Five Freshman Candidates for the 2015 Naismith Award

After writing about how unlikely it is for a freshman to win the Naismith Award just last week, I’ve given more thought to the idea that only two freshman have been selected as the college basketball player of the year over the last decade (Kevin Durant in 2007, and Anthony Davis in 2012), and think that this could be the year we see a neophyte take home the prestigious award.

I mean, there’s no more Doug McDermott – or any other major scorers returning for the bigger conferences – and this is a recruiting class that’s just stacked with incredible big men who are starving to get to the NBA who will be handed the keys to their legendary program’s cars – figuratively speaking, so relax Mark Emmert.

As difficult as it was to pick only five – when you read-on you’ll see I cheated and kind of picked seven – I decided to stick with players who I think will play the biggest roles on the best teams in the country, so all you Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Arizona haters (and a shout out to vastly improved Texas, Hook ‘em, or something) can stop reading now.

Quick disclaimer: since I’m assuming readers are leaving the stats and research to me, it’s very difficult to find high school basketball stats. The stats listed below were compiled between SLAM, 247sports, Draft Express and Max Preps, so if you find them to be inconsistent I apologize.

Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
6-foot-11, 272 lbs
26 PPG, 13 RPG

Penciled in as the top pick in the 2015 NBA Draft for seemingly the last two or three years, Okafor has the body to be a dominant low post presence and the skills to dominate from just about anywhere on the court. Coach K has to be salivating as he hasn’t had as skilled of a big since Elton Brand – sorry Carlos Boozer – as Okafor has an arsenal of moves around the basket and the footwork of a seasoned vet. The near seven-footer has a ways to go on the defensive end, but it’s very feasible he could lead a stacked ACC in scoring and rebounds, and will unquestionably be a candidate for the Naismith Award next Spring.

Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas
24 PPG, 15 RPG, 6 BPG
6-foot-9, 254 lbs

A bit of an undersized center, Cliff Alexander looks like he’s been playing in the NBA – really the NFL – for five years already, possessing the body of a grown man with strength that can be seen anytime he goes up to throw down one of his ferocious dunks. Alexander’s more athletic and powerful than crafty and skilled, but for a guy with his size (and remarkable length) he never stops running the floor and isn’t afraid to attack the basket. Alexander and Perry Ellis should give the Kansas front court a dangerous inside-outside (more like inside-midrange) game, and with his menacing play around the basket, I wouldn’t expect for the folks in Lawrence to miss Joel Embiid too badly this season.

Karl Towns Jr., C, Kentucky
20.9 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 6.2 BPG, 4.3 APG
7-foot-0, 248 lbs

It’s very hard to pick a Kentucky freshman to be in the mix for the Naismith Award considering all of the young talent that they’re returning, but Karl Towns Jr. is a certified freak of nature athletically, and despite still being very raw he could really be a difference maker defensively for John Calipari next season. While Towns doesn’t necessarily jump out of the gym, it’s amazing to see a player with a 9-foot-5 standing reach be able to handle the ball, run the floor, and see the court the way Towns does, drawing comparisons to former Wildcat Julius Randle for his diverse skill set on the offensive end. Also, watch out for fellow freshman Tyler Ulis, who if he sees the minutes will absolutely be the facilitator that these past few Kentucky teams have desperately been missing. Ulis is probably the best distributor in this freshman class, and is incredibly poised with the ball in his hands, which is reflected in his accuracy from deep and his ability to protect the ball.

Stanley Johnson, F, Arizona
25.0 PPG 8.0 RPG 3.6 APG 2.5 SPG
6-foot-7 237 lbs

Arizona’s pretty loaded at the forward positions with Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and adding Stanley Johnson to the mix should keep them near the top of the college basketball landscape despite losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon. Similar to Gordon, Johnson’s greatest attribute is his high motor, which in layman’s terms means he never stops getting after it on both ends of the ball. Unlike Gordon, however, Johnson is incredibly skilled on the offensive end of the ball, as he can handle the ball, is a decent shooter when setting his feet(the further out, the worse he gets), and is an absolute nightmare in transition. Johnson is as dangerous as any incoming freshman at attacking the rim, and his defensive versatility will make him one of the most important players in college basketball this upcoming season.

Myles Turner, C, Texas
16.7 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 8.7 BPG
6-foot-11, 242 lbs

Myles Turner plays like a video game create a player, as his arms are seemingly endless, he can shoot from just about anywhere on the court (even from three), and he’s a very good instinctual shot blocker. Turner’s ability to score in a multitude of ways proves he isn’t just reliant on his athleticism, and his ability to help stretch the floor should make him one of the main reasons that Rick Barnes and Texas returns to prominence next season. I don’t know that Turner’s one of the five most talented freshmen, but I do think he’s a great fit on a team that thrives on the dribble drive, and I think his ability to protect the rim will allow his athletic backcourt to take more chances on defense, which should bode well for both Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix.

Sleeper: Tyus Jones, G, Duke
I didn’t want to put two Duke players on my list because they’re not the only team in the country with what looks like an all-time great freshman class (hello, Kansas and Kentucky), and while I think Okafor has a chance at taking the country by storm, Jones is more of a natural leader and will be a major impact player for Coach K this season. I’m not sure what the do-it-all point guard’s stat line will look like as he’s going to have a ton of options and a lot of talented players to facilitate offense between, but he’s going to be an extension of Mike Krzyzewski on the court, and this might be the most talented floor general to don a Duke jersey since Jason Williams.

Tags: College Basketball 2014-15 Season College Basketball Season Preview Jahlil Okafor Naismith Award

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