Jahlil Okafor leads top projected freshmen scorers in college hoops

5:37 | College Basketball
College Basketball Season Preview: Top projected freshman
Wednesday October 15th, 2014

On Tuesday, we released the first batch of data from a college basketball statistical projection system developed by economist Dan Hanner with assistance from SI's Luke Winn. That story included our projected top 100 scorers, top 20 rebounders and top 20 in assists, and it contains a more in-depth description of the statistical model. Today, we unveil our forecast of the top 50 freshmen scorers according to raw points per game.

How can you project the statistics of players who've never appeared in a college game? Forecasting freshman performance is bound to be a less accurate endeavor than forecasting returning players, who already have a statistical body of work. But recruiting rankings, according to Dan Hanner's analysis of more than a decade's worth of player data, have some predictive power over a freshman's immediate performance as well as players' career development curves.

Hanner has created advanced-stat profiles for guards, wings and big men in different tiers of the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) top 100 (an aggregate of national recruiting rankings), and for players beyond the top 100, profiles based on aggregate star ratings from VerbalCommits.com. We've then projected raw statistics (points, rebounds and assists per game) by placing players within the context of their teams. The model takes into account what level of minutes and shots are available, and in some cases intel from coaching staffs on how team rotations will be structured.

We ran projections on every true and redshirt freshman from the top 11 conferences -- the football power five plus the Atlantic 10, Big East, AAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and West Coast. (Recruiting-service evaluations of players in leagues beyond that cutoff are too limited to project individual-player data with much confidence.) What follows is the statistical model's projection of the top 50 freshmen in raw points per game, along with data on their projected efficiency and usage rates. It's a list based on the convergence of recruiting evaluations and immediate opportunity.

Rank

name

pos.

team

RSCI Rank

PPG

ORTG

POss. (%)

RPG

APG

Mins

1

Jahlil Okafor

C

Duke

1

16.1

121

24

9.1

1.1

79%

2

Rashad Vaughn

SG

UNLV

10

16.0

118

23

6.7

2.3

83%

3

Stanley Johnson

SG

Arizona

3

13.4

115

23

5.6

1.6

75%

4

D'Angelo Russell

SG

Ohio State

16

13.3

109

24

4.5

2.1

75%

5

Justin Jackson

SF

North Carolina

9

13.1

117

22

5.7

1.5

70%

6

Isaiah Whitehead

SG

Seton Hall

14

12.6

109

24

3.9

1.9

70%

7

Isaac Hamilton

PG

UCLA

19

12.4

112

21

4.6

2.2

78%

8

Tyus Jones

PG

Duke

7

12.3

117

22

3.6

4.9

74%

9

Myles Turner

PF

Texas

6

12.3

121

21

8.2

0.9

69%

10

James Blackmon Jr.

SG

Indiana

21

11.8

108

23

3.9

1.9

68%

Our No. 1 scorer, Jahlil Okafor, is the RSCI's No. 1 overall recruit and also the freshman most likely to be a first team All-America. He's projected to average nearly a double-double with a high rate of efficiency, playing major minutes on a Duke team with plenty of shots available following Jabari Parker's departure to the NBA. D'Angelo Russell is No. 16 in the RSCI but projected as our No. 4 scorer, because he's stepping into perfect situation at offensively challenged Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost their marginally efficient shot-chucker from last season, LaQuinton Ross, and Russell, a 6-foot-4 two-guard, figures be the best (and most frequent) shooter in their starting lineup.

Rank

name

pos.

team

RSCI Rank

PPG

ORTG

POss. (%)

RPG

APG

Mins

11

Cliff Alexander

PF

Kansas

4

11.7

117

23

6.8

0.8

61%

12

Kelly Oubre

SF

Kansas

8

10.6

117

23

4.4

1.2

56%

13

Karl-Anthony Towns

PF

Kentucky

5

10.3

115

23

6.1

0.7

55%

14

Daniel Hamilton

SF

Connecticut

17

10.3

108

22

4.4

1.8

63%

15

Kevon Looney

PF

UCLA

11

10.1

112

21

5.9

0.8

64%

16

Justise Winslow

SF

Duke

13

10.1

112

20

4.3

1.3

64%

17

Kaleb Joseph

PG

Syracuse

52

10.0

101

20

4.1

3.6

81%

18

Reid Travis

PF

Stanford

35

10.0

107

19

6.4

0.9

69%

19

Montaque Gill-Ceaser

SF

Missouri

38

10.0

103

22

4.4

1.3

65%

20

Trevon Bluiett

SF

Xavier

38

9.6

105

21

4.1

1.3

64%

The first Kentucky super-frosh checks in at No. 13; the model projects Karl-Anthony Towns to score 10.3 points per game while playing 55 percent of available minutes. John Calipari's proposed platoon system for the ultra-deep Wildcats -- in which two five-man shifts could each see around 20 minutes per game -- will keep his players' raw stats low. Syracuse point guard Kaleb Joseph (No. 17) is the highest player on our list who was ranked outside the RSCI top 50. With Tyler Ennis in the NBA at least one season earlier than Orange coaches initially expected, Joseph will have to log big minutes out of necessity, and help backcourt mate Trevor Cooney with the scoring.

