Although it was not hyped to the level of last year’s freshman class, this year’s crop of recruits had plenty of star power, and plenty of guys predicted for immediate stardom. Virtually every major publication tabbed Duke’s Jahlil Okafor as preseason national player of the year, and plenty of places tabbed Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and Kentucky freshman Karl Towns as preseason All-Americans.
Some freshmen have gotten off to a flying start, but some have not been so fortunate. Let’s take a look at how the nation’s top freshman recruits have been. Later, we’ll look at the country’s best freshmen regardless of recruiting hype.
Note: all recruiting rankings listed are the RSCI rankings, provided via Draft Express.
1. Emmanuel Mudiay
Even though he is not playing college basketball, I am including him because I am intrigued by top prospects who skip college to play abroad. Mudiay plays for Guangdong in China, and his season has been somewhat of a mixed bag. When he’s played, he’s played well, but Mudiay recently hurt his ankle, and he and the team disagreed on how long it should take for him to come back from the injury (understandable, as Guangdong knows it has Mudiay for only one season and wants him on the floor to maximize its profits, whereas Mudiay wants to make sure he is 100 percent healthy for the long term).
So, rumors have Guangdong cutting Mudiay and adding Will Bynum. Mudiay will miss out on some development, but will collect at least part of the $1.2 million contract he signed with Guangdong, and money from his endorsement deal with Under Armour. He’s going to get drafted high and, although he will miss out on the college experience, he’s the biggest winner from this recruiting class.
2. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
3. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
I’m going to throw these two together. Okafor was the preseason player of the year and is probably thought of as the vastly more successful player given that he (1) plays for Duke and (2) is averaging 17.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game compared to 10 and 6.6 for Alexander. However, the difference is largely due to Okafor’s minutes. Okafor is playing 27.4 minutes per game compared to just 18.6 per game for Alexander. As it stands, the two are fairly similar, as shown by Topeka Capital Journal writer Jesse Newell.
Both face questions as to whether they can keep up their efficiency totals — Alexander due to increasing playing time, Okafor due to increasing quality of opponents. However, both figure to be in All-American discussions by the end of the season.
4. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Johnson’s greatest attribute is that he wears a T-shirt under his jersey, but beyond that he has been Arizona’s go-to scorer and has been fairly efficient doing so. He’s shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers, higher than I was led to believe he would shoot, but it is worth noting he’s attempted only 23 threes. Johnson has also been a great wing defender, a good rebounder for his size, and Arizona’s most frequent free throw shooter.
5. Myles Turner, Texas
Turner — shown above — has numbers that look great on the surface. He has a 130.6 offensive rating, he’s shooting 56.8 percent from two, and is 11th nationally in block percentage. However, a deeper look reveals something (potentially) troubling. Against Texas’s four opponents ranked in the top 60 in KenPom, Turner is just 5-15 from two. Against the other opponents — ranked an average of 238.5 in KenPom — Turner is shooting 20-29 from two.
6. Tyus Jones, Duke
Jones isn’t the most athletically gifted player in the nation, but has been great statistically. He’s currently 15th in offensive rating, has a 54.8 eFG, and an assist/turnover rate of 29.5/11.3 percent. He’s shown flashes of being spectacular, but isn’t the boom or bust player most freshmen point guards usually are.
7. Karl Towns, Kentucky
Towns has played in under half of Kentucky’s minutes, but has done great things with them, with a 57-percent eFG, a 14.3 percent offensive rebounding rate, a 25.6 percent defensive rebounding rate, and the fifth-best block percentage in the nation. At 6-11 with the ability to play outside as well, he’s one of the biggest mismatch problems in the country. However, it’s fair to wonder how much worse his numbers would look if he ever had to play tired.
8. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
The biggest disappointment on this list, Oubre has played in just 19.6 percent of the Jayhawks’ minutes thus far. His biggest problem offensively is his turnovers: Oubre’s turnover rate of 38.1 percent is the worst on the team. He has not shot the ball well either, and hasn’t attacked the offensive glass at a rate some, including me, thought he would. The best you can say about him thus far is that he is a capable defensive rebounder and good defender when he applies himself on that side of the ball, but that hasn’t happened often enough yet.
9. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
The Tar Heels have two fairly disappointing losses this season, to Butler and Iowa, but Jackson has been about what you would expect from a “back half of the top 10” freshman. He isn’t a featured part of the offense, with just a 19-percent usage rate, but has been efficient with the shots he’s taken (55 percent on twos). Other than that, however, it is a bit of an empty box score for the Texas native. Jackson isn’t a good rebounder, and has taken the second most threes on the team despite shooting just 22.2 percent. Both of those things can be fixed with experience, though the most prudent decision for him is likely to stop shooting the threes for awhile.
10. Kevon Looney, UCLA
Looney is playing a lot for the Bruins, more than two-thirds of their minutes, and has been reasonably productive. He is shooting 52.8 percent on twos, going to the line more than any other Bruin, and has been one of the best offensive rebounders in the entire country. He looks like he has potential as a defender and as a go-to scorer who can take care of the ball as well, so expect to hear a lot more from Looney going forward.