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