Measured against his accomplishments, it might seem strange that Jahlil Okafor is seen as a divisive prospect. What more could he have accomplished in his freshman season at Duke? Capturing a national championship as a freshman centerpiece with great statistical output is a testament to the impact Okafor made on the college landscape.
Of course, the question is not necessarily what he's done, but where he goes from here. And that's the rub in selecting him second overall as the fake GM of the Los Angeles Lakers.
As the NBA continues to drift away from the days of plentiful, post-operating behemoths, players like Okafor are poised to take advantage and fill the void. He has everything you could ask for in a low-post big; he has moves and counter-moves, a reliable off-glass jumper whose range will expand with time, massive mitts that consume basketballs like vaccums. When teams are forced to double him, he has the vision and passing ability to put defenses on tilt.
Unfortunately, he also has to play on the other end of the court. From a statistical standpoint, Okafor was hugging both ends of the comparison spectrum for much of his freshman season:
Okafor's top NCAA stat-comps O/D separately: Off: S. O’Neal 92, G. Oden 07, Z. Randolph 01 Def: M. Doleac 96, M. Doleac 97, S. Pollard 95
— Layne Vashro (@VJL_bball) February 21, 2015
Because we only have one college season's worth of games to work with, it's hard to tell what that all means yet. You'd be hard-pressed to find an analyst who'd put Okafor in the same sentence as either a young Shaquille O'Neal or the irreverent Scot Pollard. The name that often gets thrown out as a comparison is Al Jefferson, and I don't think that's fair to Okafor, given both his ability and willingness to kick to open shooters out of the post.
The Big Al comp is instructive on some level, because Okafor's toolbox is especially polarizing in the pace-and-space era of the NBA. I've written about this before, and I think it's fair to wonder whether Okafor's strengths are worth betting your future on. Selecting him at No. 2 overall is an indication that you think he can be a foundational piece for your franchise; saying that about a big man with defensive flags is scary to say the least.
That's before mentioning the dodgy fit with last year's lottery selection, Julius Randle. Selecting solely on fit is a fool's errand, but ignoring it altogether while using high-value picks is dangerous as well. Pairing Okafor and Randle defensively -- with an aging Kobe Bryant on the perimeter -- could create a layup line for opposing teams.
So why is the pick still Okafor?
I still believe he has several elite skills that you can bank on him using to his advantage. The word "safe" has somewhat unfairly taken on a negative connotation with regards to the draft; you shouldn't go around drafting guys like Doug McDermott based on the premise that "you know what you're getting," but it's a great thing to have confidence in projecting Okafor's post game, touch and tools at the next level.
His defensive red flags concern me, but if there's a franchise I could see finding a way to overcome them, it's the Lakers.
Love them hate them or hate them, they are and will likely always be a prestige franchise. They have a history of great, glamorous players and a location suited for the needs and desires of young millionaires. Recent swoon or not, they have as much to sell free agents on as any franchise in the league. If there's anybody who can lure a supporting cast that will accentuate Okafor's strengths and hide his weaknesses, it's the Lakers.*
This year's Sam Hinkie impostor is Matt Carey, who is now tasked with selecting for the Sixers tomorrow at No. 3. The bigs are off the board, and things are about to get real.
*Someone please light me on fire for writing this paragraph