Marketability Growth of 2015 NBA Draft Picks


Every June, the NBA Draft creates excitement and hope for optimistic NBA fans. In some cases, the selection of one player can fill the void needed to turn a perennial cellar dweller to an immediate contender. This year’s draft class provided plenty of young talent, with the first three picks and six of the top ten completing only their freshman season. As is fitting of this young generation, these athletes are heavily involved in social media, even going as far as getting verified on Twitter and verified on Instagram. The top ten picks saw a combined growth on Twitter of 235,260 followers over the month leading up to the draft, while their Instagram profiles grew by 499,374 followers during the same period.

Below, we dive into the social media marketability and endorsement deals of each player. The Opendorse platform provides the estimated baseline value of an endorsement message from each athlete and we offer our own breakdown of the top ten picks in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Karl-Anthony Towns | Minnesota Timberwolves

Twitter Followers: 83,531
Twitter Growth: 22,491*
Instagram Followers: 145,645
Instagram Growth: 53,861*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per tweet: $430.02
Cost per Tweet with Image: $645.03
Current Endorsements: American Express, Lids, Treyarch Studios, Panini

“With the first overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select, Karl-Anthony Towns from the University of Kentucky.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver kicked off the draft with the announcement many saw coming. The dominant big-man from Kentucky has the make-up to become a force in the NBA. While at Kentucky, Towns averaged a modest 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, but remember his Kentucky team was stacked with talent. Towns is as well rounded a big man as we have seen come out of the draft in recent years. Not only dominant offensively but Towns also has a polished defensive game. His length, with a wingspan of 7 feet 3 inches, will cause problems for big-men and guards alike.

With the addition of Towns, Minnesota now has the number one selection from the past three Drafts on its roster. With a plethora of top young talent and a quality supporting cast, the Timberwolves have reason for optimism in the West.

It wasn’t long after his selection that Towns received his first job as a rookie, by way of Minnesota point guard, Ricky Rubio. As one of the most popular tweets of draft night, it has been retweeted over 16,000 times.

Leading up to the draft, Towns teamed up with American Express to take part in their “Home Court Advantage” series that allowed fans to learn about off-court lives of draft picks. Towns also made appearances at Lids retail stores and E3 to test Treyarch Studios’ Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.  On Twitter, Towns experienced the second highest growth of followers of top 10 draft picks, trailing only now Laker, D’Angelo Russell.  On Instagram, however, Towns saw an increase of over 53,000 followers, doubling that of Twitter, but ranked only fourth compared to other top ten selections.

D’Angelo Russell | Los Angeles Lakers

Twitter Followers: 126,275
Twitter Growth: 113,194*
Instagram Followers: 255,292
Instagram Growth: 126,791**

Opendorse Estimated Cost Per Tweet: $591.72
Cost Per Tweet with Image: $887.59
Current Endorsements: American Express, Champs Sports, ESPN, Panini

Maybe the biggest winner from the Draft, D’Angelo Russell moved ahead of sought-after big man Jahlil Okafor and was selected second off the board. Kobe Bryant is nearing the end of his career, and the Los Angeles Lakers are desperate to regain their dominance. By selecting Russell, the Lakers have gained a talented guard who will play alongside and grow under one of the greatest perimeter players of all time. Hailing from THE Ohio State University, Russell is an exciting playmaker that can score from anywhere on the floor. His passing ability was dissected and praised on ESPN’s Sports Science and his height, standing 6 feet 5 inches, allows him a make an impact in the rebounding category. His playmaking ability alongside Kobe may give the Lakers the boost they need to push them closer to playoff contention in the West.

Russell was able to show off his passing ability in a commercial for ESPN in which he was an “office assistant” in the ESPN studios. In addition to ESPN, Russell made appearances to sign autographs at Champs Sports retail stores, signed an exclusive deal with Panini, and also took part in the American Express “Home Court Advantage” series. Of all of the players drafted in the top ten, Russell saw the most dramatic growth on social media.  On Twitter, Russell saw an increase of around 120,000 followers during the month leading up to the Draft. On Instagram, Russell saw that same increase in just three days. On Draft day, D’Angelo Russell didn’t just move up the draft board, he also rose to the top of the list of most marketable NBA Draft picks.

Jahlil Okafor | Philadelphia 76ers

Twitter Followers: 96,199
Twitter Growth: 21,411*
Instagram Followers: 281,859
Instagram Growth: 74,751*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $469.84
Cost per Tweet with Image: $704.75
Current Endorsements: Speed Stick, Lids, Panini

With a NCAA National Championship under his belt, Jahlil Okafor turned his focus to the NBA. With his large frame and exceptional footwork, Okafor is seen as a dominant force on the block. One thing that may hurt him in the NBA is his free throw shooting, or lack thereof. As you saw throughout the NBA Playoffs, teams have been quick to implement the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy against poor free throw shooters. To avoid becoming a crunch-time liability, he will need to improve his efficiency at the charity stripe. Another popular tweet from Draft night came from Joel Embiid where he voiced his confusion with Philly’s selection of Okafor.

