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Over the next few weeks leading up to the 2015 NBA Draft we’ll be reviewing some of the top prospects slated to be drafted before or around the No. 7 overall pick, currently owned by the Denver Nuggets. Because abundant backdrop on each of these players can be found across the Internet, our goal is not to recycle statistics, personal upbringing stories or opinions held by the general public, but rather to interpret the data and ultimately determine whether the Nuggets should draft or pass on these future NBA-check collectors.
In BSN’s final Draft or Pass article we take a look at one player sure to be taken in the top four of this week’s draft, Jahlil Okafor.
19 years old | 6-11 | 272 pounds | Center | Duke
Since being touted as a game-changing prospect in middle school, Jahlil Okafor has done nothing but live up to the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders many years ago. In his one year at Duke the 19-year-old was named ACC Player of the Year, First Team All-American, Freshman of the Year and led Duke to a national championship. In many ways Okafor is a throwback to the fundamentally sound, below-the-rim big men that came through and dominated the league in the 70’s and 80’s, but it’s the components of his game that mesh with the modern NBA that could make him an All-Star and potential franchise-altering player.
Why He’ll Succeed
Okafor is a pure post player in every sense of the definition and stigma that comes with that label. His repertoire of post moves gives him an offensive and interior game that is way beyond his years and the most advanced I’ve seen from a college freshman in my lifetime. Okafor has ideal height for a center, huge hands which allow him to effortlessly pass the ball to teammates and court vision that you rarely see in big men who play with their back to the basket. Okafor’s a graceful athlete and combines his massive frame with quick and nimble feet which help him to glide by defenders with a spin move or slip past them after a shot fake. His offensive game is the foundation that he’s built upon and is what should make him impactful in the league from Day 1, but Okafor’s IQ and awareness are what could make him an All-Star.
It’s easy to see how Okafor will be utilized at the next level. His skill set will contrast the NBA’s seemingly abundant stockpile of centers with limited offensive talent and his high basketball IQ will be invaluable to whichever team drafts him. If teams double Okafor in the post, he has the vision to hit teammates on the weak side with a quick flick of the wrist. He also has the ability to dribble out of a double-team, face up and assess the defense. It’s easy to envision Okafor backing down his defender in the post, while his teammates run a weak-side action away from him and once a double comes, Okafor skips the ball to the opposite corner. If he becomes a legitimate post presence and evolves into the primary focus of the defense, Okafor’s value to his team will be much more than a one-dimensional, back-to-the-basket player.
Why He’ll Fail
Okafor’s deficiencies come to light on the defensive end and when you turn on the film it’s easy to see how scouts have picked apart his game over the past year and labeled him as “lazy,” “uninterested” and “sluggish.” Okafor struggles to defend the pick-and-roll and hasn’t shown the ability to constantly hedge out to cut off point guards or rotate quickly enough to help a teammate down low. The Duke product has a long frame and a wingspan that’s actually longer than presumed No. 1 draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns, but because he plays below the rim his defensive potential is a question mark.
These drawbacks are concerning when you consider how the center position has evolved over the last couple decades from offensive to defensive, especially after Cleveland and Golden State routinely went to small-ball lineups without traditional centers or even power forwards in the NBA Finals. Will Okafor be able to stay on the floor and guard opposing front-court players if a team decides to go small? Will he be able to help and recover on ball screens like modern-day big men are asked to do? What Golden State did by winning a title was show a glimpse of what the future holds for the sport, one where positionless basketball and constant motion are the foundation of both offense and defense. Can Okafor grow into a player that can fit into that type of mold and stay on the floor when teams go small?
Draft or Pass?
If this draft happened ten to 20 years ago Okafor would be the surefire No. 1 pick, someone who can come into the league and be an impactful offensive player from the get-go. However in today’s NBA small-ball lineups are the present and the future. Can Okafor be the one big that is spaced by four shooters as many modern-day NBA offenses are constructed? He can, but in that scenario he’s asked to be a defensive stopper at the rim and someone his teammates can funnel the defense to, which is not the player he currently is. What’s going to determine Okafor’s success and potential is how he develops on the defensive end and if he can be relied upon as the last line of a defense.
Its obvious Okafor’s talent is there and his offensive skill set on the block may be a generational talent, but if there’s one player in the top portion of this draft who I’m on the fence about, it’s Okafor. This is mostly based on the fact there aren’t a lot of players who are similar to him in the league right now. If Okafor projects as an Al Jefferson type and is strictly an offensive player who gets killed on defense, you have to wonder if he’ll be a reliable option to close games. Because of his offensive talent, Okafor is a “draft,” but the team that does should do it with caution due to his major concerns on defense.