The 2015 NBA-Tour Draft
Today is my favorite non-sport event, sports-related activity of the year. The NBA Draft is intoxicating. It is the one day a year when 30 fanbases expect immediate impact. Unlike any other professional sports league, the NBA draft offers instant gratification. The first round is over quickly (no second or third day, i.e. NFL) and provides top picking teams with immediate starters (see you in 5-6 years, i.e. MLB). It also regularly delivers the most movement during the night, when trades abound.
It’s a night when New York Knick fans will ‘boo,’ San Antonio fans will nod in intellectually arrogant unison and Minnesota will position itself for another lottery run in 2016. To sum it all up: Emotions run the gambit, and I live off its exhaust.
Silly season activities like these in sports are the one thing lacking in golf. While fantasy has allowed us to create our own rooting interest from week to week, we don’t identify loyalties beyond unknown personality connections with players. What if professional golf was a team sport? How would golfers get drafted?
The rules: Only golfers under the age of 30 were considered. I tried to take the traits of the player to match with a particular golfer, so this is not a perfect exercise in who the top 14 young golfers would be should we hold an actual draft.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns is Jordan Spieth – In October of last year, it was hard to imagine a scenario where Jahlil Okafor wasn’t the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. He had every established tool that would translate to a phenomenal career as a pro. At the same time, in golf, Rory McIlroy was unbeatable, holder of the last 2 majors played, annihilator of every tee shot with a reckless abandon. What has happened since then? Our ability to think, that’s what. The next two majors have been won by Spieth, who, like Towns, appears loaded with an arsenal of tools and potential (anybody notice the bulges under those Under Armour shirts? Once doughy, now defined). Okafor-Ilroy has done nothing to diminish his spot at the top, but the newer kid on the block is the freight train running downhill.
Spieth’s Tremendous Upside Potential (T.U.P.) – 19 Majors and the greatest American golfer of all time
2. D’Angelo Russell is Rickie Fowler – Wait a second? Did Rory just drop to #3 in our ridiculous exercise? Yes, but only to keep the hypothetical going. Many scouts pegged Russell as having more star potential than Okafor. After winning the Players, Rickie was absurdly inserted into a number of “big three” conversations with Jordan and Rory. We want Rickie to be a superstar as much as the Lakers want D’Angelo to do the same. And, if there was a town that would draft Rickie ahead of Rory, it would be Hollywood. The similarities don’t end there. Both are significantly more polished than their age would suggest. (Rickie is only 5 months older than Rory; easy to forget that)
Fowler’s T.U.P. – Hall of Famer, 3+ majors, 1 billion flat-billed hats sold and a litter of tan-skinned children who invent a new extreme sport involving skateboards and 2-irons.
3. Jahlil Okafor is Rory McIlroy – Jahlil Okafor was the best player in college entering his freshman season, averaged 17 & 8, led his team to a national championship and said all of the right things along the way. And he slipped to #3 in the draft. Why? The top of the mountain is coated with teflon. You can’t stay long before we find a way to slip you off. Rory has had 2 dominant stretches in his young career, the second even better than the first. When 2015 began, the discussion wasn’t “will somebody challenge him for #1,” it was “how far can Rory extend his advantage?” When he arrived back in the states, he MC’d at Honda. Going for the CGS, a backdoor top 5 followed. We explore the missed cuts at Wentworth and Royal County Down more than his dismantling of Quail Hollow. Why? Because we demand perfection from our #1. Spieth is that perfect now. Rory is, well, underrated?
McIlroy’s T.U.P. – 19 majors and the greatest European golfer of all time
4. Kristaps Porzingis is Tony Finau – LENGTH! POTENTIAL! These two are athletic soul mates. I’ll even stretch Finau’s Samoan lineage to lump him into our “international” pool of prospects. Scouts are drooling over the Latvian for his measurables (he can touch the top of the backboard with his kneecap!!!!) and soft touch, and don’t we do the same with Finau? We dig the long ball and the potential it has to deliver Finau to the winner’s circle. Like Porzingis, he has proven himself on the stages just below the Big Show, but we still secretly wonder if those tools will truly translate into a promising career.
Finau’s T.U.P. – 20 years of Tour Card, 5-10 wins, 0 herniated discs
5. Mario Hezonja is Brooks Koepka – This analogy was perfect a year ago. Hezonja, by all accounts, was the best shooter in the draft. Koepka, by all accounts, was the best American not on Tour. Both have proven their worth on the second-biggest stage in their respective sports. Both are sneaky explosive.
