Duke’s Jahlil Okafor may be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but it wasn’t Okafor who led the way for the Blue Devils against the Utah Utes in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. That would be Justise Winslow, whose draft stock is rising each and every game.
Okafor had a tough matchup going against Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, a potential lottery pick in his own right. Poeltl did a solid job on Okafor individually, but he also received plenty of help in the form of double and triple teams. Okafor finished with just six points on 3-of-6 shooting, and with so much focus on the big man, somebody else needed to step up against the stingy Utes defense.
That turned out to be Winslow, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting overall and 3-of-4 from three. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double in the tournament. The great performance had to be special for the freshman, because Winslow did it back in his hometown of Houston a day after his 19th birthday.
Winslow showed a bit of everything offensively, but it was his jumper that did most of the damage. He hit two consecutive threes early in the second half as Utah began to make a charge, although I can’t imagine Coach K was too happy with him showboating after the second one, which led to an easy layup on the other end.
However, that was Winslow’s only real hiccup on the night. He had some issues finishing at the rim against the Utes’ rather sizable front line, but his finish in the paint with 3:44 to go after Utah cut Duke’s lead to six was the dagger. Duke hadn’t scored for five minutes, and Winslow finally said enough was enough, driving from the wing and finishing a floater through contact for an and-1.
In addition to his offense, Winslow showed off his defense with two killer blocks. One of them was a superb chase down block after he missed a layup, showcasing both his hustle and athleticism:
Winslow’s play throughout the season, and especially thus far in the tournament, is helping him emerge as the best wing in the draft. DraftExpress now has Winslow at No. 6 in their mock draft, and at this point, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if he went in the top five. He’s already drawing comparisons to do-it-all wings like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, and his physical tools match up to those comparisons. It’ll obviously take a lot to get to that level in the NBA, but this kid looks like a real keeper:
Duke F Justise Winslow joined Elton Brand and Gene Banks as only Duke freshmen with at least 20 Pts and 10 Reb in an NCAA Tournament game.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 28, 2015
While Okafor didn’t do much offensively (he also had a few bad turnovers when swarmed in the post), he contributed defensively with two blocks and stellar rim protection in general. Utah shot just 15-of-32 around the basket, per CBS Sports, and some of that was due to Okafor’s presence. Okafor grabbing only eight rebounds in a game that featured a ton of missed shots and 18 offensive boards for the Utes wasn’t great, and that’s an area he’ll have to improve in the NBA.
Let’s take a look at the other draft prospects who played on Friday.
Mixed bag for Utes’ prospects: I already briefly mentioned Poeltl, who played well against Okafor. In addition to that, Poeltl provided some solid rim protection with three blocks, and he also grabbed five offensive rebounds. He scored 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and he could find himself drafted in the top 10. Senior guard Delon Wright didn’t have the most memorable game, as foul trouble in the first half hurt. Wright stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals, but he shot just 4-of-13 from the field. At this point, he’s likely a late first-round pick.
Lil’ Sabonis does it again: Domantas Sabonis fouled out of Gonzaga’s 74-62 victory over UCLA in just 21 minutes, which isn’t great, but Sabonis had a productive night in those 21 minutes. He had 12 points and eight rebounds while shooting 6-of-9 from the field, marking his third straight strong performance off the bench in the tournament, and his draft stock just keeps on rising. For UCLA, Norman Powell scored 16 points on 8-of-19 shooting and had some success finishing at the basket over bigger defenders. Powell should go in the second round.
Harrell and Rozier lead way for Louisville: Montrezl Harrell had two relatively quiet games prior to the Sweet 16, but the athletic big man broke out in a big way in Louisville’s 75-65 victory over N.C. State. Harrell finished with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and he also grabbed seven boards and handed out four assists to help solidify his first-round grade. Teammate Terry Rozier wasn’t quite as great as he was in the last game, but the guard had 17 points, 14 boards and four assists while shooting 6-of-15. Perhaps most importantly, Rozier only turned the ball over once in 40 minutes. These strong performances could potentially help him make a charge at the first round.
Hield not quite good enough for Oklahoma: Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield scored 21 points, but it wasn’t enough as Michigan State pulled off another upset. Hield shot 7-of-17 from the field and just 3-of-10 from long range in the loss. On the positive side, he didn’t have a single turnover in 38 minutes. Hield appears to be a solid second-round pick.