Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-11 center from Duke, has seen his NBA Draft stock drop in the weeks leading up to the draft perhaps more than any other prospect.
Thought to be the No. 1 player for most of the college season, concerns about his defence, conditioning, and fit in a new fast-paced, spread-out NBA have caused him to fall from the No. 1 spot.
Okafor could still go No. 2, but most think he has fallen behind fellow big man Karl-Anthony Towns, and there’s enough intrigue with D’Angelo Russell and Kristaps Porzingis that Okafor could drop several spots.
Grantland’s Ryen Russillo wrote a tremendous roundup of scouts’ takes on the top players in the draft. The scouts echoed many of the same concerns over Okafor, but they also say that there’s still reason to be optimistic: Okafor’s offence is light years ahead of many other prospects.
In just one year in college, Okafor showed off moves in the low post that would already rank him among one of the NBA’s best offensive big men. Additionally, at 19, there’s plenty of time for him to learn to correct some of his flaws.
One scout told Russillo:
He’s the best center in college. I see Towns as 4, maybe 5. Okafor is a 5 — no question. He’s an old-school big man. He knows how to use his body. He is going to score from 10-12 feet and in….
The talk of the league going small … that doesn’t mean you don’t want this guy. There is a great advantage to be able to throw it down in the post when jump shots aren’t going. He is the prototype center. Every team would want a player like that. I just think the other two guys are better.
Another scout felt optimistic about how good on offence Okafor is:
I haven’t seen a natural post-up feel like him in a long time. He’s not as fluid as Towns; he doesn’t run the floor like him. More heavy in the lower body, which gives you the impression he’s not as athletic — more heavy-legged. But that is part of his effectiveness. It’s kind of like an optical illusion.
He screws around with a couple of fakes here, then all of a sudden he gets an angle and blows up at the basket and dunks on you. I know everyone wants 3s, but it’s great to have an option to just throw it down there to a guy that demands a double-team. He’s unselfish — he’ll give it up. He plays the right way.
In April, SI’s Pete Thamel wrote about the Towns-versus-Okafor debate, and quoted one scout who felt Okafor’s skillset was too good to pass up on:
“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.”
While Okafor has struggled with defence, there’s belief he can be taught to be at least an average defender, which would support his dominant offence. This type of skill from a 19 year old is just too deadly:
It seems clear that Towns has become the No. 1 player, but ESPN’s Chad Ford reports that Minnesota Timberwolves GM Flip Saunders wants to pick Okafor while the rest of his staff wants Towns.
If Saunders’ staff wins out and the Wolves take Towns, it will be interesting to see where Okafor lands. Are teams afraid his defence can’t be improved and his offence won’t translate, or will teams value his potentially transcendent offence and work with whatever other flaws he may have?
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