Interest in the 2015 NBA Draft is growing, with June 25 fast approaching and as teams work out the top players. The consensus opinion has been that the the top selections may come down to either Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke's Jahlil Okafor, two big men who were quite visible for their prestigious college basketball programs.
As the draft looms closers, it seems that the growing thought is Towns will go No. 1 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 7-footer seemed to keep improving as the college basketball season progressed, and scouts like his physical tools.
With Towns slotted at No. 1, that means Okafor heads to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2, right? Don't be so sure.
According to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak this week, "everything is on the table." Kupchak has also stated that he is willing to work out several players before draft day.
That means the Lakers could ditch conventional wisdom, and go with a guard. The two main options are Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay, who played in China last season but suffered an ankle injury in 2014. Both guards are expected to go within the top five picks, and Kupchak wasn't shy about referencing them by name when he spoke to reporters.
Two other players who might find their way into the No. 2 selection are international players Kristaps Porzingis, and Latvian-born center, and Mario Hezonja, a Croatian forward who joined Barcelona in 2012. Both Porzingis and Hezonja are longshots at No. 2, but players have climbed the draft board before.
As for Okafor, there have been rumblings that not only will Minnesota pass on him, but he could slip out of the first five picks. That might be a stretch. With the talent-rich Blue Devils, Okafor averaged 17.3 points per game and 8.5 rebounds. He also won a national championship, and often looked like the best post threat in the NCAA tournament. Scouts have raved about his good attitude, solid conditioning, and quick footwork. The drawbacks on Okafor are that he is not always an intense defender, and needs to work on his defensive rebounding.
Famed basketball writer Mark Heisler, who spent a sizable portion of his career at the Los Angeles Times, wrote in May that he thinks the Lakers will take Towns as their top choice, and Mudiay as their second choice. Heisler described Mudiay as "Showtime incarnate."
Mudiay has received plenty of praise from scouts. He is an explosive guard who conjures the style and athleticism of John Wall, but has limited competitive basketball experience since leaving high school in 2014. Mudiay says he can bring "a winning attitude" to L.A. He also said that he wasn't in awe of the Lakers' trophy case, but that "he wants to get some."
Russell is also an intriguing player. He plays with a very loose style, and sometimes seems to disappear during games, but he is unquestionably a talented player. Russell is 6'4 but has a 6'9 wingspan, and has a quick release on his jump shot which connects at a high rate. It's possible that the Lakers could use Russell at point guard, and then move him to shooting guard when Kobe Bryant decides to retire.
As for Okafor, when asked after a workout if he could see himself playing for the Lakers, he replied: "Without a doubt." Okafor added that playing for a college team with a winning tradition makes him appreciate the Lakers' tradition of winning.
"I would love to come here and win an NBA championship," said Okafor.
It's possible that the Lakers may not go wrong with any of the potential picks. This is considered a rather strong draft, though there aren't pure scorers like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, who went No. 1 and No.2, respectively, in 2014.