I have been confining my 2015 NBA Draft analysis to Twitter because I generally agree with what has been said about the top of this draft. I wonder if there is more of a consensus this year because "advanced" statistical models are becoming en vogue, or whether it is just coincidence that there has been so much agreement about who the top prospects are. My guess is it's the latter situation.
Bypassing analysis for now on the top international prospects (Emmanuel Mudiay, Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja) and the best upperclassmen (Willie Cauley-Stein, Kris Dunn and Delon Wright) let me quickly share with you a few of my observations of the top freshman prospects:
Jahlil Okafor - Many people seem to think Okafor is a future superstar and no-brainer #1 pick, but sober analysis gives a different impression - his standing as a top prospect is really on similar footing to Mudiay and a few other freshman standouts. Okafor is undoubtedly an elite player on the offensive end. His dynamic post game is incredibly advanced for a freshman, and it's hard to see that not translating well to the NBA. There are, however, legitimate defensive concerns with Okafor. He often seems slow reacting defensively, and has not put up the high total of blocks most future NBA superstar centers accumulate in college. Okafor should certainly be a good pro, but the expectations of him being the next Tim Duncan are probably a tad overblown. In reality, Okafor is likely to be the first pick because he has size, obvious talent and seems to be the safest selection. If Okafor turns into a healthier, slightly better version of Brook Lopez or Al Jefferson no one should be disappointed, and that seems like a realistic possibility.
D'Angelo Russell - Russell has had a great freshman year, and the comparisons to Stephen Curry and James Harden are not that far-fetched. This is a dynamic offensive guard. He seems more suited to play shooting guard than point guard in the NBA, but like Harden, has superior passing abilities for his position. Statistically, Russell has probably put up better numbers across the board than any freshman prospect (the only thing he doesn't do is block shots.) If Russell continues to play as well as he has, should he be taken first? Possibly. But as we know, size almost always wins at the top of the draft, and a 6'5" guard weighing less than 185 pounds is an unlikely candidate to be selected first.
Karl Towns - Towns plays on such a great Kentucky team, with so many good players, that he is probably the hardest freshman prospect to fairly gauge. Is playing with all this talent helping or detracting from our ability to judge his NBA future? I can't answer that question, and I doubt anything that happens the rest of the season will provide much clarity in that regard. Towns, in many ways, looks to have a higher upside than Okafor. He is a more well-rounded player. His offensive numbers are a bit on the low side, but that is maybe a byproduct of the team Towns plays on. Many of us have waited for Towns to step up his game - kind of like Anthony Davis did as a freshman - but if it never happens it doesn't necessarily mean anything. His long-term potential is perhaps greater than anyone in the draft, but there is also a palpable sense of risk with him being selected first.
Myles Turner - Turner is both a perplexing and enticing prospect, as his numbers and game tape indicate. Turner is huge - almost 7 feet and 250 pounds - and he is beginning to learn how to use his above-average athleticism. That alone means he need to be drafted early. Defensively Turner has shown flashes of real dominance, while offensively he has been scattered and erratic. But Turner can definitely shoot the ball from the perimeter. There is a lot to like here, and the positives far outweigh the negatives in terms of his long-term potential. Guys who can expertly defend the paint in the NBA, while having an outside game, are valuable assets.
Stanley Johnson - The most impressive thing about Johnson is his size - he is a ripped 6'8", 240 pound small forward at 18 years old. I feel like Johnson's incredible physicality is still somewhat underrated, and projects very well for him at the next level. He lives up to the billing of being an athletic freak. Johnson has been a key part of one of the better teams in the country, and has posted solid numbers for a freshman put in such a situation. He probably deserves to be selected in the top half of the lottery.
Jakob Poeltl - Another prospect whose size has been vastly underrated is Poeltl - any seven foot freshman who puts up decent numbers against sound competition needs to be taken in the lottery, and Poeltl has done exactly that. I'm surprised most mocks don't have him being drafted higher. Poeltl's skills are more developed than scouts give him credit for; his situation reminds me of Steven Adams' freshman year at Pitt a few years ago, and Poeltl might be a better prospect.
Justise Winslow - I like Winslow more than some freshman prospects I did not talk about (like Tyus Jones, Kelly Oubre, Kevon Looney, etc.) mainly because I really appreciate the way Winslow plays - he has a kind of reckless intelligence in his game, if that makes any sense. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is an easy comparison, but it does seem apt. All these freshman are so young, and so much can change quickly, but it appears like this is a solid group of prospects.