Under The Radar Prospects In This Year’s Tourney | Prospecting: Midwest Region | Prospecting: West Region
The 2015 NCAA Tournament is set, and now we eagerly anticipate the basketball overload starting on Thursday. But what about the NBA heads dreading the upcoming 2-3 zones, preponderance of late-game foul shots, offensive sets that take forever to materialize, and the rest of the NCAA effluvia which forces us to watch NBA hoops over the subpar level on display in college.
We thought we’d preview each region so you know which players might be making a future appearance in the Grown Man League. This is based on their pre-Draft rankings right now, but some might fall out of the discussion altogether depending on how they perform this weekend.
The NCAA Tournament can make or break an NBA landing spot. While scouts still look at upside and throw the word potential around like it wasn’t once applied to Darko Milicic, a Final Four dance goes a long way towards convincing those skeptical about a player excelling at the next level.
For today’s South region, we look at five players with their eyes on a prize in June, rather than March.
1. Jahlil Okafor PF/C Duke, 6-11 270-pound Freshman
Jahlil Okafor entered the season as the consensus No. 1 overall prospect for the 2015 NBA Draft, and his play this year validated those claims. Okafor is a front-runner for the John Wooden Player of the Year Award and was the primary scoring option on one of college basketball’s most dynamic offenses.
Okafor consistently flashed a low-post skill-set that comes around on the collegiate game once in a decade. His footwork is impeccable, and his touch around the rim second to none. In isolation post-ups, Okafor bullied his way towards the rim and finished with both hands. But that’s not the extent of his post moves. He also showed the ability to spin off defenders and finesse his way to the rim, something very few 6-11, 275-pounders can do. He has massive hands that allow him to palm the ball with ease so he can easily zip bullet passes across the court to beat oncoming double teams. Dominant low-post scorers are becoming an endangered species, but Okafor has the tools to become the next back-to-the-basket monster in the NBA.
Although there are a lot of positive things going for Okafor, he’s far from a perfect prospect. He lacks the elite athleticism to take him from a very, very good player to a great player, and he’s not much of a presence on defense — at least in comparison to his refined offensive game. Okafor is a good but not great rebounder and his lack of foot speed makes him a liability guarding the pick-and-roll.
Jahlil Okafor has a post game that most NBA big men would drool over, enough to make him a sure-fire lock to be a top-five pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
2. Justise Winslow – SF Duke, 6-7 230-pound Freshman
Unlike Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow is a NBA-ready athlete whose skills merely need refinement. Winslow is a big, physical wing with elite speed and athleticism.
The Duke guard has already shown tremendous growth in his first season at Duke. His spot-up jumper has transformed from a weakness to a strength, and he’s learning to play under control offensively. Often the best athlete on the court, he has tried to force things offensively, but now he’s learning how to pick his spots and make the most of them.
The Duke freshman is a terrific slasher who uses his body to create and absorb contact around the rim. He’s strong enough to finish through the contact, and he’ll often end plays with dunks that make the Sportscenter highlight the next morning. While Winslow is an effective player in half0court situations, he’s at his best in the open court where he can fully realize his athletic gifts.
Winslow is a terrific on-ball defender as well. He uses his length to keep small defenders in front of him on the perimeter, and he’s strong enough to hold his own against smaller big men on the block. Duke often put Winslow at the power forward position this year alongside Okafor at center, something the team wouldn’t have been able to do if Winslow weren’t able to hold his own against opposing fours and fives.
Justise Winslow has the potential to be a star on the next level. The 6-7 lefty has a smooth game and NBA-caliber hops and explosiveness. He needs to become more consistent offensively and work on his perimeter shot, but he’s one of a small handful of players in this upcoming Draft with “star” potential.