Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner among NBA draft prospects worth debating
Even though the college basketball season ended almost a month ago, many of this year’s prospects may rise or fall in the eyes of NBA teams over the coming weeks. Individual workouts, reevaluation of film, the draft combine and background checks could cause some players' stock to go up or down. The list below breaks down 11 prospects who, for various reasons, could be subjected to intense debate in the lead up to the 2015 NBA draft.
Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
Dekker was a phenomenon in the tourney, shooting an unreal 57.1% from the field, averaging just over 19 points and grabbing 5.5 rebounds. His size and skill on the wing are a plus, he comes from a successful program, and as he showed in March that he can get hot from deep. But there are doubts about his consistency, as his career three-point mark for the Badgers was just 34.8% and he peaked statistically from that area of the floor as a freshman. He’s a good athlete with a solid all-around game who should be able to cut it in the league, but if the threes don’t translate, Dekker presents a much less intriguing package as a potential lottery guy.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Okafor is one of the most polished post scorers in recent memory. He possesses a wide range of moves that, coupled with his size and strength, make him nearly impossible to stop when he catches the ball near the basket. Yet there are several holes in his game that could be exposed at the next level. For one, Okafor is not an elite shot-blocker; his 4.5 block percentage ranked No. 245 in Division I, according to Kenpom.com, and pales in comparison to the 11.7 figure his likely top-two counterpart, Karl-Anthony Towns, posted at Kentucky this season. The Duke product also could be the victim of a Hack-a-Jahlil strategy, as he knocked down only 51.1% of his free throws. There are also questions over his ability to defend ball screens.
Cliff Alexander, PF, Kansas
Alexander didn’t do a whole lot in his brief stay at Kansas (7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 17.6 minutes), and he dealt with an NCAA eligibility issue that caused him to miss the final stretch of the season and the tournament. A year ago, Alexander was considered a sure-fire lottery pick and the physical tools and raw ability that had once held him in high regard are still very much there. You can wonder about his lack of impact, but extrapolate those numbers on a per-minute basis and they look just fine. You can dream about what he brings to the table, but if Alexander is overmatched right away you wonder how he’ll deal with it. He’s too talented for someone not to roll the dice.
Tyler Harvey, SG, Eastern Washington
Harvey is the latest addition to a group whose members have become increasingly difficult to project: leading scorers in college basketball. At Eastern Washington last season, Harvey pumped in 23.1 points per game and connected on 40.9% of his threes while leading the Eagles to a 26-9 record. He’s now trying to capitalize on his big season by forgoing his final year of eligibility and entering the draft. While Harvey’s three-point shooting could be an asset to an NBA team, it’s fair to wonder how he’ll matchup against NBA athletes after he played three seasons in the Big Sky conference. More specifically, can Harvey hold his own defensively against opposing guards? In addition, Harvey’s size (6’4," 180 pounds) is not preferable for the position he projects to play at the next level.
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Robert Upshaw, C, Washington
A team eyeing Upshaw will have to weigh what he does on the court with his issues off it. In January, Washington became the second program in three years to dismiss Upshaw. Prior to his release, Upshaw had emerged as a top-flight shot-blocker and rebounder for the Huskies. Over 19 games, the 7'0" center swatted 17.4% of opponents’ two-point field-goal attempts during his floor time, according to Kenpom.com (the top figure in that category over the entire season was 15.1), and was his team’s best offensive and defensive rebounder. Johnson also converted an impressive 74.4% of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com. Those numbers suggest Upshaw could be an strong defensive (and serviceable offensive) frontcourt presence at the next level, but his disciplinary history could give teams reason to hesitate.
Andrew/Aaron Harrison, G, Kentucky
You can’t have one without the other, and their draft projections have gone much the same way, as both of the once-vaunted Harrison twins are now projected as second-round selections, if they get drafted at all. Neither twin ever proved particularly dominant at the college level and though they had their moments and certainly improved from one year to the next, there’s skepticism abound. Is Andrew really a point guard, and if not, is he an NBA player? Can Aaron become more than a shooter? And will both of them overcome the maturity issues that have followed them since high school? They’ll be fairly low-risk investments late in the draft, but teams have to decide if it’s even worth the gamble.
Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky
Johnson played behind projected lottery picks Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns in Kentucky’s frontcourt rotation last season. Johnson was able to help the Wildcats by rebounding at a high rate (he pulled down 13.5% of opponents misses during his time on the floor, according to Kenpom.com) and drawing fouls (6.5 per 40 minutes, per Kenpom). His size (7'0" 255 pounds) was helpful in that regard, but it didn’t overshadow other weaknesses. Johnson is not an elite athlete, which limits his ability both to score in the post and contest opponents’ shots. Johnson also struggles to defend away from the basket and, in turn, could get burned against savvy pick-and-roll operators. In the end, a team likely will be intrigued enough by Johnson’s physical tools to select him in the second round.
Myles Turner, C, Texas
Turner has most of the attributes you’d want in a modern center—he’s 6'11" with a nearly 7'4" wingspan, he likes to face up and continues to develop range on his jumper, which is extremely tough to block. But conversely, he tends to float to the perimeter a lot and is still rail-thin. He’s got enormous feet an runs awkwardly, which limits his contributions in transition, defending pick and rolls, and could put him at risk for injury. He’s also had foot and ankle problems in the past. Turner was decent for the Longhorns in his one season (10.1 points, 6.5 rebounds) and has the potential to contribute at the NBA level, but there are red flags here that teams have to evaluate. He’s a likely first-rounder, but it’s not clear what part of it he’ll fall to.
R.J. Hunter, SG, Georgia State
Many college basketball fans already had Hunter on their radar, but he didn’t become a household name until the NCAA tournament. Hunter drilled a late three-pointer to lift Georgia State over No. 3 seed Baylor in the opening round. That one upset-causing make won’t hide his significant dip in shooting accuracy from last season. Hunter’s three-point shooting (39.7 to 29.6), effective field-goal (56.1 to 46.7) and true shooting percentages (61.6 to 54.8) all dropped considerably, which could be troublesome for a player renowned for his ability to stretch defenses with jumpers. Still, Hunter’s size (6'6", 190 pounds) projects favorably, and one can argue that the declines in his percentages were, at least in part, a product of opponents gearing their coverages toward stopping him. In the NBA, Hunter won’t be asked to carry an offense so much as complement one.
Tyus Jones, PG, Duke
Jones wowed in the NCAA tournament and certainly helped his stock (23 points in the title game and a Final Four MVP award) by displaying the ability to shoot, get to the rim and utilize natural playmaking instincts. He’s got a fantastic feel for the pacing of the game, has been a winner at the high school and college levels and loves the spotlight—plus, teammates love playing with him. The question now is exactly where he should be taken. His shooting splits were decent (41.7 FG%, 37.9 3FG%), but he doesn’t project as a big-time scorer at the next level, and he’s not an elite athlete, either. Jones should settle into a role just fine and has the right demeanor to play in the league for a long time. This draft is relatively thin on point guards, but the jury’s out on where exactly Jones is selected. He’s built himself some hype and looks like a first-rounder, but he’ll have to prove himself again in the league.