Rank

name

pos.

team

RSCI Rank

PPG

ORTG

POss. (%)

RPG

APG

Mins

21

Romelo Trimble

PG

Maryland

34

9.5

104

20

3.6

3.8

72%

22

Kameron Chatman

SF

Michigan

27

9.4

106

21

4.3

1.3

64%

23

Dwayne Morgan

SF

UNLV

22

9.4

108

20

5.2

1.3

62%

24

Shelton Mitchell

PG

Vanderbilt

81

9.4

103

19

4.0

3.3

75%

25

Chris McCullough

PF

Syracuse

19

9.3

108

23

5.4

0.8

57%

26

Jordan McLaughlin

PG

USC

41

9.1

106

20

2.5

3.4

63%

27

Angel Delgado

PF

Seton Hall

42

9.1

109

18

5.9

0.9

66%

28

Travyon Reed

C

Auburn

89

9.0

107

18

5.6

0.7

38%

29

Ahmed Hill

SG

Virginia Tech

61

8.8

104

19

4.0

1.6

62%

30

Michal Cekovsky

PF

Maryland

97

8.7

101

19

5.6

0.7

65%

This group includes two point guards who should play major minutes almost by default: Romelo Trimble (21), whose arrival at previously point-guard-less Maryland will allow Dez Wells to play his more natural off-ball position; and Shelton Mitchell (24), a four-star floor general who joins a Vanderbilt roster that was gutted by transfers and suspensions. Trimble and Mitchell are arriving at opportune times, as is the UNLV trio of Rashad Vaughn (2), Dwayne Morgan (23) and Goodluck Okonoboh (38), who join a Rebels team that lost nearly all of its offense from a year ago.

Rank

name

pos.

team

RSCI Rank

PPG

ORTG

POss. (%)

RPG

APG

Mins

31

Elijah Stewart

SG

USC

71

8.7

104

19

3.8

1.5

60%

32

Domantas Sabonis

PF

Gonzaga

92

8.6

108

18

8.1

0.7

62%

33

Devin Robinson

PF

Florida

20

8.6

112

20

4.2

1.2

56%

34

Thomas

C

UCLA

33

8.5

107

20

5.6

0.8

60%

35

Jakeenan Grant

PF

Missouri

50

8.5

103

22

5.4

0.1

56%

36

Theo Pinson

SF

North Carolina

15

8.5

112

19

3.8

1.1

53%

37

Terry Larrier

SF

VCU

40

8.2

107

20

4.3

1.1

54%

38

Goodluck Okonoboh

C

UNLV

32

8.2

108

20

5.9

0.7

54%

39

Robert Johnson

SG

Indiana

47

8.1

109

19

3.0

1.5

56%

40

Namon Wright

SG

Missouri

93

8.1

101

20

3.4

1.5

57%

Of the players in the RSCI top 15, Theo Pinson (36) may be among the most "blocked" as a freshman, in that North Carolina is likely to have multiple wings -- J.P. Tokoto and Justin Jackson -- ahead of him on the depth chart, giving Pinson a single-digit ceiling. We had to make adjustments to the model for Gonzaga freshman Domantas Sabonis; a majority of the RSCI's recruiting services left him unranked because he played for Unicaja Malaga in Spain, rather than a U.S. high school, but scouts believe him to be (at minimum) a four-star recruit, and his rebounding numbers in European U18 competitions suggest he'll be strong on the boards while also scrapping for interior points.

Rank

name

pos.

team

RSCI Rank

PPG

ORTG

POss. (%)

RPG

APG

Mins

41

Malik Marquetti

SF

USC

100

8.0

104

19

4.1

1.0

55%

42

Isaac Copeland

PF

Georgetown

28

8.0

107

19

5.3

0.8

60%

43

Justin Bibbs

SG

Virginia Tech

87

8.0

104

19

3.7

1.5

57%

44

Deandre Burnett

SG

Miami (Fla.)

4 stars

8.0

103

20

2.7

1.5

61%

45

Xavier Rathan-Mayes

SG

Florida State

43

8.0

102

20

3.0

1.5

55%

46

Elbert Robinson

C

LSU

56

7.9

103

18%

5.3

0.6

57%

47

Trey Kell

SG

San Diego State

77

7.9

106

19

3.7

1.6

62%

48

Abdul-Malik Abu

PF

North Carolina State

45

7.8

105

20

5.2

0.7

55%

49

Gary Clark

PF

Cincinnati

4 stars

7.7

102

20

5.0

0.6

56%

50

Vic Law

SF

Northwestern

91

7.7

103

18

4.2

1.2

62%

Here we have two shooting guards who were supposed to open their careers in '13-14. DeAndre Burnett, who shined in fall 2013 scrimmages for Miami before missing the entire season with a broken left wrist, is projected to emerge as a solid complementary scorer to Sheldon McClellan. And Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who was academically ineligible in '13-14, should be one of the Seminoles' top three scorers now that he's enrolled and on the team. The first player to miss the top-50 cut, we should mention, is point guard Tyler Ulis, who will pilot one of Kentucky's platoons and likely provide more value as a distributor than he will as a scorer.

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