Koepka’s T.U.P. – Multiple majors, multi-lingual
6. Willie Cauley-Stein is Patrick Reed – Tell me those two couldn’t fill a conversation for a few hours. I actually want both of these guys to combine forces to become the greatest super-athlete personality of the 21st Century. Look at Patrick Trilly Reedstein the wrong way, and you will feel the wrath of a small army. Cauley-Stein is all defense, and Reed knows only offense on the course. Willie protects the rim, while Reed can’t protect his image. Join forces now, fellas!
Reed’s T.U.P. – 3 majors by his 30th birthday and a lifetime supply of Prilosec
7. Emmanuel Mudiay is Hideki Matsuyama – The Asian connection (Mudiay prepping a year cashing checks in China) aside, both guys ooze with potential in grown-man frames that have you forgetting how young each really is. But, each are drafted with a significant question mark. Folks wonder about Mudiay’s outside shot as much as I wonder about Matsuyama’s ability to make a 7-footer with the pressure on.
Matsuyama’s T.U.P. – 5 majors, 15 Tour wins, 20 Dunlop Phoenix Open wins, foreword in Ryo Ishikawa’s Autobiography
8. Stanley Johnson is Patrick Rodgers – Both are big. Both can dunk. Both can score. Both are slated to do big things, but you just don’t know at this stage. At this spot in the lottery, it could be big or bust.
Rodgers’ T.U.P. – Major champion, greatest golfer from Indiana
9. Frank Kaminsky is Jason Day – Both are old for the sake of this exercise. With each, you know what you are going to get, but that leaves us without the hope of what is still unknown. For Frank the Tank, that means the Hornets have to live knowing Kaminsky will never be explosive or likely guard anybody without help. For fans of Jason Day, he’s given you everything but the major. After vertigo likely cost him another golden chance, we now wonder if the ceiling has been touched. He’s still ONLY 27, but doesn’t it feel older?
Day’s T.U.P. – Breaks the major seal, settles below Rory/Spieth as #3 for a while, surpasses Greg Norman’s major haul
10. Justise Winslow is Justin Thomas – Like Winslow is lost in the shadow of Okafor, Thomas has been lost a bit in the wake of his classmate, and friend, Spieth, who (we should remember) Thomas bested for all major awards in their one shared year of college. The upside for both here is huge, and the explosiveness is apropos given what Thomas gets out of his small frame. Winslow could be a perennial All-Star or gone by the end of his rookie deal. Thomas could be top 10 in the world and a 20+ Tour winner, or in traction five years from now.
Thomas’ T.U.P. – See above
11. Myles Turner is Billy Horschel – Oozing with the goods that have been flashed to us in spurts, this isn’t a perfect comparison, but the flash-in-the-pan potential exists here. Not to say that Billy will be off the Tour, but his time at the front is relegated to small stretches when he gets hot. Turner is the young guy who shows flashes and needs to develop consistency. If either (or both) grew to exhibit that explosiveness each and every day, it would. be. On!!
Horschel’s T.U.P. – Major winner, Hall of Famer, best quote on tour for 20 years and example of transparent emotion
12. Trey Lyles is Victor Dubuisson – I’m not sold on either, both in game and personal mystery. They flash enough athletic skill and victory to make you believe something greater is coming, but you would never fully invest because you have that feeling words can’t describe. Nope, not for me.
Dubuisson’s T.U.P. – Major winner, after which he gives a 20-minute monologue on what makes him tick
13. Devin Booker is Harris English – Booker was drafted in the lottery. I watched Kentucky maybe 10-12 times this past season and don’t remember a single play involving Booker. That’s not to say that he didn’t score, or wasn’t any good, but you were mesmerized by the size and versatility of Towns, the playmaking of Ulis, the combustibility of the Harrisons, the how-does-he-score-that-slow ness of Lyles, etc. Booker was along for the ride, playing his role and not worried about his future earnings. That sums up my perception of English, who I pegged since college of being a star on Tour. He’s won. Twice. Got inside the top 40 in the world too. But, we’ve stalled, as if lost under the weight of an age group loaded with star power. Booker talked like a young man ready for his time at the front. I only hope English is poised to follow suit.
English’s T.U.P. – Multiple Ryder Cup teams, more lime green pants and top winner of the Georgia Mafia
14. Cameron Payne is Ollie Schneiderjans – Four-year college lottery picks are almost as rare as four-year stud golfers these days, so let’s link these two together. I’m not sure how quickly Ollie will follow his classmates (listed at 1, 8 and 10 on this list) to the Tour, but he was the top amateur in the world last year for a reason. Like Payne, Schneiderjans is a bit crafty and unconventional (strong grip, throwback swing), but with the seasoning of college, he’s conditioned to handle the grind ahead.
Schneiderjans’ T.U.P. – Tour winner and developer of “The Ollie” instructional series on YouTube
I love the NBA Draft!