Talk of NBA draft starts with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor

Whichever team drafts Duke center Jahlil Okafor is likely to be applauded by its fans.

Whichever team drafts Duke center Jahlil Okafor is likely to be applauded by its fans.

(Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

There’s a reason the NBA trade deadline is in late February and not March. It’s called the NCAA tournament.

Try tracking down lottery-bound general managers these days. They start with the conference tournaments (Atlantic Coast and Southeastern, not Atlantic Sun and Mid-Eastern Athletic) and transition quickly to the bigger stage, racking up frequent-flier miles, hotel points and, eventually, headaches as they try to channel analytics, personal observations and pages of combine measurements into drafting a future All-Star.

What do they see? Here’s a guess at the top 14 picks in the June draft.


1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke, Fr., C

An NBA personnel chief said Okafor could average 17 points in the NBA. Tomorrow. He has too many post moves to count and hands that make the ball look like an orange. If there’s a weak spot, it’s defense, which, true, constitutes half the court. But his offense is just that special.

2. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky, Fr., C-F

He’s steadily gaining on Okafor because his defense is better and his offense could eventually match it. His impact might not be as immediate as Okafor’s but could be longer-lasting. Added entertainment factor: Towns heatedly talks strategy during games with a small imaginary friend perched on his shoulder named “Karlito.”

3. D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State, Fr., PG

Some say he’s the next Chris Paul but three inches taller. Others compare him to Russell Westbrook, but Westbrook was never this good in college. The top point guard in the draft, he’ll help someone right away.

4. Emmanuel Mudiay, no college, PG

This year’s Dante Exum. Nobody has seen much of him because he scrapped plans to attend Southern Methodist for pro ball in China. He has been mostly injured, leaving NBA scouts hustling to the few games he has played or, as a backup plan, diving into last year’s workout footage of him. A true mystery.

5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, Jr., C

What? A junior at Kentucky? How did this happen? Get Calipari on the phone. Immediately.

6. Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, F

The 7-footer declared for the draft last season and withdrew his name. Good move. He’s almost guaranteed a top-10 selection after some strong play in Spain. One drawback: He’s only 220 pounds. Kentucky’s Towns and Cauley-Stein easily outweigh him by 20 to 30 pounds.

7. Justise Winslow, Duke, Fr., F

No player has done more for his draft stock. He has even outplayed Okafor in the NCAA tournament. But what will he play in the NBA? He’s tall enough for a small forward but handles the ball a lot at Duke, often going coast to coast after taking defensive rebounds. He can also shoot three-point shots, lingering near 40%.

8. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, Sr., F

Everybody at once: Frank the Tank! Frank the Tank! He can shoot three-pointers and sometimes chooses to do so at the detriment of his post game. But, oh can he shoot threes. And he did a decent job of interviewing Will Ferrell.

9. Stanley Johnson, Arizona, Fr., F

Could be a sturdier DeMar DeRozan. Or Rudy Gay with the extra entertainment of loving those three-point shots from the corner. Know this, though: He’s big for a 6-foot-7 small forward — 245 pounds.

10. Kelly Oubre, Kansas, Fr., F

The opposite of Duke’s Winslow, Oubre didn’t score in double digits in his last four games. Ugh. But scouts love his ability to attack — he shot 19 free throws against Texas Christian in the Big 12 Conference tournament. Yet another freshman, as if that’s surprising anymore.

11. Trey Lyles, Kentucky, Fr., F

Who? Everyone knows the all-around game of Towns and the shot-blocking ability of the defensive-minded Cauley-Stein. Lyles is the Wildcats’ other frontcourt guy, the X-factor for their success. He has been getting to the line on offense and blocking shots at the other end.

12. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, Jr., F

Call me a homer (Wisconsin, Class of ’94). Dare ya. Dekker scored 23 points against North Carolina and followed it up with 27 against Arizona to help send the Badgers to the Final Four. Ready-made NBA nickname too: Dekker the Wrecker.

13. Kevon Looney, UCLA, Fr., F

He’s like Zach LaVine only because he’s a tweener, albeit a much taller one at 6-9. Without LaVine’s crazy vertical leap. He might be too tall for a small forward but too small for a power forward. Hmmmm.

14. Devin Booker, Kentucky, Fr., G

Four Wildcats in the lottery? Why not? Booker’s the shooter, the one who comes off the bench and hits big threes more often than not. He’s not as polished as starting twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, and if he stayed another season, he would be top 10 for sure. But who stays more than one season at Kentucky?

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan