before the rook even arrived for training camp. Coach would be fired before the All-Star break after setting the all-time Scott Skiles galactic record for wearing on his team’s nerves.
George Karl, Kings — My sense is that Karl would revel in the Croatian Kobe butterfly-effect-of-chaos, at least until Karl decides he can no longer work with Hezonja and starts trying to trade him. But there’s no doubt in my mind that DeMarcus Cousins would end up strangling Hezonja to death by Game 3 of the season after Hezonja looked Boogie off in the post and then fired up a step-back 3. That’s assuming Boogie doesn’t get traded.
Stan Van Gundy, Pistons — Would get legitimate Nobel Peace Prize consideration for his work to negotiate a ball-sharing agreement between Hezonja and Brandon Jennings.
Steve Clifford, Hornets — Rich Cho would trade a light, mildly erotic, over-the-clothes-with-eye-contact massage for any person who could potentially score 20 or more points and credibly take 3-pointers.
Erik Spoelstra, Heat — Should Dwyane Wade take his talents to more money, Croatian Kobe would certainly soften the blow.
3. Pat Connaughton, 22, 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, SG, Notre Dame
- From Arlington, Massachusetts
- Dad owns a construction company
- Fran Fraschilla called him a “tough Boston kid”
- Likes to play in Batman socks
- Played college baseball as a pitcher with mid-90s velocity
- Selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the 2014 draft and received a $400,000 signing bonus
- Took piano lessons from kindergarten to eighth grade
- Can outjump Jerian Grant
- His 44-inch max vertical is among the highest ever measured at the NBA combine, and he explained it by saying, “The only way to get better at jumping is jumping”
- Big Will Smith fan, always thought it would be cool to be an actor
- Money from 3
- Can dunk on your whole family
- Will end your season like it’s nothing
There must be a reason Connaughton isn’t going in the lottery Thursday, but I’m not finding it on YouTube. Maybe he has a secret drug problem. Maybe he’s planning to go dominate pro baseball, and teams are scared to waste a pick. Maybe scouts are jealous they never had a hoop mixtape set to Snow Patrol. Maybe teams see “Irish guard” and think Matt Carroll, when we’re really much closer to McGrady.
Whatever experts are missing, the mistakes end here. This is the season of hot draft takes, so here’s mine: I will personally fight anyone who says Pat Connaughton won’t find a home as a killer NBA role player. He can drain 3s and dunk on your face, and by all accounts, he’s good at everything else he tries (baseball, piano, jumping). Put on your Batman socks, people. Pat Connaughton is coming to save the city.
4. Andrew Harrison, 20, 6-foot-6, 213 pounds, PG, Kentucky
Shea Serrano: The best draft prospect video you’ll see — the only one you need to see — doesn’t even show anything that happens on a basketball court. It’s from the press conference after Kentucky lost to Wisconsin in the 2015 Final Four.
A reporter — nay, a hero — asks Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, and John Calipari about the challenge of guarding Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin’s 7-foot-1 basketball sloth. Before he can even finish his question, Andrew Harrison, believing he’s speaking quietly enough that no one will hear him, mutters a frustrated “Man, fuck that n----.” That’s so funny and beautiful. I suppose you could argue that it’s terrible, sure, but that would make you dumb and shortsighted. He said it in the same tone you say anything to yourself when you lose at something. I don’t know that I’ve ever lost anything in my life and not followed it with, “Man, fuck that bitch.” It doesn’t matter what it was: pickup basketball at the park, Taboo with my family, tic-tac-toe with one of my sons, whatever. If I lose, that’s what follows. It’s petty, but there’s a tiny nugget of reverence in there, too. It’s an acknowledgement. It’s acceptance. But it’s also defiance. And it’s probably absolution as well.
