Incoming College Basketball Freshmen with Games Ideally Suited for the NBA
It's time to turn our attention to the freshmen who will be hot commodities in the 2015 NBA Draft, even though 2014's edition is still a week away from taking place.
Scouts rank incoming players based on how well their skill sets should do in the college game, but the order of the top players changes a good bit when considering how ideally their games are suited for the NBA.
Rashad Vaughn, for example, doesn't even crack the top 10 at 247Sports or the ESPN 100, but we've got him in the top five on the list of NBA-ready players who have yet to play a collegiate game.
10. Tyus Jones, Duke
Player: Tyus Jones
Position: Point Guard
247Sports Rank: 8
ESPN 100 Rank: 4
Jones is not the type of individual game-changer that teams in the lottery are going to target, but that doesn't make him any less prepared to excel at the next level.
He may very well battle Chris Paul for the league lead in assists, but—at least at this stage in his development—it seems quite unlikely that he'll also score the 18.6 points per game that Paul has averaged in his career.
Jones has the ability to make good teammates great by setting them up with open looks time and again. Wherever he lands in the NBA, he will eventually be the John Stockton to somebody's Karl Malone.
By his lonesome, he probably wouldn't be worth all that much. But pair him with, say, Noah Vonleh, and get ready to sit back and watch the revenue from playoff tickets stream in.
9. Myles Turner, Texas
Player: Myles Turner
Position: Power Forward / Center
247Sports Rank: 6
ESPN 100 Rank: 2
The biggest concern with Turner's game is that he does a little bit of everything without particularly excelling at one thing.
The comparisons to Baylor's Perry Jones III and Isaiah Austin are easy to make and not particularly flattering.
There's very little doubt that Turner will excel in college, but does he have the strength to guard opposing big men in the NBA? Does he have a consistent enough long-range shot to live on the perimeter?
How he does in the NBA may depend heavily upon his supporting cast. Dirk Nowitzki has had a long and fruitful career, but the 7'0" jump-shooter pretty much always had another big man on the court to handle the load in the paint, be it Erick Dampier, DeSagana Diop, Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler.
If we were talking about Euroleague, the "new age" big man would be just about the hottest commodity available. But until he figures out his bread and butter, it's tough to rank Turner any higher than this.
8. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Player: Cliff Alexander
Position: Power Forward
247Sports Rank: 3
ESPN 100 Rank: 3
Alexander is going to destroy the competition in college, but he's a bit undersized for the NBA.
Unless he grows another couple of inches, he's too short to play center. And unless he develops a better mid-range shot, he won't be a starting power forward either.
Alexander is built very much like Blake Griffin, and Griffin was a ton of fun to watch back in the early days of Lob City. Until he significantly improved his 15-foot jump shot, though, he was more of a carnival side show than a viable feature of a playoff team.
Early comparisons for Alexander include Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger—both of whom excelled in college but have pretty much disappeared in the NBA.
Hopefully, Alexander has a better fate in store.
7. Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU
Player: Emmanuel Mudiay
Position: Point Guard
247Sports Rank: 2
ESPN 100 Rank: 5
By all accounts, Mudiay is going to be the best transition guard in the country. Put him in open space on a fast break and he will dominate.
Slow him down and make him play five-on-five, however, and he's marginally above average.
His decision-making in the half-court offense leaves something to be desired, and his three-point shooting ability is almost nonexistent.
He really reminds you of John Wall, which is hardly a complaint, considering Wall was the No. 1 pick in 2010 and has blossomed into one of the best point guards in the NBA. If Mudiay can cut down on his turnovers and develop a more consistent mid-to-long-range jump shot, he'll be a superstar.
6. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
Player: Kelly Oubre
Position: Small Forward
247Sports Rank: 7
ESPN 100 Rank: 11
No player in the country has improved his stock over the past year quite like Oubre.
At this time last year, Oubre was an awkward lefty who relied too heavily on his dominant hand and took too many shots for someone who wasn't a very good shooter.
He still has a streaky long-range shot, but now he's one of the best finishers at the rim in the country.
