Data Dimes: Have NBA rookies impressed since last year's tourney?
As 2016 March Madness kicks off, the PointAfter team took a look back at former collegiate stars who were selected in the 2015 NBA draft lottery. Of the 14 players taken, 10 competed in the NCAA tournament—including four Kentucky standouts and three players who reached the title game.
Three international players were also selected within the lottery, and they’ve since experienced mixed results. Kristaps Porzingis has become a phenomenon for Knicks fans. Alongside fellow rookie Karl-Anthony Towns, he’d become just the 15th first-year player in league history to average at least 14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1.5 blocks, joining some pretty elite company.
Among the other big men to accomplish that in their first professional season are huge names like Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan.
On the other end of the coin is Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, whose true shooting percentage of 42.9% ranks No. 332 out of 339 qualified players this season. He’s still extremely young and inexperienced (he just turned 20 on March 5), but his shot chart has remained a red-stained mess all season.
So what about the players drafted who also competed in the NCAA tournament? How have they adapted to the pros following their respective journeys in the tourney?
NCAA Championship Competitors
Duke and the Wisconsin each reached the NCAA Championship a year ago. Featured in that affair were future NBA draftees Jahlil Okafor (No. 3 overall), Frank Kaminsky (No. 9) and Justise Winslow (No. 10). Interestingly, the youngster drafted highest had the worst title game of the three.
Although Okafor did make five of his nine attempts from the field, foul trouble limited him to 22 minutes. He finished the game with more fouls (four) than rebounds (three) and turned the ball over twice.
As a skilled and, in many respects, polished offensive center, Okafor was still seen as one of the premier talents entering the league despite the forgettable performance. But his rookie campaign was cut short after 53 games when it was revealed he’d need arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Okafor boasted averages of 17.5 points, 7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks, but advanced stats were not kind to Big Jah. His box plus/minus (BPM, a box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions contributed by a player against league-average) finished at a ghastly –4.1, per Basketball Reference. That mark ties Okafor for the 14th-worst BPM among players qualified for the minutes leaderboard.
And even though Okafor is seen as a natural scorer, the lowly Philadelphia 76ers were a much better offensive team without him on the floor.
His Duke teammate, Justise Winslow, cobbled together solid performances throughout the NCAA tournament by doing a little bit of everything—rebounding, blocking shots, dishing out assists, etc. Taken No. 10 overall by the Heat, Winslow has since carved a nice NBA niche by playing rock-solid defense in nearly 30 minutes per contest. His offense lags far behind—he’s converted just 25.7% of his threes—but he’s been serviceable for head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Wooden Award winner Frank Kaminsky, meanwhile, had a truly dominant NCAA tournament. Though his Badgers team did ultimately fall to the Blue Devils in the season’s final game, Kaminsky never scored fewer than 16 points and posted three double doubles.
He was the heart and soul of Wisconsin’s postseason run, doing most of his damage from beyond the arc. In his six tournament games, "Frank the Tank" cashed in on 61.5% of his long-range attempts (8-of-13).
That remarkable shooting touch has eluded the 7-footer in the early going while faced with a deeper NBA three-point arc. He’s made just 32.9% of his attempts from distance in a Hornets jersey.
None of the three has had a perfectly smooth transition to the NBA, but early signs hint Kaminsky will always be viewed as a better college player than pro. Frankly, it was an extremely tough act to follow.
As noted above, four players drafted in the 2015 lottery were groomed by Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Towns, the No. 1 overall pick, is the clear headliner. He leads all NBA rookies with 38 double doubles—more than double the output of second-place Porzingis (18).
Also, by averaging at least 17 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks in his first go-around in the pros, Towns is in the company of just five other guys ever to post similar figures as rookies: David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Elton Brand and Ralph Sampson. Talk about elite company. Numbers like that make him a shoo-in to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Two big men he overshadowed during his stint at Kentucky include Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles.
Neither player shined during March Madness in 2015, and they’re still trying to find their way in the league. Cauley-Stein has been an effective shot blocker, while Lyles has knocked down more than 38% of his treys, but neither has been a consistent standout (especially compared to Towns).
The youngest of the quad, Devin Booker, has already shown flashes of becoming a dynamite scorer in the NBA. Since getting a minutes boost in January, Booker has compiled four games scoring 30 or more points (including three in March alone). The 19-year-old greenhorn has provided Suns fans with a small silver lining during an otherwise abysmal season.
He wasn’t a go-to scorer while in college, but he’s handled that responsibility with aplomb for the injury-ravaged Suns.
Performing well in the NCAA Tournament can certainly boost a young player’s draft stock, but it means little when making a leap to the pros. Ultimately, raw talent and poise in the face of enhanced competition is the deciding factor for success.