Karl-Anthony Towns. Jahlil Okafor. Emmanuel Mudiay. D’Angelo Russell. Kristaps Porzingis.
These names may represent the potential future of the NBA. They’re also the top five players on Chad Ford’s Big Board. Obviously, no draft pick ever guarantees a team an immediate turnaround, but what it can do is provide a light at the end of the tunnel. For teams like the Knicks, Timberwolves, Sixers, Lakers and Magic, this is their chance to hit the reverse button and change their fortunes.
So going off Ford’s Big Board, which player best fits their team and who is their best-case/worst-case NBA counterpart?
C Karl-Anthony Towns – Kentucky
Already the talk of New York because of his behind, Karl-Anthony Towns has all the tools to be successful in the NBA.
Standing at seven-feet tall, weighing 250 lbs, Towns’s physical makeup allowed him to bully smaller defenders down in the restricted area at Kentucky. Even against bigger defenders, Towns played exceptionally:
There are plenty of reasons to believe Towns will be just fine in the post, but even if he struggles at times, his saving grace will be his smooth touch from the perimeter. Towns is an underrated shooter, but didn’t show much of that in his time at Kentucky. For a seven-footer, Towns shot a magnificent 81.3 percent from the line this year.
Towns can extend his range even further. In high school, Towns hit 127 three-pointers over the course of three years. This past season, Towns only attempted eight, knocking down two.
Best-Case – A more skilled Dwight Howard // Worst-Case – Andrew Bynum
It’s tough to come up with a best-case comparison for Towns because he’s so unique. It’s easy to go the Kentucky route and say Anthony Davis, but Grantland’s Andrew Sharp mentioned peak Howard, but more polished offensively and with a jumper. Bynum may strike a dark tone for Lakers and Cavs fans, but there’s no argument that he could have been one of the best centers in the NBA. Both players exhibit a great presence down in the block, and Bynum became a solid defender in his own right.
Best Team Fit: Los Angeles Lakers
Towns and the Lakers should be a natural fit. There were some maturity concerns regarding Towns, and it could possibly be back in the mind of NBA GMs:
Los Angeles would be a better fit for Towns than New York, as he’ll stay away from the dysfunction that is the Knicks while learning under The Black Mamba.
C Jahlil Okafor – Duke
The darling pick of Knicks fans everywhere. It has been impossible to discuss the future of the Knicks franchise without hearing Okafor’s name, and rightfully so.
Okafor has a bigger frame than Towns, weighing in at 272 lbs, but there are more concerns surrounding his defense. Okafor did block 1.4 shots per game as a freshman, but he wasn’t a consistent rim protector and sometimes struggled guarding pick-and-roll. When he gets picked, Okafor will have the lowest block percentage of any center taken in the top 10 of the draft in the last 10 years.
There were times Okafor was caught ball-watching, and he looked lost at other times on defense, and we saw him struggle against Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. But there have been other times where Okafor has looked great on that end. His 7’6 wingspan will help him mightily in the NBA, but questions surrounding his mobility might shoo away some scouts.
Okafor may suffer some defensive lapses, but it’s his offensive game that’s driving his draft stock. His polished post game is what could make him the first pick in the draft, as his ability to play with his back to the basket while also showing the skill to put the ball on the floor is rare for such a young prospect:
Best-Case – Bigger and more athletic Zach Randolph // Worst-Case – Al Jefferson
The comparison to Randolph is fair: prominent post players that rebound the ball well. Obviously, Okafor is much more athletic than Randolph, which makes his ceiling that much higher. However, if Okafor just can’t seem to get it right defensively, his future might be that of Jefferson, a big man with an unbelievable offensive game who can’t play a lick of defense.
Best Team Fit – New York Knicks
Jahlil may not be the best defensive player on the board, but as mentioned earlier, his post game is too good not to take. Take a look in the NBA and you could probably count with your hands how many big men operate in the post as much as Okafor.
He also has a very balanced head and doesn’t lose his cool too much, something he’ll need if he’s attempting to bring New York back to relevancy.
His skill-set could directly translate into the Triangle offense as well. His passing ability is underrated, even if his assist numbers don’t bear that out:
The Okafor-Anthony pairing should have all Knicks fans salivating.
G Emmanuel Mudiay – Guangdong Southern Tigers
The second-most mysterious name in the 2015 NBA Draft spent a year overseas in China, opting to play over there rather than playing college hoops for SMU and Larry Brown.
