Ever since the start of college basketball season regarding talks of who the No.1 pick in the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft is projected to be and should be, the name Jahlil Okafor seems to constantly come up first and dominate the draft conversations. Every 2015 Mock Draft I come across has him going number 1. Duke's 6-foot-11 freshman center has been the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft not only since the season started, but he held that label when he was a senior in high school – before he even stepped on a college campus. That's how good draft experts and scouts believe young Okafor would be...and they have had every reason to believe that so far based on how well his freshman season is going.
Okafor on the year is averaging 18.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg, and shooting 65% from the field. He's the best player on a top five team (Duke is 19-3). He's not only the best big man in the country but he's the best low-post player in college basketball in a decade. He possesses good footwork around the basket, has advanced post moves that most big men in the NBA don't have, commands double-teams and reads them well, and is an adept passer out of the post. Okafor is what you call a traditional big man. A throwback, if I might add. His game will fit perfectly on the next level. Most of all, Okafor is the leading front-runner for Player of the Year. You might ask the question: What is there not to like?
Well, as impressive as Okafor has looked and knowing fully well that he should excel at the pro level, I'm not totally sold that he should be the runaway No. 1 pick. Not because Okafor doesn't protect the paint defensively like coaches want their center too. Not because he seems stiff at times and not agile enough. Not because I think he can be a more physically imposing presence in the low-post.
The kid has some flaws just like many prospects do coming out of college heading to the pros. I say that because there are four other dudes out there that have made a compelling case that they could possibly be the first pick in this year's draft. I'm talking about Kentucky's freshman center/power forward Karl Anthony-Towns, Arizona's freshman swingman Stanley Johnson, Ohio State's freshman guard D'Angelo Russell, and pro prospect point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.
Should Jahlil Okafor be the No.1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft?
Should Jahlil Okafor be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft?
Let’s start with Towns. He’s Kentucky’s best all-around player on the nation's best team (Kentucky is 22-0) and based off his statistics (8.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 51% FG in 19 minutes) you would think he wasn’t much of a player at all.
Those stats are completely misleading because Kentucky’s roster is deep, filled with 9 McDonald All-Americans (meaning players won’t put up the kind of numbers that would usually put up if they played for another school), and coach John Calipari plays nine to ten guys pretty evenly minutes wise across the board. So, if Towns were to play about 28-30 minutes per game, then his stats would look a little more impressive.
For a 6-foot-11 big man, Towns is a pretty skilled player. He posts up well (still needs work) has a solid mid-range jumper, is a good passer from the foul line/half court, and is one of the best shot blockers in the country. He’s not overly athletic but is a very smart player. If you were to check out a few mock drafts right now online, he would probably be No. 2 on the majority of them. His game should translate nicely to the next level.
Arizona’s 6-foot-7 shooting guard/small forward Stanley Johnson (14.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 47% FG) is what you call a prototypical wing. He’s athletic, a good ball handler, can run the floor and finish in transition, can shoot, and slashes to the basket with the best of them.
He’s most likely Arizona’s best player and we all know if you’re a perimeter player that can do all those things, you have a chance to become an All-Star at the next level. He’s definitely got the built and game to succeed as a pro.
If there’s a player in college basketball that’s impressing me more and more, it’s without doubt D’Angelo Russell. Ohio State’s combo guard just might be the best all-around player in all of college basketball. On the year, Russell is putting up basically a 20-5-5 caliber season (19.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.2 apg) and is practically moving up on everyone’s mock drafts.
The 6-foot-5 freshman can play both guard positions, is the Buckeyes primarily ball-handler, and is a bonafide playmaker. He’s a lefty so his game is very deceptive and he’s a handful to guard because of his quickness, does a superb job balancing scoring the ball, and facilitating and setting up his teammates. What stands out to me is his shooting line: 47% FG, 44 3P%, and 78 FT%.
The kid reminds me of former Blazers star guard Brandon Roy. They both play(ed) the game with ease, can play at different speeds, go at their own pace, can create their shot well, and have a strong feel and sense of what’s happening on the court. Russell’s a total gem and someone I expect to be multiple All-Star in the NBA. If anyone’s threatening Okafor’s spot as the top pick and has the best shot at stealing Player of the Year honors from him, then it would be Russell at the moment. His game continues to soar.
The player that is somewhat of an enigma is Emmanuel Mudiay. The 18-year-old highly sought-after high school guard first committed to play for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown at SMU but later decided to skip college and go overseas to play professional basketball in China. He signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract to play Guangdong Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.
His decision to forgo college remains a mystery but the 6-foot-5 guard has still been on pro scout’s radar. Whenever you pull up a mock draft on the internet, his name is always in the top 3. I’ve seen very little of Mudiay (other than the occasional YouTube clips), but the potential with his size, ball-handling, and ability to attack the basket is all there to make some noise at the next level.
(Note: Mudiay hurt his ankle in December in China and hasn’t played since the injury. There are rumors that he’s been cut by his pro team. He’s still considered a top 5 pick come Draft time.)
So what I’m getting at is that, while Jahlil Okafor is the projected No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft (he deserves to be), I’m just suggesting that it’s not a foregone conclusion that he’s going to be the first player to shake Adam Silver’s hand when he calls out who gets selected first in June.