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NBA AM: Who To Draft Number One Overall?

The 2015 NBA Draft isn’t nearly as cut and dry as it seemed awhile ago. There are several options for the top overall pick.

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So Many Options:  In a typical NBA draft year, there are one or two clear cut candidates for the top overall pick and a couple of fringe prospects that are more likely to fall into place after the top prospects are off the board. This year, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor has been the darling of college basketball and for most of the year it’s seemed that he was the clear cut guy to go number one and others were jockeying for second place.

However, as the Final Four in college basketball is now set and more and more focus in the NBA is going to shift toward the draft, who goes number one overall may be up for more debate than initially thought. Four players have emerged as top overall pick prospects, with two others almost being neck and neck, much as we saw last year with Andrew Wiggins, the eventual top pick, and Jabari Parker, the eventual second overall selection.

Here are the four to know, and two of them are still playing.

Karl Towns – Kentucky – PF/C – 7’0″ – 248

Karl-Anthony Towns has become the star of the postseason – mainly because his entire tool set has been on display. The more scouts see of Towns, the more there is a sense that he may be a better two-way player at the next level and that his ceiling could be higher because of his ability to impact both ends of the floor.

The knock on Towns is that he’s played a smaller role for Kentucky due to their depth and that in the regular season, a lot of his production was cannibalized by Willie Cauley-Stein and some of the other Kentucky big guys. This begs the question of how much better would Towns have been as a singular focal point guy like some others were, or did the fact that his sample being smaller help hide issues about his game?

It’s clear that Towns is a super skilled player with a very high basketball IQ. Some in NBA circles have compared him to Andrew Bynum (before the injuries), which wouldn’t be a terrible ceiling.

The more Towns plays, the more fans he seems to accumulate. While it was once believed the top pick was a one horse race with Okafor, Towns might be the horse that runs away from the competition.

Jahlil Okafor – Duke – C – 6’11” – 272

This happens every year. One player seems to be the clear cut favorite and by the time the season is over, the kid has been over analyzed and scrutinized that his stock takes a hit because of all the things the kid didn’t do that others expected.

This is the story with Jahlil Okafor. He’s had a solid season at Duke and has been everything advertised and a little bit more, but because he was on the big stage for so long this year, it’s become more about what he doesn’t do well, rather than what he does better than anyone in college basketball. The same happened to Andrew Wiggins last year.

Okafor is a skilled offensive player. He could be the best post-player in a generation right now and he’s just 19. The problem for Okafor is he’s not much on the defensive side of the ball and while that’s where his critics like to focus, it’s easy to overlook that few 19-year-old draft prospects are good defenders and that once many get into a structure in the NBA, they can evolve.

The other knock on Okafor is he has been a horrendous free throw shooter this year at Duke and that becomes a scary combination, when you factor in a lack luster defensive effort too.

This is where being over analyzed comes into play, because while both negatives are real concerns, it overlooks that Okafor is a play-right-away low post big man who has amazing footwork and even better passing skills. His basketball IQ is off the charts and he turned 19 in December.

Some have compared Okafor to Charlotte big man Al Jefferson, which may not be a terrible comparison, mainly because Jefferson is an excellent low-post scorer who was never known as a defensive presence but still turned into a solid rebounder and a passable defensive presence.

Much like last year, the team that lands the top pick is going to have a tough choice because Towns could be a more balanced prospect, whereas Okafor may have the higher ceiling offensively.

It’s going to be a tough call, because both are really can’t miss prospects.

Emmanuel Mudiay – Guangdong – PG – 6’5″ – 200

While Towns and Okafor are the favorites to talk about, Emmanuel Mudiay is something of a dark horse, mainly because he did not play college basketball this year and spent most of the last year in China rehabbing an ankle injury. When Mudiay did play, he was dominant and most of those games were thoroughly scouted.

Mudiay is an excellent prospect. He is big, has all the tools of an elite point guard and is a monster on both ends of the floor.

The knock on Mudiay is that he’s been something of a basketball gypsy and it’s not clear to NBA scouts whether he is truly a good leader. When talking about score-first guards, the notion of being a set up guy comes into play. Can Mudiay be the facilitator or is he just a ball dominating guard? That is the big unknown because of Mudiay’s choice to play in China.

There is no doubting that he has the kind of point-guard game that teams drool over, much in the mold of a Derrick Rose or a John Wall.

Mudiay enters the draft process with a little more for teams to learn about him. He has been training for the draft in Los Angeles, and those that have just started working with him marvel at his professional and business-like approach to the whole process.

Some kids get out of college and start to coast a little, whereas Mudiay has been a gym rat for weeks and clearly wants to prove he’s as worthy a top pick candidate as any in the field.

D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State – PG/SG – 6’5″ – 175

While Emmanuel Mudiay is something of an unknown to a large number of NBA executives, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell is a proven commodity. He has been thoroughly scouted and examined and there are few concerns about who and what Russell will be at the NBA level.

With two elite big men in front of him, Russell seems like the can’t-miss point guard prospect in this class. He is big and long. He has great court vision and awareness and solid handle, combined with being an excellent leader and teammate.

There are very few questions about what Russell is as a player and could be at the next level.

But like all prospects, there are some concerns. Is he truly a point guard at the next level? His NBA comparable is likely former guard Brandon Roy, who like Russell possessed great size and passing ability but ultimately became more lethal as an off-guard that could play make. That might be the case with Russell down the road.

This becomes a factor for a team looking for the point guard of the future. If the perception is Russell’s best spot is off-the-ball, that could factor into things a little.

In the low-risk, high-reward category, Russell might be the best of the bunch, and in his case it may come down to who lands the top overall pick. The Knicks and the 76ers could decide to select a ready-to-play point guard and Russell is surely going to get a lot of attention.

It’s safe to say that one of the big guys is likely going to go number one overall in almost every draft scenario, simply because of how unique of a skill set Okafor and Towns possess. The two point guards are special in their own ways, but are still more likely to be dark horse candidates for number one overall.

Six months ago, it seemed a forgone conclusion that Okafor was the lone guy at the top of the board. Today, that seems a little murkier.

Peeking At The Mock Draft:  Basketball Insiders’ Yannis Koutroupis updated his latest NBA Mock Draft this weekend. Here is how he sees the field:

Starting in May, we’ll begin rolling out our weekly Consensus Mock Drafts, where we have four of our NBA writers look at the draft each week to find the commonalities and the differences in how each guy sees the class. These will update each week starting Friday, May 1.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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