Top 15 NCAA Freshmen

Top 15 NCAA Freshmen

Tue, 09/23/2014 – 3:17am

The 2015 NBA draft figures to be headlined by a number of freshmen, just as the 2014 draft saw the first four picks come from the freshman class. That freshman class also consisted of half of the lottery and half of the first eighteen picks. Since 2006, when the NBA did away with high school prospects going straight to the league, this has been the norm.

The star power of the incoming freshman class is certainly not at the level of last year’s Class of 2013, though the HS Class of 2014 should once again play a strong role at the top of the 2015 NBA Draft. Here is a look at our top 15 NBA prospects entering college.

NCAA Freshman Rankings – Class of 2018

1. Jahlil Okafor 6-11 270 C Duke
Jahlil Okafor
With an incredibly advanced back-to-the-basket skill set, a wide frame and soft touch, Mike Krzyzewski has probably not been this excited about a Duke big man since Elton Brand was in Durham. With prototypical center size and strength that’s sure to make him a match-up nightmare from the moment he sets foot on the court, Okafor has the ability to be a go-to option immediately. Few freshman centers have the resume he enters college with, including having been the youngest member of a team USA that won gold at the 2013 U19 World Championship. Okafor was second on the team in scoring, shooting an incredibly impressive 77.2% from the field.

Okafor also absolutely dominated the high school All American games, taking home numerous national player of the year awards. He has great hands, advanced post footwork and a fantastic sense of where to be on the court. He is not an elite athlete and while he has great length, he is not a rim-protecting center or a strong defender, and he generally plays below the rim. Conditioning will also be something to monitor, though early reports are that he’s gotten himself in tremendous shape (I can confirm that that looked to be the case when he made an appearance in the crowd at Whitney Young HS at the Global Challenge). With the 2015 top pick very much up for grabs, Okafor figures to be one of the top contenders.

2. Kelly Oubre 6-7 200 SF Kansas

Bill Self loses the first pick in the draft only to replace him with a tantalizing talent with prototypical physical attributes. Oubre’s wingspan has been measured 7’2″, which gives him big time potential when you factor in his standout explosivness. The lefty can score in bunches, with his showing at adidas Nations exhibiting his improvement as a shooter and shot creator and giving a glimpse into his considerable long term potential. He should also be a dangerous threat in transition; he runs the court very well and has elite run/jump athleticism.

With all of these physical and athletic gifts, Oubre will still have things to prove at the college level as far as solidifying a top draft spot. He is a streaky shooter who sometimes settles for too many outside looks. His ball skills need work, with his focus on the court has sometimes been questioned. his potential as a defender is unquestioned, though it will be interesting to see if he is willing to get low and give effort consistently. He will also have to prove himself to be a team player, and capable leader, as he has received some criticism for having somewhat of an aloof attitude. If Oubre can put all of these things together, he has the makings of an elite wing prospect. His potential playing on the wing, a position lacking depth in today’s NBA, makes Oubre a potentially highly sought after 2015 NBA Draft prospect.

3. Karl Towns 7-0 250 C Kentucky

With massive hands, solid length and a standing reach measured at 9’5″, Towns also possesses a silky shooting stroke that gives him a unique combination as a center. Analytics love bigs with shooting ability so that will help his cause. His face-up ability could make him dangerous, though he has also realized his eventual position and worked on his post game. He also appears to have added weight since early 2014. With experience playing with the Dominican Republic Men’s National Team under John Calipari, he should absolutely be in contention for immediate minutes in a stacked Kentucky frontcourt. He showed just how ready he was to contribute by finishing as Kentucky’s 2nd leading scorer and rebounder during their pre-season trip to the Bahamas.

Towns upside is considerable, plus he is a bright kid, with great communication skills and natural leadership abilities. His body has improved considerably and while he has what seems to be legitimate NBA size, there is still work to be done as far as upper and lower body strength. While he is not terrible at running the floor, his speed and ability to get by defenders is somewhat limited. This lack of lateral quickness could also cause him to be foul prone. His potential as an offensive force is evident and he also has some instincts as a shot blocker. With two potential first round centers already on the roster, Towns should garner meaningful minutes and figures to have a number of NBA teams interested in the lottery.

