NBA Comparisons for the Top 3 Draft Prospects
*Photo via Getty Images
We’re nearly a week removed from the final buzzer of the 2015 NBA Finals. The ice the champagne sat on has melted, the Golden State Warriors have been greeted in Oakland by a hero’s welcome, and we are all subjected to roughly 34,231 columns and hot takes questioning LeBron’s place in history. More importantly, however, the 2015-16 season is now officially underway.
At this time last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers were holding the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, a draft that was considered to be the deepest and most enticing in over a decade. The Cavs eventually took Andrew Wiggins before shipping him off to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Kevin Love deal and here we are, one year later. The Timberwolves hold the first pick for this year’s draft for the first time in franchise history and looks to bring another game changing player to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
So with the draft roughly 48 hours away, I’ve decided to take a look at three of the top prospects and try and establish possible NBA comparisons for them. While there is not exact scientific formula to draw these comparisons, I can promise you one thing: I am more than happy to schedule a time three of four years from now where we can all get together and laugh at my prognostication skills.
The consensus around the NBA seems to be that the Timberwolves will be drafting a center with the top pick. However, it remains to be seen whether they will take Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor of Duke, although reports suggest they’re leaning Towns.
If this draft were taking place in, say, 1995 instead of 2015, the decision would be easier. In the NBA of yesteryear, Okafor would be the top pick and there wouldn’t be much of a debate. From an offensive perspective, Okafor is as enticing as any low post player coming into the draft going back to Tim Duncan in 1997.
In fact, the Tim Duncan comparison for Okafor is one that has certainly made the rounds in recent weeks. However, I don’t think it’s fair to compare a potential draft pick to one of the 10 greatest players in league unless the incoming player is a once-a-decade talent (LeBron James or Shaquille O’Neal). So, if we are trying to find a proper comp for Okafor, where can we look?
I like the idea of an Al Jefferson comparison for Okafor and, I get it, it’s not a very sexy comparison. Okafor has a chance to be a larger, more athletic version of Jefferson. He’s someone that can average 20 and 10 and be a go-to player offensively but I have reservations that he’ll be the best player on a contending team.
Unlike Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns is someone I could see being the best player on a title contender. The interesting twist here is that if the Timberwolves do indeed take Towns first overall, he won’t necessarily be the most talented player on the team (something that probably can’t be said if he were to be drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers) since that title belongs to Wiggins.
Finding a good comparison for Towns has been challenging to say the least. Towards the end of conference play this past season I likened Towns to a younger, bulkier Kevin Garnett. I still think that’s a relatively fair comparison however that was before Towns began showing Dirk Nowitzki range from beyond the arch during his workout in Los Angeles earlier this month. I’m giddy at the thought of Minnesota pairing Wiggins and Towns up. Heck, now that Garnett is back in the fold in Minnesota, there has been speculation that he could be a mentor for Towns. It’s not often that someone as successful and intense as KG can mentor the top overall pick in the draft. I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
All kidding aside, let’s assume the Wolves take Towns and the Lakers follow that up with Okafor at number two. The consensus seems to be that Philadelphia will grab D’Angelo Russell with the third pick despite rumors saying he doesn’t want to be drafted by the Sixers. For a team like Philadelphia who, while taking their time rebuilding the franchise, has already acquired two promising big men in Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel the logical step would seem to be someone that can handle the ball.
I must admit though, I have reservations that Russell is the correct pick at number three. While I like Russell’s game I just don’t think I love it at the NBA level. The Ohio State guard will not be a bust and I’m not saying that in five seasons Russell will be out of the league. It’s just that, when I watch him play, I’m reminded of Randy Foye in some ways.
Both Foye and Russell led their respective college teams to deep tournament runs in their final (or in Russell’s case, only) season while looking dominant in the process. In the NBA, Foye put up solid numbers and got progressively better over his first several season, but never played at an elite level. I worry Russell is cut from a similar cloth: he’ll be a fine player, but I don’t think he’ll be the All-Star caliber player some project him to be.