During the Nike Hoop Summit, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said on air that he thought Jahil Okafor was capable of being thrown into an NBA game right now and log 10-15 minutes. This statement exemplifies the type of hype that surrounds the 18 year old Duke big man, the projected top pick in the 2015 draft.
Part of it is due to his physical profile. He was listed at 6’10, 272 pounds with a 7’5 wingspan at the Hoop Summit last April. If he were European, Okafor would be playing pro ball for a couple of years by now. As we saw him do at the U19 FIBA World Championships last year, when he posted a 41.2 PER in 128 minutes, he’s already able to play older competition.
His athletic ability translates into production on the boards and in transition. Okafor is a difficult body to box out or push around, and has proven able to reach the ball at a higher point than the average opponent due to his leaping ability and long arms. He grabbed 18.5 percent of available rebounds when he was on the floor in the U19 Worlds, which ranked him 12th.
Okafor is not a fast sprinter but gets up the court with ease and looks to present himself an option on the wing. That wasn’t the case just in the exhibition circuit (the McDonald’s All-American game and Jordan Brand Classic), but also in the more competitive setting of the Hoop Summit. He has even looked comfortable handling the ball on the break in a couple of instances, but doesn’t dribble with much speed and can really only go coast-to-coast if the opponent allows him to.
He appears an average pick-and-roll player at this point. Okafor is a good screener who looks to draw contact, and his wide body forces opponents to work to navigate around his picks. He fills the open spot with ease due to his natural agility but doesn’t cut hard to the front of the rim to suck attention. He has soft hands to catch the ball on the move and can finish through contact, but hasn’t shown to be much of a target for lobs yet.
It is not just the thick frame and athletic ability that are well advanced when you consider his age, though. Okafor is the owner of a very well developed post game, the type you don’t see that often even that the pro level in this day and age. His patience surveying the other eight players around him is incredibly impressive and his moves are all very fluid. Eighteen year olds usually have a go-to move they use often or you can notice them taking a second to think what exactly they are going to do. But not Okafor, who has a variety of ways to attack an opponent and makes his decision of which to use in a pinch.
Okafor can set deep position in the post, not only at the high school level but also against players who already log minutes in the pros like Nikola Jankovic and Nikola Milutinov, as you can see in the GIFs surrounding this paragraph. And he has great footwork, which he often puts to full use in a nifty spin move. Aside from that, Okafor has flashed a turnaround baby hook over his right shoulder, a face up power move where he uses his broad shoulders to move the defender and a fadeaway short jumper. Able to get separation due to his strength and with nice touch to finish at rim level, Okafor always (FIBA Americas U16, Worlds U17, Worlds U19, adidas Nations, Hoop Summit) shoots over 50% on a high number of attempts and hit 77% of his 57 shots last summer.
Okafor is not a black hole, and does look to pass out of the post with some regularity but those passes lead to more turnovers than assists. Though he has proven able to wait out double teams, he has not yet developed a sense for when opponents wait to double him when he starts his move and is prone to getting the ball stolen by smaller players. It happened a couple of times in the Worlds U19 final against Serbia last year. Another issue is his foul shooting. Okafor has consistently shot 50% on free throws the past two years.
He is also not as polished a defender as he is on offense at this point. Okafor simply doesn’t play with the same intensity on that end, which is common of players his age. Note on the GIF below how Vasilije Micic goes around Okafor with some ease even though he is guarding the pick-and-roll flat. Okafor has flashed solid lateral mobility but isn’t particularly comfortable showing and recovering in space as of now. Though he is able to play above the rim due to his leaping ability and long arms, Okafor has not blocked many shots in all these events he participated the last three summers.
Offensive talent always outweighs defensive effort at a young age, though, which is Okafor is as highly touted as he is at this point.
(Sam Vecenie contributed GIFs to this post)