The video spread across the Internet with an almost audible velocity, and as soon as I saw it I knew that even though I didn’t know a single thing about Andrew Harrison, I understood his core philosophical beliefs, and I knew how his brain worked. And I knew that I loved him. Take who you want, but know this: Harrison is going to make an impact in the NBA. And if he doesn’t, you’re at least going to hear from him about it.
5. Bobby Portis, 20, 6-foot-11, 246 pounds, PF, Arkansas
Chris Ryan: Based off YouTube highlight reels alone, Bobby Portis should get his Timberwolves hat fitted early on draft night. Others may dunk harder, fly higher, play in bigger games, and rock bigger crowds, but this young man looks like the second coming of Darius Miles and already has a ready-made theme song. IT’S BOBBY, BITCH.
Did Bobby Shmurda write “Bobby Bitch” about Portis? Can you show me documented proof that he didn’t? And while you’re at it, fact-check this: We could be looking at the Draymond Green of this year’s class. I mentioned Miles earlier, but Portis, who averaged 17.5 points and nine boards in his second season at Arkansas, isn’t going to jump out of the building. He is going to work his ass off and hit some midrange shots that might be more available as defenses concentrate on the paint and arc. Portis never shies away from contact, gobbles double-teams like vitamins, and against Florida and Dayton — which, based on the video, are the only two good games he had in two years at Arkansas — he excelled at turning defense into offense.
Chad Ford has Portis going in the middle of the first round to the Hawks. This means two things: Chad Ford doesn’t listen to enough Bobby Shmurda, and Atlanta might not miss DeMarre Carroll too much if he cashes a check somewhere else in free agency.
6. Willie Cauley-Stein, 21, 7-foot-1, 242 pounds, C, Kentucky
Robert Mays: The best part about this Clutch Productions love letter to Willie Trill Cauley-Stein is that from the start, you know what you’re getting: six solid minutes of Willie Trill filling lanes, dropping hammers, and breaking wills. You know what you’ll hear: all that soul-breaking precisely synced with slow builds and world-shaking drops that were clearly destined for this. And you know what you’ll turn into: that dude in the white windbreaker on Kentucky’s bench, just spinning in circles and doing the Archer Woo! on a loop. This entire experience is set up in the first 17 seconds, and it does not relent.
Both Willie Trill and his game were built for YouTube. The breadth of his defensive prowess won’t shine through here — a highlight tape made the way God intended should never include switching onto a guard after a high screen — but there are enough erased shots and bent rims to go around. When boiled down to his jaw-dropping best, Cauley-Stein has that superhuman look we recognize from Randy Moss, Jadeveon Clowney, and every other athlete who looks like a man of legal drinking age playing against kids in middle school. I could play basketball against an infant, and any shot I sent back wouldn’t be as brutal as the inhalation of that layup at 1:47.
Over the course of those six minutes, I counted two baby hooks and two midrange jumpers, and with both that’s two too many. Actual scouting videos might expose holes in Cauley-Stein’s game, but I have no interest in that. Even if all we get to see here is Willie catching the ball and slamming it home, it’s worth noting that being able to do that — while running the floor like he does at 7-foot-1 — is a skill. Other teams can peer into the future for possible two-way stars. I’m fine with the guy who can be a more versatile Tyson Chandler sooner rather than later. If all the death-via-lob moments aren’t enough to convince you, just fast-forward to 2:45 and, as my guys from Clutch Productions suggest, wait for it. Guys that big shouldn’t move that fast.
7. Satnam Singh, 19, 7-foot-2, 290 pounds, C, India
Bartholomew: If you’re IMG Academy, where Singh has been training since 2010, why would you release this video? To show draftniks that your prospect can house 135 pounds on the bench? That he runs the floor with all the grace of Steven Seagal? And that he reserves a level of concentration for agility drills that most people only need to apply to Rubik’s Cubes? But you gotta give credit to Singh for one thing: His grip don’t fail.