As the starting small forward for Kansas, he'll inevitably draw comparisons to Andrew Wiggins throughout the season, but they are likely to be favorable ones.
When he's hot, Oubre has plenty of ability to single-handedly take over a game. The only real concern is whether he'll have the wherewithal to cut down on his field-goal attempts on the nights when his shot isn't there.
5. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Player: Justin Jackson
School: North Carolina
Position: Shooting Guard / Small Forward
247Sports Rank: 9
ESPN 100 Rank: 8
As he showed while making 11 of his 14 field-goal attempts during the McDonald's All-American game, Jackson has the ability to go for 30 points on any given night.
Jackson has an excellent mid-range and long-range stroke and should be the type of offensive weapon that the Tar Heels thought they would have last season in P.J. Hairston.
Is he big enough for the NBA, though? Compared to Jackson (6'8", 200 lbs.), Kevin Durant looks like a sumo wrestler.
Jackson may score 20 points per game, but he also might be responsible for that many on the other end of the court. Unless he bulks up, he'll have trouble defending small forwards and larger guards in college, let alone in the NBA.
4. Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
Player: Rashad Vaughn
Position: Shooting Guard
247Sports Rank: 11
ESPN 100 Rank: 19
Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. is probably the best pure shooter in this year's class, but Vaughn is the best and most well-rounded shooting guard.
Love it or hate it, the NBA in its current state is built for players who can create their own shot in isolation and score on multiple levels. There's a reason J.J. Redick scored a billion points as a pick-and-pop guy in college but took about seven years to become a reliable scorer in the NBA.
Vaughn already has the ability to play that Kobe Bryant-type of game. And like Bryant, he'll take a few ill-advised shots every game that drive you crazy, but you live with it because he'll be such a great scorer the rest of the time.
In addition to his scoring prowess, Vaughn is a great defender and rebounder.
He might not have many double-doubles, but 18.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG in college before an effective career in the NBA is a pretty good baseline for what we should expect to see out of Vaughn over the next decade.
3. Karl Towns Jr., Kentucky
Player: Karl Towns Jr.
Position: Power Forward / Center
247Sports Rank: 5
ESPN 100 Rank: 9
When the biggest concern about a player is a perceived tendency to coast at times on the offensive end of the court, he's probably going to be pretty good.
Towns is essentially Myles Turner, but with the strength and willingness to play in the paint. He'll occasionally step out for three-pointers, but he can and will be the type of player who can be your anchor in the post on defense.
It remains to be seen what kind of playing time he'll get at Kentucky, but he's the most NBA-ready player on that roster full of future professionals.
2. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Player: Stanley Johnson
Position: Small Forward
247Sports Rank: 4
ESPN 100 Rank: 7
Aside from point guards, half of the battle in determining if players are ready for the NBA is whether they're physically capable of defending or scoring against the professionals at their position.
Johnson passes that test with flying colors.
At 6'7" and 240 pounds, Johnson is nothing short of a wrecking ball, and he uses it to his advantage by blowing past and through the opposition to get to the rim on a regular basis. He's basically a bigger version of James Harden with a less consistent three-point stroke.
He probably won't be the No. 1 overall pick next June, but some team drafting in the No. 5-8 range will be striking oil with Johnson.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Player: Jahlil Okafor
247Sports Rank: 1
ESPN 100 Rank: 1
Quite simply, Okafor is the total package.
At 6'11" and 270 pounds, he isn't exactly Shaquille O'Neal, but he's plenty big enough to hold his own against the vast majority of NBA centers. Okafor has incredible footwork and soft hands, capable of turning and finishing in either direction with either hand.
It's tough to say how he'll do defensively against players his size since there haven't been any like him in high school, but he is a great rebounder on both ends of the court. He isn't much of a shot-blocker, but his ability to both create and prevent second chances should more than make up for that minor deficiency.
Expecting him to be the next Dwight Howard might be overly optimistic, but Okafor should be putting up Zach Randolph or Al Jefferson numbers shortly after arriving on the professional scene.