4. Stanley Johnson 6-7 235 SF Arizona
Stanley Johnson
Stanley is a player who seemingly only wins wherever he goes. During his career at Mater Dei, he played nearly every position, playing a lot of PG as a senior orchestrating an undefeated season. He transformed himself from a 6-5 power forward into an extremely versatile player. Johnson has measured as a prototypical SF as far as height and length, while also having a bruising body at a young age that should only become even more imposing. Even at this size, he is relentless as a rebounder and has the body to become a lockdown defender. He also was Team USA’s leading scorer in the U18 Americas tournament, while providing notable performances at both LeBron James Skills Academy and adidas Nations.

Johnson will likely be relied upon as a scorer right away at Arizona, though there is still some concern as far as his overall ability as a go-to guy. His jump shot has a low release, while he does not have a lot of shake as far as scoring off of the bounce. His shooting form definitely needs improvement (higher release point) and one could even possibly see him trying to work on using his frame to post-up smaller wing defenders. Johnson’s athleticism is not something that really pops out, as he relies on more of his combination of grit and strength. Even so, he provides an attitude and toughness that should endear him to GM’s and make him a sought after draftee.

5. Cliff Alexander 6-8 250 PF Kansas

Look for Alexander to man the middle for Kansas, though he projects as a PF at the NBA level. He has been playing organized basketball since the start of high school and has displayed rapid improvement. While he is around 6’8″, his enormous 7’3″ wingspan and big 250 pound frame make him an absolute load in the post. He gets off of the floor really well and is likely the best rebounder entering the college ranks as a freshman. He also explodes off of the floor and should have his share of rim rattling finishes. Similar to a young Amare, he tries to dunk everything and catches many opponents off guard with his ability to convert dunks due to his length.

While Cliff has worked on his range and offensive game, it is still somewhat limited and will undoubtedly be a work in progress initially. His footwork near the basket is mechanical; he will need to develop his low post game on offense. He has some good instincts as a shot blocker, though he does sometime have mental lapses defensively and will more than likely have his share of struggles with foul trouble. With Joel Embiid showing rapid improvement upon his arrival in Lawrence last year, Alexander certainly has the hope of doing much the same in his freshman year.

6. Kevon Looney 6-9 220 SF/PF UCLA

Looney will have the ability to play either forward spot in college, with good size at 6’9″ to go with long arms and range as a shooter. Also is adept at attacking the boards and he is a dangerous scorer from all three levels. Though he does possess enticing perimeter ability, he lacks blow by speed and should focus on developing a post game. UCLA will rely on Looney as a scorer and he should fit in pretty well defensively. The key to his NBA prospects will be realizing his value as a PF, exhibiting the necessary strength and developing more of a close range game. While some believe he could possibly make the transition to the wing, it is uncertain whether he has the lateral quickness to translate to the perimeter defensively. Luckily, he has the height and length to possibly alleviate these concerns with hope at becoming a multi-skilled forward.

7. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk 6-8 195 SG Kansas
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
The Ukrainian born Mykhailiuk has starred on the International level, winning MVP of the U18 European Division B Championship and also competing with the senior men during the World Cup. At only 17-years old, it will undoubtedly take him time to grow accustomed to the college level, although his experience playing against older competition should help ease the transition. He has potential to be a dangerous shooter, with ball skills and court vision that should help him grab some time at the point. His NBA projection seems to be at shooting guard and he has the size and athleticism that give him immense potential at that position. He wont be 19 until 2016, therefore making him eligible for the draft in his second year at Kansas. He can use his freshman year to gain experience and work on his body to become a top prospect after his sophomore season.

8. Justin Jackson 6-8 195 SF North Carolina

The Texas product is a long, lean scoring threat on the wing. He is a big time shooter with great size as a 3 man, who could very well see some time at both wing positions at North Carolina. He also has a dangerous floater and has to be taken into account as a threat to penetrate off the dribble. Adding strength is a must, he still can be pushed around at times and it will be interesting to see his adjustment defensively. What he does bring to the table is an offensive arsenal that is quite possibly the most advanced in the incoming freshman class, and good length and energy defensively. If he can show that he is a plus rebounder and limits mistakes, his attributes should have the NBA calling sooner than later.

