Welcome to my annual rankings of the nation's best players. If you've been reading along here at Insider for a while, you know the drill. Player rankings aren't exactly new, but my goal is to dig a little deeper and, in particular, to compile a list that's as hype-free and performance-based as possible. Again, this is not a prospect ranking.
Presenting the best college basketball players of 2014-15, so far:
Okafor is my choice as the nation's best player, and I realize fully that this may strike you as a safe and even conventional pick. That's fine, I just want to make sure you form a correct appreciation of the impact Okafor's really having on the Duke offense this season.
It's conceivable that Mike Krzyzewski's star will finish his only college season having made 70 percent of his 2s. Okafor is at 68.4 percent at the moment, and since Dec. 1 he's been connecting at a 73.5 percent rate. Moreover, the freshman is converting all those looks while carrying a load on offense that compares favorably to what Jared Sullinger shouldered for Ohio State in 2011-12 or what DeMarcus Cousins accounted for with Kentucky in 2009-10 (and therefore dwarfs the role that Anthony Davis played in the UK offense in 2011-12). Lastly, Okafor has proved to be surprisingly foul-free and as a result he's available to Coach K more or less at all times.
Simply put, that's a unique confluence of traits. In fact, to wax Churchillian, never before has such a high rate of scoring opportunities been converted by an NBA-track player using so many possessions who is on the floor so often. (And by "never" I of course mean "in the past five years or so," as one always does in this business. Stand down, fans of Tim Duncan and Bill Walton.)
By now you're likely wondering about Okafor's track record where the other 50 percent of the sport is concerned. Fair enough: I sparked a spirited discussion in the preseason by predicting that the freshman would be serviceable and indeed valuable but not game-changing as an interior defender. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, I was right. (Don't worry, I also said Marcus Paige would win national POY honors. I'm still humble.)
So, no, Okafor is no Jeff Withey on D, but he does represent the best total package of performance on both sides of the ball of any player in the country. That's why the freshman is at the top of my list.