Pro Player Comparisons for the Top 2015 NBA Draft Prospects
No two prospects come exactly alike. But some are pretty darn similar.
For each top 2015 NBA prospect, I laid out a pro player comparison, or in some cases, a blend of two pros if necessary.
Of course, these are all arbitrary. There are going to be differences between each prospect and the pro they're compared to.
But these are simply projections as to what type of player each prospect could emulate once they eventually hit their NBA stride.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke, 6'11", C, Freshman
Pro Player Comparison: Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets
Like 6'10", 289-pound Al Jefferson, Jahlil Okafor, 6'11", 272 pounds, relies on strength, footwork and touch—not explosive athleticism or trampoline hops.
They operate down low in tight spaces. That means quick, precise moves, whether it's drop-steps into jump hooks or sneaky baseline spin moves for layups.
These guys just have terrific feet and hands with a great feel for the rim around the key. It's not always pretty, but both Okafor and Jefferson have that effective one-handed push shot to score in the 5-12-foot range.
They just find ways to put the ball in the hoop when wheeling and dealing in the paint.
As his career progressed, Jefferson developed somewhat of a mid-range game, and that's something he'll still have to continue working on as a pro. The same goes for Okafor, only as a prospect. We've seen flashes of a 15-foot jumper at the high school and international level. It eventually has to become part of his everyday repertoire.
Defensively, Jefferson has never really been known as much of an anchor. He's had his moments, but Jefferson isn't exactly a game-changer at this end of the floor. And while Okafor will likely pick up his fair share of blocks at the college level, defense doesn't come as naturally to him as it did for guys like Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel—other highly regarded centers from the last two drafts.
If I'm Okafor, I'm studying up on Al Jefferson, whose learned how to maximize his strengths—physical tools, polished skills—to help neutralize his athletic limitations.
Emmanuel Mudiay, China, 6'5", PG, 1996
Pro Player Comparison: John Wall, Washington Wizards
At 6'5", Emmanuel Mudiay has terrific size for a point guard, and like John Wall, he's one hell of an athlete.
Mudiay possesses that potent blend of quickness and bounce. He's the type of guard who can put his man on skates with crossovers and hesitation dribbles or explode to the rim for a slam against a set defense.
And like Wall, he's got a good feel for the position in terms of fulfilling his duties as a setup man. Steady decision-making, which will also be a challenge for Mudiay, has been an issue for Wall, who averages 3.6 turnovers a game and shoots 42.6 percent for his career. But Wall happens to be a willing passer capable of creating easy shots for teammates, thanks to a strong one-on-one game and good vision off the dribble (8.3 assists per game through four seasons).
Mudiay has some serious playmaking potential of his own when you consider his physical tools and burst for a ball-handler.
And like Wall, Mudiay's jumper will start off behind his attack game. Wall has slowly improved as a shooter over time, both in the mid-range and from deep.
Mudiay has shown legitimate shot-making ability, but it could be a while before he's shooting with range and consistency.
Though he'll be playing in China for a year before he enters the 2015 draft, nothing can take away from the upside tied to Mudiay's size, athleticism and skill set at the point guard position.
Karl Towns Jr., Kentucky, 7'0", C, Freshman
Pro Player Comparison: Rasheed Wallace, Retired
Karl Towns Jr. blends NBA center size with a high skill level and threatening outside touch. Physically and mechanically, he operates like Rasheed Wallace used to.
Wallace never blew anyone away with quickness or athleticism, and though Towns moves extremely well out there, it's his offensive versatility that differentiates him.
Towns has a great feel for the game in the post, where he can score with jump hooks and spin moves or find the open man as a passer. Wallace was similarly effective from the elbows and low block.
And like Wallace, Towns has legitimate three-point range. Coach John Calipari might not let us see it during Towns' likely one-and-done freshman year, but there's no doubt his jumper will be a part of the repertoire down the road.
Defensively, it wasn't about shot-blocking with Wallace—it was about banging inside and forcing tough shots. Towns has the potential to offer that same physical presence once he learns the ins and outs of individual and team defense.
And coincidentally, both of these guys play with energy and passion, though Towns appears to have much better self control.