9. Myles Turner 6-11 240 C Texas
Myles Turner
At close to 7-feet with long arms and soft touch, Turner certainly has NBA attributes that could allow him to move higher on this list. He blew up last summer as a dangerous shot blocker with some face-up offensive ability. The major concerns with Turner are his lack of fluidity and injury history, which seemed to act up during the high school All-Star circuit. His hips really stiffened up over the past year or so. He also suffered a broken ankle after his sophomore season that kept him off the national radar, and he had noticeable issues with his knees and ankle at the close of his senior season. As the starting center for the USA’s U18 team this summer, he showed his ability as a rim protector, though once again created some questions surrounding how injuries may affect his mobility. Turner is a smart and hard working kid, who still possesses some bounce and covers a lot of space on defense. If he can stay healthy and add some upper body strength, he could very well shoot up this list during the 2015 Draft process.

10. Trey Lyles 6-10 250 PF Kentucky

Lyles is another player with prototypical PF size and while his athleticism is not necessarily top shelf, his skill set is very advanced at this point in time. He is a smooth jump shooter from the perimeter, can put the ball on the floor and uses his size well in the post. Injuries have slowed Lyles down, as he missed Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas and has had to deal with knee and leg issues. His focus without the ball has been questioned, as has his toughness and level of intensity as a defender. With a crowded fron court, Lyles starting from behind may also hurt him as far as minutes as a freshman. He will still be difficult to keep off of the court as a true PF who is competent with the ball in his hands, a solid rebounder and provides a definite mismatch at the NCAA level.

11. Devin Booker 6-6 205 SG Kentucky

Booker is young for his class, but his shooting stroke and body should make him ready to contribute right away for Kentucky. He was a big time scorer in high school, is an underrated athlete and has enough size to play either wing spot effectively in college. He is also a smart player who plays his role well, does not force things and has the ability to put the ball on the floor. He’s a very good catch and shoot threat. He’ll need to gain confiedence in utilizing his athleticism to finish at the rim. His next step will be working on his driving game and finding ways to get to the line. Still, with his size and basketball IQ, he should be another UK prospect on the NBA radar.

12. Rashad Vaughn 6-6 215 SG UNLV

Vaughn spent last year in Nevada as a relied upon scorer for Findlay Prep and the expectations at UNLV will be much the same. He is a streaky shooter who can be dangerous off of the catch and shoot. Vaughn has some comeptitive fire to him, he gives effort defensively and has a frame that should help him overpower a number of 2 guards at the college level. It will be interesting to see whether he has added to his off the dribble game and how often he gets to the line. It seems that the Rebels will be looking to Vaughn as a main scoring option and the tools are there for him to contribute right away.

13. DAngelo Russell 6-5 180 SG Ohio State

The lefty can is a dangerous shooter while also having upside as a playmaker. He can penetrate and kick, his handle should allow him to see time at either guard spot for the Buckeyes. Playing without the ball should be a focus for him, as he can be dangerous off of the catch-and-shoot. His height and length are both good for a 2-guard, plus his ball skills and vision are highly sought after attributes. Working on his off-hand and adding strength are both a must before he makes the jump to the NBA. He will be heavily relied upon as a freshman and has talent that should translate down the line.

14. Chris McCullough 6-9 205 PF Syracuse

McCullough is an explosive run/jump athlete with prototypical power forward measurements. His face-up game and ball skills added to the equation, it is hard not to see NBA upside. His challenge will be refining these skills and developing consistency. Strength is also an area of focus for him to translate to the next level. Gaining some post moves and counters will serve him well, while one will also have to track his work as a rebounder. His focus has at times been questioned, though this may be more of a lack of seasoning as opposed to effort. With some time in college at Syracuse, McCullough has tools to blossom into a strong NBA prospect.

15. Dwayne Morgan 6-8 205 SF UNLV

Seen throughout his high school career as a prospect with decent upside, Morgan seems to be gearing towards serving as an immediate impact player for UNLV. He has size that should let him play the 4 spot at a high level for the Rebs, though his fluidity and outside shot project him to the wing at the NBA level. If he works on his handle and gaining strength, he has definite pro potential. This summer he has worked on developing a post game and it appears that he should be ready to contribute immediately. It may still take him some time to iron everything out and gain the confidence necessary to be a main scoring option, though the tools are definitely there.

Follow Michael on twitter @NBADraftMikeyV or feel free to send him an e-mail at michaellvisenberg@gmail.com

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