Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot

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The year is 2006. Barack Obama is just a Senator from Illinois. Facebook is just in its infancy and Twitter is born. On September 1st, a game of basketball is played at Rucker’s Park in Harlem. In its inaugural year, the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic gathers the top high school prospects from around the country for a historic game of street ball. The whole event is captured in the 2008 Documentary, “Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot” directed by Adam Yauch. Yeah, THAT Adam Yauch, AKA MCA, deceased member of The Beastie Boys. RIP. Profiled in the film and on the court are some youngsters you might recognize…

(Photo courtesy of

As cocky as ever, but looking a bit scrawnier than now, Brandon Jennings is still a high schooler, hopeful of playing in college and the possibility of an NBA career. Playing in Europe instead of at Arizona next year isn’t even a thought in his mind yet. He’d be a trailblazer for foregoing college and playing professionally in Europe instead. He and Emmanuel Mudiay should have a nice chat sometime; I bet they’d get along swimmingly.

Kevin Love is a baby-faced pudge factory, putting his body on the line for every rebound within earshot. He’s actually got some semblance of a postgame too. Where’s that gone??

Looking surprisingly sober is Michael Beasley. He’s an upcoming star at the time and has no idea how much he’s going to love the ganja. There’s a tragic love story worthy of Shakespeare. Vice has taken down top prospects before Beasley, and it’s sure to do so again. Intangibles people. Intangibles.

Tyreke Evans is overshadowed during the game by the immense amount of talent around him. Stage shy, his talents will be better displayed at the University of Memphis under coach John Calipari. Both coach and player would move on following their time together at the University of Memphis. Tyreke onwards to the Sacramento Kings where he would win the 2010 Rookie of the Year, and Calipari to the University of Kentucky where he’s established a perennial powerhouse. This year was no exception. Top prospect Karl Anthony-Towns led the way to an almost unbeaten season. ALMOST! Just ask the Badgers about their one loss in the Final Four. Skol.

Lance Stephenson is 15 years old. The kid can’t even drive. His infamous lung capacity is still on the rise. This game there would be no huffin’ and puffin’ from him on the court. He’ll save that defensive strategy for LeBron’s ear during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.

And that doesn’t even cover Jerryd Bayless, Donté Green, or Kyle Singler. All are also profiled in film. J.J. Hickson, Dexter Strickland, Chris Allen, Anthony Randolph, Cole Aldrich, O.J. Mayo, and DeAndre Jordan are all on the court too, but apparently not important enough for the film. At least not yet.

The talent level on the court is immense. If some games have sick plays, this game had elephantiasis. But, in the end, the game is pointless; it’s a spectacle for these players to be on full display in front of every college and pro scout in the country. Everyone wants to see the next big thing coming for basketball. “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot” isn’t just the name of the film; that’s the goal of all these players. Everyone wants to go #1 in the NBA Draft, to be the best player in the country, to have the best NBA career, and to leave a legacy.

Things haven’t changed much since 2006. Yes, Barack’s on his way out of the White House, everyone and their Grandma is on Facebook, and Twitter has surpassed all other forms of media for news speed.  Still, NBA prospects battle for that top spot in the draft.

Vying for the pinnacle of this year’s draft are two powerhouse players. The aforementioned Karl Anthony-Towns from Kentucky, and Jahlil Okafor hailing from Duke University.  These two dominant big men both showed flashes of greatness this past year, each leading their team to the Final Four or beyond. I’ve already mentioned the historic team that Anthony-Towns led, but Okafor’s Blue Devils came out on top, taking home the NCAA National Championship (away from the well-deserving Badger Squad).

To really break these guys down, you’ll have to excuse me for a second while I get statistical. Cue Olivia Newton-John. Let’s get statistical, statistical! I wanna get statistical!

Towns this year put up 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game. Offensively, Okafor’s 17.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 1.3 APG dwarfed those numbers, but only put up 1.4 BPG. But, let’s take a deeper drive and normalize the stats. Time on the court is huge for accumulating stats and Jahlil was on the court an average of 30 minutes per game compared to Karl’s 21. Per 40 minutes (the duration of a college game), Karl had 19.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 4.3 blocks. This compares well to Jahlil who had 23 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes. Here, the disparity in defensive ability becomes more apparent: Towns had more than double Okafor’s blocks.

But, this drive isn’t deep enough. Player development throughout their time in college is key. Prospects at the top of draft are expected to be superstars. Neither of these guys can walk onto an NBA court and start dominating alongside players like Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry. They need to get better, and I want to see evidence of that during their stint in upper education.

Below are monthly breakouts for each player, normalized per 40 minutes just like I explained above. With this view, its obvious that Towns is the better prospect. Okafor dominated early on in the season when he played a non-conference schedule of fluff opponents, putting up 26 points per 40 minutes in both November and December. Towns, on the other hand, increased his points per 40 minutes each month from December through the end of year, playing his best basketball in the tournament against the toughest opponents. He actually outplayed Okafor offensively during that time putting up 22.5 points per 40 minutes, compared to Okafor’s 21.8. Rebounding isn’t even close at the end of the year. Towns dominates both February and March, putting up 14.4 and 12.3 rebounds per 40 minutes. Okafor disappeared in the tournament and only managed 8 rebounds every 40 minutes; pitiful rebounding for a big man and top prospect. Assists are more comparable throughout the year, but Okafor still stagnates, while Towns helps out his teammates more and more at the end of year.

Points Rebounds Assists Blocks
Per 40 Minutes Okafor Towns Okafor Towns Okafor Towns Okafor Towns
November 25.8 17.2 11.5 16.0 2.5 3.4 2.3 6.5
December 26.4 16.6 13.1 11.7 1.6 1.0 1.8 3.3
January 21.3 17.6 12.3 9.2 2.0 1.4 1.7 4.9
February 22.0 20.9 12.5 14.4 1.6 2.8 1.6 3.9
March/April 21.8 22.5 7.9 12.3 1.0 2.0 2.1 3.6

Long story short, Jahlil Okafor and Karl Anthony-Towns look very similar when comparing them over the course of this past year. But, looking at how each player developed and improved gives the clear edge to Towns. He was just hitting his stride during the NCAA tournament and who knows how much better he can be if this type of progress continues in the NBA.

There’s no epilogue at the end of “Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot”, but all players featured in the film would go on to reach the NBA. Some came close to that top spot. Michael Beasley was selected 2nd overall in the 2008 draft. Kevin Love went 5th that year. In 2009, Tyreke would be taken 4th. The mystique and responsibility of being the best and first taken, however, would remain unknown to all of them.

This year, the Minnesota Timberwolves hold the top spot in the NBA Draft on Thursday. While the team has never made the top selection in the draft before, both #1 picks from the past two drafts, Anthony Bennett from 2013 and Andrew Wiggins from 2014, now reside on the team’s roster thanks to a slightly less pudgy Kevin Love trade. Joining the two would be an honor for either Okafor or Towns as such a young and talented core is sure to blossom in the coming years.

Okafor has been compared all year long to Tim Duncan, which is appropriate considering the tactical post game each player relies on for their offensive game. If Towns keeps developing on offense like he did in college, he’ll turn into the next Kevin Garnett, a tentative member of this year’s Timberwolves squad and the historic face of the Wolves franchise. The comparison is quite apt, as Towns is poised to be the Timberwolves’ future. At the top of the draft there can be only player, and no one shoots for second. Everyone is gunnin’ for that #1 spot.

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