8. Jarell Martin, 20, 6-foot-9, 239 pounds, SF/PF, LSU
Danny Chau: This is tangentially about Jarell Martin, future YouTube Draft first-ballot hall of famer, but it’s mostly about one of the most impressive individual feats possible on a basketball court. It’s got a rich history.
When Orlando Woolridge put the ball between his legs on his final dunk attempt in the inaugural NBA Slam Dunk Contest of 1984, people didn’t know what to make of it. He was awarded a 48 on the attempt. Think about that. It was the first time anyone in Denver had seen that dunk, and yet it wasn’t enough for a perfect score! A decade later, J.R. Rider revived the dunk with some flair and spectacular branding. For a few years, throwing down an East Bay Funk Dunk during All-Star Weekend felt like a litmus test for greatness.
Just when the act was getting stale, Ricky Davis cracked the ceiling wide open by doing the unthinkable: He East Bay Funk Dunked in an actual game. He was Prometheus bestowing upon the league a new standard of showboating. The between-the-legs dunk has been the Moby-Dick of in-game feats ever since.
Here is an incomplete list of NBA players who have attempted the dunk in a game at various stages of their careers:2
Kobe Bryant in high school (made)
Ricky Davis in Cleveland (made)
LeBron James in high school (made)
Ricky Davis in Boston (missed)
Josh Smith in Atlanta (missed)
Kevin Durant in a Pro-Am game (made)
Alexey Shved in Russia (missed)
As far as I can tell, Davis remains the only player to successfully harpoon that whale in an NBA regular-season game. He’s also the only player to attempt it twice. It’s poetic that his failed attempt has more YouTube views than his made one.
Jarell Martin is a late first-round prospect out of LSU. He is an athletic tweener in the mold of Wilson Chandler. He pulled off his first in-game Funk Dunk when he was 18, during a high school basketball showcase in Las Vegas. His second one came at the age of 21 during the most recent NCAA season. He’s 2-for-2 in celebrating adult milestones with between-the-legs dunks. Imagine what’s going to happen when he gets his first NBA paycheck.
9. Arturas Gudaitis, 22, 6-foot-10, 253 pounds, C, Lithuania
There was a sequence in an NBA Rookie-Sophomore game in which LeBron James and Tayshaun Prince had back-to-back between-the-legs dunks, which I am omitting from this list for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. It shouldn’t be that easy!
Ryan O’Hanlon: During the Nazi occupation of Poland, one of Joseph Goebbels’s most sought-after bounties was Jan Matejko’s painting The Battle of Grunwald. Finished in 1878, Matejko’s work, which depicts the joint victory of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania over the Teutonic Order in 1410, became a revered symbol of Polish pride, and Goebbels is rumored to have valued its capture at no less than 10 million marks. However, because of the ingenuity and bravery of its protectors, The Battle of Grunwald remained hidden throughout World War II and now hangs in the halls of the National Museum in Warsaw.
War is art, sure, but what else? Why not a 76-second highlight clip of a 6-foot-10 Lithuanian 22-year-old who averaged fewer than seven points and five rebounds per game in the Euroleague?
As the lyrics of this video suggest — literally just an echoing female voice saying “hi” nine times in a row — Arturas Gudaitis is at least here, ready to introduce himself. Over the course of little more than a minute, Gudaitis leaves the paint only a couple of times and bends his knees even less often. He dunks two miniature basketballs at once. He blocks a shot into the space between the rim and the backboard. And right before the video ends — right before the beat crests ahead of the drop, right before you’re expecting him to hit a 3 or finish off a pick-and-roll — he makes a free throw. But watch it again, close your eyes, breathe in that yearning synth, and imagine yourself warm and secure in Gudaitis’s still-undefined arms as he ferries you across the Baltic Sea and into a future where stiff big men have come to rule once more. And now watch it a third time, and if you squint hard enough or pause it at the right moment, you’ll be able to catch the crest of Gudaitis’s club, BC Žalgiris. You’ll see that the club’s name arches above a basketball that looks like it’s being propped up by a painted-on letter “Ž,” which supposedly3 represents the Battle of Žalgiris. When translated to German, “Žalgiris” becomes “Grunwald.”
