In case you missed it, the Timberwolves are struggling. They have a 5-31 record, no quality veteran players who are healthy and motivated enough to play well, and are riding a 15-game losing streak. (!)
Inevitably, then, some of us begin thinking about the draft, and looking at the best college players, in hopes that one of them can help Andrew Wiggins and company resurrect this franchise that reached the playoffs every year from 1997 through 2004.
Also, in case you missed it, Jahlil Okafor of Duke is the most touted prospect in the anticipated 2015 draft class. He has size, listed on Draft Express at 6’11” and 272 pounds. His wingspan is 7’6″ and his standing reach is 9’3″. For a helpful comparison, consider the measurements (in DX’s awesome database) of DeMarcus Cousins, the league’s most dominant low-post force (by far): Cousins, as a prospect, measured at 6’10.75″, 292 pounds, 7’7.75″ wingspan and 9’5″ standing reach. If Boogie is physically overwhelming in the NBA at that size, Okafor — slightly taller, slightly leaner, with slightly shorter arms, will be plenty big to play as a low-post center.
But it is skill where Okafor stands out when you watch any Duke game. I’ve seen a handful, and without exception have come away impressed every single time. Put simply, he has the most advanced low-post game that I’ve seen in an NCAA center since Tim Duncan. He’s currently averaging 19 points per game on 68 percent field-goal shooting.
One play today, in Duke’s first loss of the season (Okafor had 23 points on 8-11 shooting, with 12 rebounds and 3 blocks) stood out as a good example.
Here’s a breakdown with fuzzy pictures taken by my phone of my TV.
- First, as Duke pushes the ball up the floor, Okafor is already feeling his man for position on the block. By doing this, no time needs to be wasted with ball reversals or screens to get him the ball on the block to start the offense.
* Next, Okafor makes himself available with strong post position and a target hand for his teammate to throw to. He catches the ball a bit further outside the paint than what is ideal, but that’s okay. He’s skilled enough to do his thing from 15 feet out.
- Here’s perhaps the best picture to show why Okafor will be the Number 1 pick in the draft. He’s a solid six feet outside the paint and is still drawing a full double team. He also has the attention of the strong side wing defender and the two weakside defenders, who are caught in limbo; 2 of them trying to cover 3 opponents. The NBA, despite the modern changes to zone restrictions, is friendlier to double-team magnets than college is. Okafor, drawing attention like this, will be a foundational offensive player.
- Recognizing the double team and the potential assist options across the court, Okafor takes a separation dribble to assess the floor. The help defender then retreats.
- With only one defender on him, Okafor simply went right back to work on the block, backing down his man into scoring position.
- Okafor pivots toward the baseline, away from the help defense to set up an easy baby hook.
- He kisses it off the glass for two points.
That was just one play, but it illustrates the main reasons why Jahlil Okafor is an unusual prospect, and has the look of a franchise post player destined for All-Star and All-NBA teams: size, strength, understanding of position and court awareness, and low-post scoring skills.
Duke and Kentucky are on national TV every weekend. If you ever find yourself feeling sad about the state of the Wolves and want a couple hours to feel more hopeful, I suggest tuning in. We’ll be drafting a big man this summer and there’s probably an 80 percent chance that one of them plays for those teams. (I’ll keep a closer eye on Kentucky as the season moves along. Basic early impressions are that Willie Cauley-Stein is a fascinating defensive player and that Karl-Anthony Towns’ hype exceeds what is currently happening on the floor.)
Anyway, go Wolves.