Mudiay is a relative unknown because he didn’t play college basketball, but we do know he’s super talented, and he had some impressive highlights for Guangdong:
There’s going to be Jennings comparisons because of the path Mudiay took to get to the draft. Although there’s a significant height difference between Mudiay and Jennings, there’s also a comparison because of their style of play.
Both attack the paint well and are decent shooters with excellent ball handling skills and a bit of flash when setting up their teammates.
Originally, I had John Wall as my best-case comparison, but after looking at more film, the Westbrook comparison couldn’t leave my mind. Mudiay attacks the rim with a recklessness that’s comparable to Westbrook’s, but his ability to attack the rim in his rebounding as well is impressive.
Westbrook and Wall may be extremely close when it comes to measuring athleticism, but if it all works out, Mudiay won’t be withheld from that conversation a few years from now.
Best Team Fit – Philadelphia 76ers
No more tanking and no more storing away talent overseas. Now is the time for Philadelphia to get it right. By drafting Mudiay, the projected 76ers lineup (if everyone is healthy and Sam Hinkie doesn’t decide to rebuild again in the offseason) could possibly be Mudiay-Wroten-Covington-Noel-Embiid. The young legs of Philadelphia could make a turnaround sooner than some may think.
G D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State
First Team All-Big Ten. Freshman of the Year. NCAA Tournament appearance.
Russell put on an excellent freshman season at Ohio State, shattering expectations and boosting his draft stock tremendously. Averaging nearly 20 points and five assists, Russell displayed craftiness with his dribble and a knack for setting up his teammates:
Russell put up 28 points on 10-20 shooting against VCU in Ohio State’s opening round game of the NCAA Tournament, leading the Buckeyes to an overtime victory. Russell was shut down by Arizona in the next game, but that was one of his few poor performances of the season.
Best-Case – James Harden // Worst-Case – Pre-2010 Mike Conley
Russell is nowhere near Harden when it comes to athleticism, but many parts of his game are similar to Harden. First of all, they’re both left-handed (as is Conley), and Russell is a great rebounder for his position with an average of 5.7 boards on the year. He’s also extremely crafty with his dribble, something that Harden excels at.
Russell’s 6’8 wingspan helps him with rebounding and jumping the passing lanes, as illustrated by his 1.6 steals per game. Just like Harden, consistency needs to be shown on the defensive end, and that’s where his lack of athleticism hurts him.
Does everyone remember pre-2010 Conley? Not a bad point guard by any stretch, but he also wasn’t that great. There was all this talk about Conley being a bust, but the narratives are strikingly similar. If Russell declares as expected, both would be freshmen leaving Ohio State to go into the NBA, both possibly being top five picks, as well as sharing the same dominant hand.
Conley had the luxury of playing alongside Greg Oden in his time at OSU, while Russell was the centerpiece, but still, strikingly similar narratives.
Two point-guard sets are popular these days, and while the success is sometimes a toss-up, Russell with his size and shooting abilities could make it work in Minnesota. Russell shot 41.1 percent from three-point range this season, only adding to the intrigue.
C Kristaps Porzingis – CB Sevilla
Mudiay lost out to Porzingis for the biggest mystery man in the draft, literally and figuratively.
Porzingis made himself eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft, but decided to withdraw, hoping another year with CB Sevilla would help with his draft stock. Apparently it helped, as he increased his scoring average and efficiency and is viewed as possible top five pick. Porzingis shot 53.8 percent from the field this year.
Best-Case – Pau Gasol // Worst-Case – Andrea Bargnani
Porzingis’s weight could be the determining factor when it comes to his NBA success. There’s no way he’ll be able to match up with any half-decent big if he weighs just 210 pounds. For the record, Victor Oladipo weighs 214 pounds.
But the potential is there:
Porzingis is gifted with lateral quickness that allows him to keep up with his man, but how will adding weight to his frame affect his quickness? His excellent shooting touch may stay, but the way his body reacts to the added weight will determine what kind of player he may be.
Gasol and Bargnani are both good shooters for big men, but Gasol is more skilled and a better defender.
Best Team Fit – Orlando Magic
It’s worth the risk for the Magic to take Porzingis, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to trade the pick or draft someone other than Porzingis altogether.
Justise Winslow, anyone?
However, if Porzingis does suit up for Orlando, he could end up being another young piece that just bolsters Orlando’s future playoff chances. Imagine Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Oladipo and Porzingis four years from now? That could be deadly.
Also, who knows? Maybe Porzingis will stay overseas for another year.