Maybe, then, the French novelist André Malraux had it best: “Art is a revolt, a protest against extinction.” I dare you to try to prove him wrong.
10. Larry Nance Jr., 22, 6-foot-9, 227 pounds, PF, Wyoming
I.e. “according to Wikipedia.”
Concepcion: NBA players — they’re just like the rest of us. They have intercourse, often with other people, which occasionally leads to children who they sometimes name after themselves. Case in point: Larry Nance Jr., a forward from the University of Wyoming who is also the son of Larry Nance Sr. Daddy Nance was a rangy 6-foot-10 stick figure who played 13 pro seasons and won the inaugural NBA dunk contest in 1984, besting such luminaries as Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Clyde Drexler, Dominique Wilkins, Ralph Sampson, and Orlando Woolridge. Larry Nance Jr., with his 7-foot-2 wingspan, has a similarly long and lean body type, probably owing to the genetic material he shares with his father. He also appears to be not as good as his father, which is just a thing that happens sometimes, like with Bob and Jakob Dylan or Anakin and Luke Skywalker.
The above video is titled “Wyoming Larry Nance Jr dunks it like Michael Jordan vs SDSU,” which is honestly way too generous unless it’s a reference to Michael Jordan Jr. But Nance Jr. was drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters this week, so we can still look forward to “Larry Nance Jr. bucket of confetti gag at Yum! Center.”
11. Mouhammadou Jaiteh, 20, 6-foot-11, 247 pounds, C, France
Bartholomew: Oh yes, it’s got class. That refers to this video as well as this remarkable young gentleman — “Mam” to his friends. Or at least that’s the impression I get from watching Jaiteh, a three-part series of velvety smooth short documentaries produced by his handlers, a French outfit whose name translates to “Unicorn Factory.” From the rolling, reflective piano soundtrack to the dramatic lighting to the parade of entraineurs, préperateurs physiques, and journalistes who appear to describe Mam’s journey from Pro B to Pro A to the NBA draft, I feel as if an award-winning filmmaker like Errol Morris is delivering me to the basketball promised land, where I can gaze upon Mam, the once-in-a-lifetime hoops unicorn.
Or, more likely, the next Johan Petro. All that glitters ain’t gold.
12. Juan Pablo Vaulet, 19, 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, SF, Argentina
Serrano: I’m making this pick based on fear and loyalty.
Loyalty because Vaulet is Latino and so am I and there just aren’t many of us in the NBA. There are something like 20, but really only seven of those 20 are consequential. Our numbers could use a boost.
And fear because I don’t want to miss out on what could potentially be a life-altering experience. Before I die, I want desperately for there to be a breakout Latino star in the NBA. I have loved basketball since I can remember, and there has never once been a time when the best player alive (or even anyone in the top 10) was Latino, and the older I get, the more I realize how much I want that. And I don’t mean a Manu Ginobili–level star, who’s a legend in San Antonio but who’s not transcendent. I want a LeBron James–level star. I want a star who bends the league to his will. I want to hear Kevin Harlan shout that he just sucked the gravity out of the building. I want him to have amazing Nike commercials. I want to watch his highlights on YouTube and see a bunch of mildly racist comments about his athleticism. I want everything he does to be a major story. I want to see a beat reporter tweet that he’s listening to La Tropa F or Los Tigres del Norte before an important playoff game. I want the top-selling jersey in the league to have a last name on the back that ends in a vowel or even a Z. I want to watch Inside the NBA and have Ernie Johnson say something like, “Our guest tonight is the new face of the league,” as I look up and see a guy who looks like a stretched-out version of one of my uncles. That’s what I want.
And I know Juan Pablo Vaulet isn’t that. He won’t be any of that. But he’s a step toward it. So sign me up.