The Three Size Men

As we move into the teeth of the NCAA season, a pleasant surprise has been the performance of this year’s freshman class, which looks to be deeper and more talented at the top than last year’s “legendary” crop of high school standouts. Last year, Kansas’ Joel Embiid was the only potential game changing big man to enter the draft. This year, there are likely to be three: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, and Texas’ Myles Turner. There are other studs in the class who I will touch on as the season progresses, but it is looking like a three-man race for the #1 pick. How Okafor, Towns, and Turner perform in league play and into March Madness will likely determine whose name is called first, but here’s a look at how they stack up so far.

Player 2P% 3P% FT% REB/40 AST/40 STL/40 BLK/40 TOV/40 PTS/40
Jahlil Okafor .669 .509 12.4 2.2 1.2 2.0 3.3 25.7
Karl-Anthony Towns .542 .200 .743 13.9 2.2 0.8 4.9 3.0 16.9
Myles Turner .551 .400 .885 12.7 2.1 0.9 5.1 2.2 22.9

Jahlil Okafor
Position: C
Height: 6’11” Weight: 270
School: Duke

Let’s begin with the presumed #1 pick, Jahlil Okafor. From a traditional eye-test standpoint, it’s easy to see why Okafor is considered the top prospect. There is simply no match at the NCAA level for a player with his size, footwork, hands, and touch around the hoop. His 25.7 PTS/40 on .669 FG% properly reflects the ease with which he feasts on inferior college big men. The one area where his NBA potential comes into question is as a rim-protector at the defensive end, basically a pre-requisite for a great NBA center. As you can see from the chart above, Okafor lags well behind his peers in blocked shots. He is also not especially long or athletic, so his questionable defensive tools fall in line with his underwhelming block rate.

Player 2P% 3P% FT% REB/40 AST/40 STL/40 BLK/40 TOV/40 PTS/40
Jahlil Okafor .669 .509 12.4 2.2 1.2 2.0 3.3 25.7
Jared Sullinger (Fr.) .550 .250 .704 12.9 1.5 1.3 0.7 2.0 21.7
DeMarcus Cousins (Fr.) .565 .167 .604 16.8 1.7 1.7 3.0 3.5 25.8

Two recent college prospects that remind me of Okafor (dominant O, questionable D/athleticism) and serve as a proper range of NBA outcomes are Jared Sullinger and DeMarcus Cousins. Jahlil has a good two inches on Sullinger, giving him greater potential as a defender and low-post threat at the next level (Sullinger has found his niche in the NBA as a stretch PF of sorts). Cousins is a closer physical approximation, but was better than Okafor across the board and has since developed into a terrifyingly skilled basketball behemoth. Okafor has nothing to prove at the offensive end, but how his defensive stats progress/regress throughout the year will likely determine if I see him as more Sully or Boogie come draft day.

Karl-Anthony Towns
Position: C
Height: 6’11” Weight: 250
School: Kentucky

Before Myles Turner entered the picture, Okafor vs. Towns was shaping up to be a fascinating debate a la Wiggins vs. Parker from last year. Towns has yet to develop a lethal back-to-the-basket game like Okafor, but he excels in the very areas where Okafor does not; as a passer and a rim-protector. Okafor’s passing has been much better than I had assumed (he sported an awful .10 A:TO ratio in the FIBA U19s), but most of his assists have been passing out of double and triple teams to wide-open spot-up shooters. Towns’ passes are of a much more creative and skillful variety, and therefore more indicative of true passing talent.

Like the Wiggins/Parker debates, Towns vs. Okafor may come down to a simple matter of preference: offense or defense. Okafor is clearly the greater offensive force at this stage, posting 8.8 more points per 40 minutes than Towns and on better efficiency. However, it could be posited that post moves are more coachable than shot-blocking and passing, and Towns is already the better shooter. Let the debates begin.

Myles Turner
Position: PF/C
Height: 6’11” Weight: 240
School: Texas

I was none too impressed with Myles Turner during the high school all-star game circuit as the versatile big man dealt with a nagging injury. That’s why I am so surprised that Turner has put himself into this conversation. What’s more is that he might just be the best prospect of them all. Turner began the year coming off the bench for a Texas team loaded with frontcourt talent, so his bulk production wouldn’t blow anybody away. However, on a per-minute basis, Turner has been as dominant as any college big man since Anthony Davis.

Player TS% REB/40 AST/40 STL/40 BLK/40 TOV/40 PTS/40
Myles Turner .636 12.7 2.1 0.9 5.1 2.2 22.9
Anthony Davis (Fr.) .654 13.0 1.6 1.7 5.8 1.3 17.7

On Layne Vashro’s draft model, an excellent tool and resource that assigns each prospect a grade based on how stats, size, age, and several other factors historically translate from college to the pros, Turner rates out as by far the best prospect in 2015 and the 3rd best since 1990 (behind only Davis and 76ers rookie Nerlens Noel). If Myles can keep up his per-minute dominance as a starter in league play, he looms as a serious dark horse contender for the #1 pick.

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