Duke center Jahlil Okafor has been considered the No. 1 prospect in the 2015 NBA Draft for much of the year.
During the regular season, Okafor — at 6’11”, 270 pounds — led the Blue Devils in scoring and rebounding with 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.
Okafor is dynamic on offence, particularly in the low post where he can overwhelm opponents or find open teammates because of the defensive attention he demands.
While offence is his strong suit, there are concerns about other parts of Okafor’s game. Okafor’s rebounding the NCAA Tournament is down to six per game, and as SI’s Pete Thamel notes, Okafor’s block percentage is the lowest of any center taken in the top 10 of the NBA draft in the last 10 years.
Thamel recently spoke to NBA insiders about the debate between Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl Anthony Towns, who has gained momentum and overtaken Okafor as the No. 1 prospect in recent weeks. One front office official made the strongest argument for why Okafor should be No. 1, despite the obvious flaws in his game:
“There’s probably only five to seven guys in the NBA who can play with their back to the basketball like Okafor,” says a Western Conference front office official who contends he would take Okafor at No. 1. “Towns has better upside and could be a better player, but I’d like to think I can get another Towns before I can get another Okafor.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring scouted Okafor and also came to a similar conclusion:
But there’s no telling when a prospect this polished offensively, particularly in the post, will come around again. That might make Okafor too enticing for the Knicks to pass up, even if there are other players with more upside.
During Duke’s Final Four matchup with Michigan State, Herring noticed that one of Okafor’s best skills is his ability to catch bad passes:
I’m always amazed at the catches Okafor is able to make. Duke throws some horrendous entry passes into him sometimes
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) April 4, 2015
Coincidentally, ESPN’s Shannon Spake tweeted this insane photo of how exactly Okafor makes those catches:
Okafor is quick and has extremely polished footwork that helps him in the post:
In addition to posting up, Okafor can get good position near the basket where he can face up and use his ball-handling, dexterity, and speed to make defenders look silly:
Defence is a mandatory skill for NBA centres, as Pattern of Basketball’s Jonathan Tjarks noted. Okafor’s lack of defensive ability rightfully turns some people off, and it becomes difficult to build a team around a center that can’t protect the rim.
Yet elite-level post play can be game-changing as well. While playing out of the post is an increasingly rare skill in the NBA, a center with a dominant post game makes for an easy solution on offence: surround him with shooters and have the defence pick their poison.
Okafor is only 19 years old, and though his flaws are real, there’s still hope that when he reaches the NBA he can iron out his defensive issues.
Okafor’s skill set is rare, and for some NBA teams, too exceptional to pass up in the draft.
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