Several minutes later Embiid followed it up with another tweet welcoming Okafor to Philadelphia. Joking aside, it should be interesting to see how each player will be used and if there will be an odd man out in the end.

Prior to the draft, Okafor teamed up with Speed Stick to shoot “The Journey of Jahlil Okafor” which has over 1.3 million views on YouTube. Okafor also made appearances at Lids retail stores and signed an exclusive deal with Panini to create Jahlil Okafor trading cards. Along with these endorsement deals, Okafor has also created an Instagram following that is larger than any other NBA Draft pick at just north of 280,000 followers.

Willie Cauley-Stein | Sacramento Kings

Twitter Followers: 115,214
Twitter Growth: 10,254*
Instagram Followers: 112,746
Instagram Growth: 31,585*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $539.89
Cost per Tweet with Image: $809.84
Current Endorsements: JBL, Canvus, Lids, Rockwell Watches, Treyarch Studios

While fans may prefer offensive juggernauts, defense remains an important aspect of the game. Willie Cauley-Stein possesses the length and speed needed to be a shutdown defender. While his ability on offense is fairly ordinary, his defensive skill and ability to guard every position on the floor is seen as a game changer. Very few players have the speed and lateral quickness of Cauley-Stein, let alone any players over seven feet tall. With Cauley-Stein, the Kings have a compliment to DeMarcus Cousins whose defense has struggled at times, assuming Cousins remains in Sacramento.

Big thanks to @rockwellwatches for blessing me with some watches. BBN check out those UK ones!

A photo posted by Willie Cauley Stein (@trillat00much15) on

Cauley-Stein has teamed up with Rockwell Watches, JBL and Canvus to promote their products. He also made appearances at Lids retail stores as well as Treyarch Studios to preview Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. When looking at the effectiveness of these endorsements, Cauley-Stein’s Instagram post about Rockwell Watches received over 5,000 likes. In comparison, his tweet for JBL received 12 retweets and 55 favorites.

Frank Kaminsky | Charlotte Hornets

Twitter Followers: 120,691
Twitter Growth: 7,890*
Instagram Followers: 137,978
Instagram Growth: 35,162*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $565.56
Cost per Tweet with Image: $848.34
Current Endorsements: Speed Stick, American Express, Modell’s, JCPenney

For many NBA experts, Frank Kaminsky came as a surprise as the ninth overall pick. The Celtics were apparently so determined to move up to take Justise Winslow, that they offered the Hornets up to six draft picks, four of which were potential first-round picks. Michael Jordan went on to turn down the Celtics offer and decided to select “Frank the Tank”. With the addition of Kaminsky, the Hornets now have a logjam of front-court talent, including Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Spencer Hawes. Kaminsky does, however, posses an offensive skill set rarely seen in players of his height. Kaminsky is able to succeed in the post, while also stepping out and knocking down threes. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in basketball IQ. His ability to stretch the floor and create mismatches projects to be a coveted asset for the Charlotte Hornets.

On draft night, JCPenney aired this commercial with Frank centered on their new collection of men’s clothing. Kaminsky also teamed with Speed Stick to shoot “The Journey of Frank Kaminsky” which has over 1.3 million views on YouTube. Other endorsements include American Express’s “Home Court Advantage” series, as well as appearances at Modell’s sporting goods store.

With the top five marketable players above, here is a look at the social media presence and endorsements of the players that round out the top ten.

Kristaps Porzingis | New York Knicks

Twitter Followers: 20,847
Twitter Growth: 17,082*
Instagram Followers: 31,596
Instagram Growth: 28,661*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $100.44
Cost per Tweet with Image: $150.66
Current Endorsements: JBL, Impact Basketball Academy

Mario Hezonja | Orlando Magic

Twitter Followers: 2,627
Twitter Growth: 1,810*
Instagram Followers: N/A
Instagram Growth: N/A

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $24.00
Cost per Tweet with Image: $36.00
Current Endorsements: None

Emmanuel Mudiay | Denver Nuggets

Twitter Followers: 14,908
Twitter Growth: 9,831*
Instagram Followers: 100,966
Instagram Growth: 47,428*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $65.92
Cost per Tweet with Image: $98.88
Current Endorsements: Foot Locker, JBL, Under Armour, Champs Sports, Panini

Stanley Johnson | Detroit Pistons

Twitter Followers: 45,938
Twitter Growth: 10,082*
Instagram Followers: 127,613
Instagram Growth: 26,639*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $212.23
Cost per Tweet with Image: $318.35
Current Endorsements: GoPro, Modell’s

Justise Winslow | Miami Heat

Twitter Followers: 63,181
Twitter Growth: 21,215*
Instagram Followers: 222,157
Instagram Growth: 74,496*

Opendorse Estimated Cost per Tweet: $304.41
Cost per Tweet with Image: $456.61
Current Endorsements:  JBL, Axe, GQ, Lids


* Tracked from 5/21 to 6/26
** Tracked from 6/24 to 6/26


Related Content

The State of Sponsored Social

Get the full breakdown on 36,000 branded Instagram posts published on behalf of more than 3,200 sponsors in sports