Duke’s national championship run and Kentucky’s 38 consecutive wins were aided by a group of freshmen that won’t return to college basketball next season. Blue Devils standout Jahlil Okafor has declared for the 2015 NBA Draft, and three-first year players on the nearly perfect Wildcats team have done the same.
Okafor was Duke’s top freshman, but he might not be the only one that plays in the pros next year. Justise Winslow is a projected top-five pick by some experts, and Tyus Jones could go in the first round, as well. According to multiple reports, both are expected to enter the draft.
Kentucky is losing half of their team to the draft. In addition to Karl-Anthony Town, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker, four other Wildcats have decided to pursue their dream of playing in the NBA. Sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein will almost certainly be a lottery pick, and Aaron Harrison could be a second-round pick. Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson aren’t as highly regarded as the others, but they will take their chances in the draft.
Below is a look at the freshmen from Duke and Kentucky that have officially declared for the draft and where they might be selected.
For most of the season, Okafor was viewed as the consensus No.1 overall pick. In his first season with the Blue Devils, he led the team in points (17.3) and rebounds (8.5) per game, helping them win the national championship. He entered the season as the country’s top recruit and didn’t disappoint. While he struggled for much of the national title game, he scored a few key baskets in the final minutes to help Duke secure the victory.
Okafor might have seen his draft stock drop somewhat during March Madness. His defense isn’t nearly as good as a couple of the Kentucky big men who are entering the draft, and depending on what happens in the lottery, he could fall to the No.3 pick. But his offense in the low post ranks up there with any freshman in the last 10 years, and there’s almost no chance he’ll still be available with the No.4 selection.
The Kentucky big man might have surpassed Okafor as the top pick in June’s draft. He didn’t put up numbers that were nearly as good as the runner-up for AP Player of the Year, but he’s shown plenty of promise on the offensive end. Towns made the most of his opportunities, averaging 10.3 points per game in just 21.1 minutes per contest. He looked unstoppable at times in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 41 points on 24 shot attempts in his final two games.
Defensively, Towns is ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA. He was a force for Kentucky in the paint, and can be a top rim protector at the next level. The New York Knicks have the best chance of winning the draft lottery, and many experts believe team president Phil Jackson wants Towns.
Lyles had the lowest scoring average of any Kentucky freshmen that will be in the draft, putting up 8.7 points per game. But he’s one of the most talented players in the draft, and he appears to be a surefire first-rounder. Playing in a frontcourt that included Towns and Cauley-Stein, Lyles still managed to grab 5.2 rebounds per game.
The forward is no guarantee to be selected in the lottery, but he certainly has a chance to go within the top 14 picks. His 74-inch wingspan will make him a very attractive selection for teams looking to add a forward, and he could be taken anywhere between the 10th and 20th overall pick.
Booker is the only guard among the aforementioned freshmen who will enter the draft. He was Kentucky’s third-leading scorer this past season, averaging 10 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field.
Scouts are impressed with the shooting guard's potential, and his elite shooting ability gives him an advantage over other guards that could go near the top of the draft. He shot 41.1 percent from three-point range as a freshman, and his size at 6’6 gives him a chance to be an above-average NBA defender. His draft projection is similar to that of Lyles, though he has an outside chance of being taken in the top 10.