By John Schmeelk
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The NBA draft is less than a month away, and with the Knicks picking fourth they’ll have a number of options available to them. Over the next four weeks, we’ll take a look at the 10 players that could come into play for Phil Jackson if he stays put or trades down.
Jahlil Okafor – Center, Freshman, Duke, 6-foot-11, 272 pounds, 19 years old
*Ranked as the best high school recruit by ESPN in 2014
Okafor was the consensus top pick for most of the season until Karl-Anthony Towns jumped in front of him towards the end of the season. A couple of disappointing games to close out the NCAA tournament, even though his team did win the championship, dropped Okafor’s stock further.
What we know he can do: Score in the low post. Okafor is the best post player to come out of college since Tim Duncan. He has great feet, can finish going left or right, hit the jump hook, execute power baseline moves and face up and sweep across the lane to finish around defenders using his quickness. He shot a ridiculous 66.4 percent as a freshman. He understands body positioning and angles, and at 272 pounds won’t get pushed around in the NBA. When double-teams came, which was often, he held the ball over his head with his huge hands and threw it over defenders to open teammates. He’s a very willing passer. He is a complete low-post player. His biggest (only?) offensive weakness is his free-throw shooting, which at 51 percent is a number that has to get better.
What he might do someday: He showed a little range on a short jump shot in college, including a banker from the wing that looked a lot like Duncan’s. If he could develop his range out to 15 feet it would make him absolutely unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball.
What we are worried about: Defense. Okafor had issues on defense during his freshman year at Duke. His rim protection was average, despite the fact he often played in the middle of a zone that should have provided ample opportunities to challenge offensive players at the rim. He only averaged 1.4 blocks per game. There is also a concern about his ability to step out on the perimeter and guard the pick and roll. He averaged only 8.5 rebounds per game despite being the biggest guy on the floor every night.
All of those issues reflect on his explosive athleticism. He does not explode in his jumping or movements, which might bring his ceiling lower than some of the other players in the draft. Often times during this past season he just wasn’t active enough. Some believe conditioning had something to do with it. After an ankle injury against North Carolina at the end of February he could no longer practice, which hurt his ability to stay in shape.
Whether or not Okafor can become a plus defender is what will define his career.
Off the court: There are no issues.
Buzz: Reports are that Okafor has gotten in far better shape than he was in at the end of the season, and his workouts have been impressive.
Floor: Al Jefferson – excellent offensive player that hurts you on the defensive end.
Ceiling: Tim Duncan and a Hall of Famer, if he can improve his defense, free-throw shooting.
Fit on the Knicks: He would be the dominant post player you can run the triangle offense through. He is a perfect fit for what the Knicks are trying to do, playing inside-out. Post players can still have a huge impact in the NBA if they are good enough, and Okafor certainly is. He can dominate games.
How do the Knicks get him: Most assume that Okafor is going to be off the board to the Lakers at No. 2, and be their next franchise big man. Right now it seems more likely than not. Things can change, however. There are players with arguably higher ceilings than Okafor, if teams are scared away by his lack of explosive athleticism. If Emmanuel Mudiay blows away the Lakers in a workout, he could jump Okafor. If D’Angelo Russell wows, he also could move up.
Considering the Sixers have Dario Saric and Joel Embid in their organization, the chances of them taking Okafor are very slim. If Okafor can get past the Lakers, he would be available for the Knicks at No. 4.
Prediction: When’s the last time the Knicks caught a break in the draft? Okafor will go second overall to the Lakers.
Next time, we’ll tackle D’Angelo Russell.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk