Head to Head: Best Prospect in 2015 NBA Draft?

Who is the best prospect in the 2015 NBA Draft? Alex Kennedy, Joel Brigham and Yannis Koutroupis debate.

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Who is the best prospect in the 2015 NBA Draft? Basketball Insiders’ experts Alex Kennedy, Yannis Koutroupis and Joel Brigham debate this topic in this week’s Head to Head.

Jahlil Okafor

We haven’t seen many 19-year-olds like Jahlil Okafor. His post moves, footwork, basketball IQ, efficiency and passing ability are extremely rare in a freshman seven-footer. Most big men are raw when they start their NBA career, but Okafor will enter the league as one of the best scoring big men prospects we’ve seen in years.

That’s because, at 14 years old, Okafor started studying film of big men like Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Patrick Ewing and doing drills to improve his footwork. Even though he had been dunking since sixth grade, he preferred to score using his wide array of post moves.

That work has paid off as he has become virtually unstoppable in the post at the college level. It’s because of this impressive skill set that Okafor has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft for quite some time and why, in my opinion, he’s by far the best prospect in this class.

While players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Emmanuel Mudiay have excited because of their potential, it’s clear that Okafor is the safest pick in this draft since it’s easy to see how his skill set will successfully translate over to the NBA. He has averaged 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while shooting an absolutely ridiculous 67.4 percent from the field. In 18 games this season, Okafor shot above 70 percent from the field. He does whatever he wants in the post and, barring something catastrophic, he seems poised to be one of the best offensive big men in the NBA in a few years.

Okafor has been incredibly consistent this year, scoring in double figures in all but one game (with the lone single-digit outing being 94-51 blowout victory over Wake Forest in which he only played 19 minutes and was perfect from the field in his limited opportunities).

There have been questions about Okafor’s defense and it’s true that he needs to improve on that end. However, because his offense is so far ahead of where most big men are at this point, he projects to be a very productive NBA player even if he continues to have some struggles on that end. His floor is basically Al Jefferson and, if he becomes a two-way threat, his ceiling is an all-time great.

The Okafor vs. Towns debate has been going on for quite awhile, but it’s worth noting that there are concerns with Towns too. His sample size is smaller since he played fewer minutes and he didn’t get the chance to show that he can be a No. 1 option like Okafor did. While Kentucky’s loaded roster has certainly been a reason for Towns’ limited minutes, he has also had some issues with fouling that have kept him off the court. He averages 2.9 fouls and has fouled out in six games this year (more than all of his Kentucky teammates combined). By comparison, Okafor hasn’t fouled out of game this year and averages just 2.1 fouls despite playing 10 more minutes per game than Towns. Will Towns have even more issues with fouling in the NBA once he’ll be facing NBA-caliber big men and playing more minutes as a franchise player?

There’s no doubt that Towns has a lot of upside and, if he lives up to his potential, he could be a special player. But Okafor seems like more of a sure thing while Towns is a bit of a boom-or-bust prospect. Because of how dominant Okafor has been this year and how unique of a prospect he is, I think he has clearly separated himself from the pack and emerged as this class’ best player.

– Alex Kennedy

Karl-Anthony Towns

A year ago at the McDonald’s All-American Game media day, Jahlil Okafor was crowned the eventual No. 1 pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, even before he’d played a single game of college basketball. The media huddled around him there like he was Shaquille O’Neal, knowing that someday he very well may become the most important big man of his draft class.

After a season at Duke, little has changed in many people’s minds that Okafor should be the top overall pick, but he’s not the no-brainer he used to be. Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns has gotten a lot of pundits excited about his length and athleticism, and there is a very convincing argument to be made that Towns, not Okafor, is actually the top prospect in this class.

For starters, Towns’ measurements are through the roof. He’s a true seven-footer with a 7’4 wingspan and a 9’5 reach, and he can jump out of the roof; his 36.5-inch vertical leap is exceptional for someone that size. It’s a combination college basketball just doesn’t often see, so even if he didn’t have any talent, his measurements would get the attention of just about every scout in the league.

But Towns is insanely talented even though his statistics this past season don’t necessarily show it. From that perspective, Okafor seems to be the better player, having finished the year averaging 17.7 PPG and 9.0 RPG. However, Towns, who finished with only 9.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG, really only played the equivalent of half a game per night and wasn’t given the opportunity to flourish in a Kentucky lineup that features over half a dozen future NBA players.

Had Towns played 30.5 minutes a night like Okafor, rather than the 20.6 MPG he actually got under John Calipari, his statistics would have been considerably better. In 25 minutes during his NCAA tournament debut, for example, he put up 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, along with 11 rebounds and three blocks.

In other words, as a focal point of an offense and with big minutes, he could conceivably transform into one of the most dominant big men in the NBA.

Defensively, he already has a lot of things figured out, but his offense really only came together in the second half of the season. He’s an excellent passing big man and is pretty efficient scoring inside, but doesn’t really have any scoring ability to speak of away from the basket. He hasn’t had to on this Kentucky team, but he is a bit raw offensively and does have some work to do there.

NBA teams can have patience with things like that when he’s showed so much dominance on both ends of the floor. He’s a huge kid with huge talent, which is why he’s the best prospect in his draft class, even better than Okafor.

– Joel Brigham

Emmanuel Mudiay

All year long, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns have been at the top of most mock drafts. However, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a team like the Philadelphia 76ers, who already have Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, could go against the general consensus and draft a point guard instead. If there’s one thing that we know about the 76ers at this stage of the Sam Hinkie era, it’s that they’re not afraid to do what others wouldn’t in their position.

Okafor and Towns do seem to be the surest bets, but the 76ers have a pretty big void in their backcourt right now that both Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell would help fit quite nicely.

Staying true to Philadelphia’s dare-to-be-great blueprint, the guy with the higher upside will be the one they select, and in my opinion that is Mudiay.

Unfortunately, because of an ankle injury, Mudiay’s career in the Chinese Basketball Association was limited to just 12 games. In those 12 games, though, the would-be college freshman averaged 18 points, six rebounds and nearly six assists a game in a professional league that features some legitimate NBA talent. He clearly belonged.

What gives Mudiay the edge over Russell is his superior physical tools, which are going to be really important at the next level in this golden age of point guard play. He’s bigger, stronger, quicker and more athletic. Russell may be the better shooter and has a little bit better feel for making his teammates better – playing under Larry Brown at SMU as Mudiay originally intended would have helped Mudiay a great deal in that regard.

However, Mudiay will only get better with experience and with ample time to let him develop and grow, the 76ers could end up with the franchise point guard they were hoping Michael Carter-Williams would become.

– Yannis Koutroupis

Who do you think is the best prospect in the 2015 NBA Draft? Leave a comment below.

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