Cliff Alexander, Kansas, 6'9", PF/C, Freshman
Pro Player Comparison: Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
You could go a number of different ways for a Cliff Alexander pro player comparison, but Derrick Favors works just fine.
Like Favors, Alexander's game is predicated on power and athleticism in the paint. These are the type of guys who finish high above the rim with authority. They clean up loose balls and find ways to score with their back to the basket.
And both have the ability to control the glass. Favors pulled in 8.7 boards a game this season, and there's no reason why Alexander can't do the same by his fourth year as a pro. Alexander's motor is constantly charged, which, when paired with his monster physical tools and explosiveness, allow him to overwhelm opposing frontcourts inside at both ends of the floor.
But neither of these guys are overly polished post scorers or shooters. Favors is getting better, but he's still not quite a strong go-to option.
At this point, Alexander is fairly raw offensively as well. He's shown some touch in the paint and the occasional jumper, but his ball skills are limited. He's probably not going to be playing much one-on-one this upcoming year.
After averaging just 12.4 points a game in a one-and-done freshman season, Favors was ultimately drafted No. 3 based on his long-term potential. And Alexander is likely to go high in 2015 with the same selling point and questions.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona, 6'7", SF, Freshman
Pro Player Comparison Blend: Ron Artest/Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
At 6'7", 237 pounds, Stanley Johnson resembles a young Ron Artest or Kawhi Leonard, given his strength and physical style of play.
Johnson can plow through traffic and play after contact the way Artest did and Leonard does. And remember, Artest was a lot better offensively before he changed his name. He used to average between 15-20 points a game in his prime.
Johnson is ahead of where Leonard was offensively at this stage in his career. A capable ball-handler and shot-creator, Johnson can generate offense off the dribble and separate into jumpers on the perimeter.
We've slowly started to see Leonard's one-on-one game come around over the past year. He's still averaged less than 13 points in each of his first three seasons, but if last June's NBA finals showing was a sign of more to come, it shouldn't be long before the Spurs are featuring him in the offense.
And Johnson has the potential to evolve into a top-three option as well. He's got the full package, from step-back jumpers to drives and nifty finishes in between. Now, it's just a matter of putting them all together and improving his shot selection and shooting consistency.
Defensively, like Artest and Leonard, Johnson has lockdown potential while offering valuable versatility. He's got the size, muscle and length to man up opposing wings, along with the foot speed and quickness to guards 1s and 2s in the backcourt.
With Johnson, we're talking about a two-way shooting guard or small forward with an expanding scoring arsenal and a sharp competitive edge. He'll start the year as the No. 5 pick in our preseason mock draft.
Kelly Oubre, Kansas, 6'7", SF, Freshman
Pro Player Comparison: Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings
A 6'7" small forward with long arms, effortless bounce and big-time athleticism, Kelly Oubre looks and operates a lot like Rudy Gay. They share similar strengths and weaknesses, both physically and fundamentally, though I'll admit—Oubre is a better passer and potentially a more versatile all-around contributor. And he's also a lefty.
But with the same skinny build as Gay, Oubre is a scorer at heart. Oubre can generate offense on demand and work the one-on-one game. He's got everything from pull-up and step-back jumpers to runners in the lane and fadeaways in the mid-range. Oubre and Gay have takeover ability as scorers, along with the confidence and instincts top options need to get going and stay hot.
And while both are capable from outside, Oubre and Gay could each stand to improve their range and shooting consistency. That, and shot selection. Sometimes, their offensive confidence and ability lead to forced low-percentage or contested looks.
Still, look for Oubre to light up the Big 12 as a freshman scorer and generate top-10 buzz in the process.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, 6'8", PF, Junior
Pro Player Comparison: J.J. Hickson, Denver Nuggets
With a similar body, strengths and limitations, Montrezl Harrell projects as some version of J.J. Hickson, who's made a living around the rim as a scorer, finisher and rebounder.
Harrell is an explosive athlete with powerful arms and legs. He's shot at least 57 percent from the floor in both years at Louisville, where he's done most of his damage in the paint.
