The Golden State Warriors may have made small ball trendy, but the NBA is still a big man’s league. Go big or go home. That’s the TNT slogan in the NBA playoffs.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers could be the big winners in the 2015 NBA draft as both teams should walk away with a franchise center on June 25.
The Lakers are coming off the franchise’s worst season, winning just 21 games and finishing with the fourth-worst record. Kobe Bryant missed 47 games because of a shoulder injury and Julius Randle’s rookie season lasted just 13 minutes when he tore his ACL in the season opener.
From that point on, the Lakers’ season was in shambles. The glamour franchise of the Association lost a lot of its luster, and a lot of the media attention shifted to the other L.A. team.
But the basketball gods finally sprinkled some Magic Johnson dust on the Lakers when the ping-pong balls landed them in the No. 2 overall spot.
The Lakers need a post-Kobe plan and find their next superstar to anchor the franchise the next 10-15 years. The Lakers have a long history when it comes to dominant big men, from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal. All four centers are featured in the rafters at Staples Center.
The NBA would not publicly admit it but the league is better off when one of its glamour teams, such as the Lakers, Celtics or Knicks, are relevant. The Lakers’ rebuilding process begins this summer, and they’ll gladly take whomever the Timberwolves don’t pick.
OneManFastBreak.net examines the top eight prospects in the NBA draft:
6-11, center, Kentucky
Scouting report: Towns is the best of an excellent crop of Kentucky prospects in the draft. The 19-year-old versatile big man, who made the Dominican-Republican national team as a 16-year-old, can play center or power forward and has very quick feet for a 235-pound athlete. His agility is what makes him a superb defender, a skill set that should make his transition to the pro game much smoother. NBA teams are looking for bigs who can switch pick-and-rolls and defend point guards. Towns also showed flashes of a dominant low-post game during the NCAA tournament. He has a nice jump hook going to his right and feels comfortable with his back to the basket or facing up. He has nice form on his jumper, which he could develop into a real weapon if he works at it.
NBA comparison: Anthony Davis
6-11, center, Duke
Scouting report: Okafor is a throwback, classic big man who prefers to do most of his work in the paint. He feels right at home with his back to the basket and his massive hands enable him to catch anything within his reach. At 270 pounds, Okafor is a handful to handle near the rim. He can score within either hand and has the power to back you down. He also has all the post moves: drop step, jump hook, spin move. If he has a weakness it’s his conditioning. He got exposed a little during the Final Four when fatigue set in that led to unnecessary fouls. Any NBA team that selects Jahlil will need to put him on a conditioning program from the get-go and monitor his weight. Once he works himself into better shape, he’ll be a beast.
NBA comparison: DeMarcus Cousins
6-5, guard, Guangdong (China)
Scouting report: SMU coach Larry Brown calls Mudiay “the next John Wall”. That’s high praise for someone who remains a draft mystery. Mudiay could have played under Brown for a year but instead opted to play in China. The Wall comparison is not farfetched. Mudiay is a big, strong point guard with dynamic speed and excels in the pick-and-roll game. He can explode to the basket with either hand, and has the size and strength (6-5, 200) to finish at the rim. Brown ranks Mudiay ahead of fellow prospect D’Angelo Russell because of the way Mudiay can run a team and play defense. One major concern teams have about Mudiay is his shot. Brown says his shot is not broken but definitely needs some work. He struggles shooting from midrange and is a bad free-throw shooter. Another aspect of his game that needs to be refined is ball security because he has a tendency to be loose with the ball.
NBA comparison: John Wall
7-0, center, Kentucky
Scouting report: At 21 years old, Cauley-Stein is one of the oldest players in the draft so he’s more mature physically than almost all of his peers. He has all the physical attributes you want in an NBA center. He’s a 7-footer with a 7-2 wingspan and can cover a lot of ground. He’s not the most polished offensive player available but he’s a terrific defender. He can defend all five positions, which is big luxury because most NBA teams now ask their centers to be able to cover point guards off ball screens. Cauley-Stein has unbelievable quickness for a big man, which allows him to close out on shooters and shut down driving lanes. On offense, most of Cauley-Stein’s points came on layups and dunks, so don’t expect him to be Hakeem Olajuwon when you throw him the ball in the low block. He should be a terrific pick-and-roll player.
NBA comparison: Tyson Chandler
6-6, guard-forward, Duke
Scouting report: Winslow’s greatest strength is his effort and energy on both ends of the court. San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard comes to mind when compared to a current NBA player. He is a gifted athlete who can score in a variety of ways. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski played him at power forward most of the season, and few college big forwards could check him because of his size and speed (6-6, 222). He’ll likely play shooting guard or small forward in the NBA, so he won’t have a distinct advantage. But he’s good enough to make that transition and should be a good two-way player. His jump shot remains inconsistent, but that can be rectified with proper technique and repetition.
NBA comparison: Kawhi Leonard
6-5, guard, Ohio State
Scouting report: Russell is not as quick or as explosive as Mudiay but he’s very crafty. His shooting makes up for his lack of speed, as he averaged 19 points per game and shot over 40 percent from 3-point range in college. He has good size (6-5), so he can look over a defense and make the correct pass. He can play point or shooting guard, which is a major plus considering most teams like to play two point guards at the same time. One concern is his lack of a right hand and athleticism. He wears out the left side of the court too much and feels uncomfortable going to his off hand. He also struggles against quicker point guards, which can spell trouble because he won’t see too many slow point guards.
NBA comparison: George Hill
6-6, guard-forward, Arizona
Scouting report: Johnson was highly touted coming out of Mater Dei High School (Calif.), but didn’t have a smooth transition to college. Arizona coach Sean Miller was unhappy with Johnson’s work ethic in practice. Johnson claims he didn’t play as hard in practice because he was so physically gifted in high school that he didn’t have to exert too much effort. That attitude carried over in the early part of his one year in Tucson, but once he figured it out he became a beast in the Pac-12. Johnson is a physical specimen (6-6, 240) who can overpower smaller guards and strong enough to guard power forwards. He’s also a decent spot-up shooter with a chance to be a very good shooter. He’s very explosive off the dribble and, because of his upper body strength, can bust through contact and finish at the rim. He does run hot and cold on defense, but when he’s focused he can be a lock-down defender.
NBA comparison: Jimmy Butler
6-10, forward, Kentucky
Scouting report: Lyles was overshadowed by teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, but he may have been Kentucky’s most versatile big man. He may not do one thing very well but he does everything well. Coach John Calipari played him at small forward most of the time but he may be more suited as a stretch 4 at the next level. Lyles has the size and strength (6-10, 235) to play either forward spot, and because of his massive 7-3 wingspan he can play some center. He was awful from the college 3-point line (13%), but he made over 50% of his 2-point shots. That tells us he’s got a nice touch from 15-18 feet, which is where most of his shots will come if he plays the pinch post. He’ll be a nightmare matchup because he’s too quick for most power forwards and too long against most small forwards. If Lyles played elsewhere in college he would have posted better statistics and gotten more recognition.
NBA comparison: Markief Morris
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.