Ever since trading up to select Nerlens Noel in the 2013 draft, Sixers draft classes have been riddled with injuries. The likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and most recently Zhaire Smith have each missed most, if not all, of their first season with the team, forcing them to have to focus on rehabbing instead of being on the court. But the team and front office has shown a willingness toward being patient regarding rookie injuries in the past, and could do the same should they draft Auburn’s Chuma Okeke.
The sophomore forward began to rise up draft boards before tearing his ACL in the Sweet Sixteen, flashing his offensive versatility with a 12.0/6.8/1.9 line in 38 games. Okeke shot just a tick below 50 percent from the field at 49.6% on 8.9 attempts per game, but his ability to bury shots from long range (38.7%) is what has teams intrigued.
At 6’8” and with a 7’0” wingspan, Okeke’s high release point and quick trigger allows him to rise above closing out defenders to get his shot off despite a strong contest. He was best served as a spot-up shooter this past season, as 40 percent of his shots came off set jumpers while converting 1.182 points per catch and shoot jump shot, per Synergy (79th percentile).
Okeke’s shot chart indicates his mid-range game leaves a bit to be desired, with his role within Auburn’s offense funneling most of his shots from either beyond the arc or at the rim. But if his three point shooting stays consistent at the NBA level, Okeke could be effective in high pick & pop actions that give him a decent look from deep.
Coupled with his shooting ability, Okeke is also adept enough at putting the ball on the floor to attack close outs effectively. He has great timing on his pump fake off the catch to get his defender moving in one direction before diving into the lane, where he more often than not has the strength and athleticism to finish through contact. NBA level defenders will almost certainly provide greater resistance on the drive than Kentucky’s P.J. Washington does in the clip below, but Okeke’s physical tools give him the upside to be a considerable inside-outside threat for whichever team drafts him.
Another intriguing aspect of Okeke’s game is his patience and control in the post. He averaged 1.077 points per Post Up touch, putting him in the 92nd percentile for such possessions while shooting 58 percent (22-38) on shots from the post. Although he won’t able to impose his will as much on NBA bigs, Okeke could be used to create and take advantage of mismatches against smaller players with his back to the basket.
Defensively, Okeke has the physical profile to matchup with most 3s and 4s, but his on-ball defense could use some work. Although he allowed 0.606 points per isolation possession (75th percentile), he at times can struggle moving quickly side-to-side and staying in front of opposing guards, with faster players being able to blow by him off the dribble. Given how important it is to be able to switch virtually every position in today’s NBA, improving his lateral quickness, especially post-ACL surgery, will be important for Okeke to become a viable two-way player.
Where Okeke can add value on the defensive end is through his ability to get in passing lanes and protect the rim. His length and high basketball IQ allow him to do a good job anticipating where passes are going, averaging 1.8 steals per contest this season. Add that to his 1.2 blocks per game, and Okeke could develop into a serious defensive asset in a few years.
But if he’s going to log minutes at power forward, Okeke must improve as a rebounder. Of the roughly 17 power forwards entering this year’s draft, he ranks 11th in rebounds per game with just 6.8, and only 4.2 of those boards came on the defensive end. Regardless of whether he’s better suited playing small or power forward, the next step for Okeke to round out the rest of his game is to start getting after it on the boards.
Okeke was slated to go in the first round before his injury, with some mocks now having him drop into the second round. I’d be surprised if Philly took him at #24, but if he slips to #33 the Sixers should strongly consider taking him despite his injury history. He’d fill a need for a stretch big off the bench once he’s healthy, and could play an even bigger role down the line should Tobias Harris sign elsewhere.