Like Hickson, you'll occasionally see Harrell step out and knock in a mid-range jumper, but at this point, that's not really his game. Harrell likes to work with his back to the rim or facing it from the elbows.
A good portion of their offense also comes off the ball—put-backs, alley-oops, dunks off dump passes. They finish and clean up plays that come their way around the basket.
Though Hickson and Harrell are capable of scoring over their men, neither is too strong of a one-on-one player. Hickson's inability to improve as a post scorer or shooter has held him back a little bit as a pro.
Over the next few years, we'll see if Harrell can gradually improve in the areas where Hickson has seemingly plateaued.
“I’ve been working on my post moves a lot, a lot of different aspects of my game," Harrell told Yannis Koutroupls of Basketball Insiders. "I have showcased a couple of things here, putting the ball on the floor, getting to the basket. There’s a lot more of my game that hasn’t been shown.”
Worse comes to worst, we're talking about an interior scorer and strong presence on the glass.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Junior
Pro Player Comparison: Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks
Tyson Chandler and Willie Cauley-Stein can both impact a game without making an offensive move. It's a pretty cool thing. I'm not sure Chandler has made an offensive move in the last three years.
Cauley-Stein's ball skills are similarly limited. He's not a guy you feed in the post and ask to go get you a bucket.
Like Chandler, Cauley-Stein's game is predicated on finishing and rim protection.
Offensively, he's an enormous target off pick-and-rolls and drive-and-dishes, and he's a put-back machine off misses. Cauley-Stein has shot at least 59 percent from the floor in both seasons at Kentucky. Chandler shoots 58.4 percent for his career.
Defensively, they're long, instinctive and incredibly disruptive. At 7'0", Cauley-Stein moves like a wing out there. He covers a ton of ground and airspace around the rim, where he blocks and alters shots.
He'll never be a guy you ever go to for offense, but Chandler was never that guy, either, and he's found a way to make a fine career for himself as a starting NBA center.
Justise Winslow, Duke, 6'7", SF, Freshman
Pro Player Comparison: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets
Just like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did in his one year at Kentucky, look for Justise Winslow to wow scouts and fans with his athleticism, motor and defense at Duke. That's where Winslow's strengths lie—not necessarily with his offense or ball skills.
At 6'7", Winslow is a relentless defender whose quickness and energy can overwhelm opposing ball-handlers, whether they're guards or wings. If he's not forcing the turnover, he's usually the first one out on the break looking to convert it into points in transition.
Offensively, Kidd-Gilchrist still hasn't really come into his own. He gets most of his points off slashes and line drives—the same routes Winslow typically hits for his scoring opportunities as well.
Both of these guys struggle with shot creativity and shooting. And quite frankly, neither of them really project as NBA scorers.
Winslow's and Kidd-Gilchrist's appeal stems from their ability to make things happen without needing their numbers called from the sidelines.
Caris LeVert, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Junior
Pro Player Comparison Blend: Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks/Alec Burks, Utah Jazz
A 6'6" 2-guard with smooth athleticism, Caris LeVert should be in line for a breakout year at Michigan, where he's likely to resemble a blend of former first-round picks Alec Burks and Tim Hardaway Jr.
For starters, they're all built pretty similarly—6'6", skinny, smooth and athletic.
Like Hardaway, LeVert is lethal from behind the arc, having sunk 1.6 threes a game last year at a 40.8 percent clip. When he's locked in, he's catching and releasing without thought, whether he's open or challenged.
But unlike Hardaway, who's limited off the dribble, LeVert has some decent playmaking ability.
That's where he resembles Burks. According to Dylan Burkhardt of shotanalytics.com, 29 percent of LeVert's offense started with him working as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He actually averaged 2.9 assists last season.
On the downside, LeVert's mid-range game is somewhat nonexistent. Hardaway and Burks haven't shown much of one, either. As a rookie, Hardaway hit 100 shots within eight feet, 130 outside 24 feet and just 64 total in between. Burks made just 35.3 percent of his shots in that 16-24-foot range.
LeVert is money from downtown, and when he gets there, he can finish at the rim. To reach that next level, he'll need to develop an in-between game in the mid-range.