Would Jahlil Okafor Be a Lottery Pick Right Now?

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

McDonald's West All-American Jahlil Okafor, of Chicago, competes in the skills contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest at the University of Chicago in Chicago, on Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
Andrew Nelles

Chicago's next big prospect, Jahlil Okafor, has been on the radar of college and NBA scouts for years, but he formally introduced himself to the country on Wednesday at the 2014 McDonald's All-American Game.

Thanks to his massive physique and skilled interior presence, the Duke-bound high school senior is already a promising NBA specimen. Heck, if it wasn't for the one-and-done rule, the McDonald's Co-MVP might be skipping his collegiate opportunity and joining the Association.

What if he could jump prep to pro? With all the talk revolving around the big names of the 2014 draft, it's interesting to examine where a prodigy like Okafor would stack up.

If it was allowed, would he be a lottery pick right now?


Physical Tools and Mobility: More Than Enough

Andrew Nelles

Standing 6'11" with a 7'6" wingspan and a 270-pound frame, Okafor owns as much bulk and length as any NBA executive could hope for.

Okafor was a man among boys during his last couple years at Whitney Young High School, using his presence to dominate and win Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year honors.

It's safe to say he'll be a colossus at the college level. His standing reach is 9'3", which means when he posts guys up, all he has to do is turn, shield with one shoulder while making a quick burst to the rim.

Okafor is not the springiest leaper, and he definitely doesn't earn his buckets by jumping out of the gym. However, his drop-step is surprisingly quick and powerful, and before you know it, he slams it home and is already jogging back on defense.

Watch him render the defense useless with his combination of strength and speed:

Okafor can also run the floor extremely well for a 270-pound behemoth. Once he became more coordinated in his massive frame, he was much more effective in the fast break and secondary break, and he was also more effective as a transition defender.

At a practice during McDonald's All-American week, he impressed ESPN recruiting scout Reggie Rankin:

Sometimes, when a larger-than-life big man is still in high school, he gets by merely on size and isn't able to take advantage of transition opportunities. Okafor has surpassed that stage, and he's consistently going end to end to create any one-on-one post-ups that might be available.

Would physical tools alone be enough for him to make the jump to the NBA? No, and we even saw him get stymied a couple times by opposing big men in the Mickey D's game. But this combination of size, length and mobility is exceptionally rare.


Skill Set: Quickly Developing at a High Level

Physical tools are only as good as a player's skills allow them to be, and fortunately for Okafor followers, he's got a promising collection of moves on both ends.

We've seen his highlight-reel dunks, but there's much more to his game. On post-ups, he's superb with the right-hand baby hook and flip shot, but he can also effectively turn for a lefty finish when the defense shuts that down. He put that ambidexterity on display during McDonald's practice.

Okafor also has the footwork to catch, turn and face his defender and attack off the dribble. He's not outrageously skilled in this department, but in one-on-one scenarios, he's more than agile enough to get the job done.

Jump shooting is an area he's been expanding lately. While he doesn't have terrific range, he can certainly knock down 10- and 15-foot jumpers when the defense give them to him. His form and delivery are pretty smooth, and his shooting efficiency and range will only get better with time.

Okafor is also becoming more alert and better as a situational player. His increased court awareness has allowed him to grab more rebounds and efficiently pass to the open man.

He put his repertoire on display last summer at the FIBA U19 World Championships, where the competition was decidedly stiffer than high school.

The FIBA footage also gave a glimpse of his defensive capabilities, and additional film reveals that he's got great timing as a shot-blocker and improving footwork as a low-post defender.

One ESPN analyst (subscription required) said, "Defensively, he is learning how to be a dominating presence." Okafor's defense wouldn't stand out at the next level immediately, and he would have trouble with the athleticism of some forwards, but he would hold his own in post-up scenarios.

Overall, NBA decision-makers would look favorably on Okafor's game if he was a 2014 prospect.

His low-post skills aren't incredibly advanced at this point, but you can see the building blocks of smooth, effective work as a scorer and passer. Draft Express video analyst Mike Schmitz has been high on the big fella for a long time: "Saw Okafor at Adidas Nations last year. Great size, strength & length. High skill level. Can pass. Great hands. Monster on the glass."

The great thing about him value-wise is that, even though he's young, he's not raw like most 18-year-old big men. He could help out in the rotation immediately.



John Konstantaras

One of the biggest concerns revolving around youngsters (especially high-schoolers) making the jump to the NBA is the mental side of things on and off the court.

Compared to most prep-to-pro phenoms, Okafor seems well-adjusted and ready to take on huge responsibilities. He's well-spoken, level-headed and knows the magnitude of big-time basketball. In other words, he would be a class act in the NBA, and coaches wouldn't have to worry about him getting distracted by childish ventures (see: J.R. Smith). 

In a recent chat with David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, the young man showed that he knows the importance of focusing on the task amid everything going on around him.

Everybody's gunning for me...I like having that target on my back. I can handle it. I feel like I'm representing Chicago every time I go on the court, trying to show we do have a lot of positive things going on here.

He's at an age where most guys aren't the smoothest interviewees, yet here he is orchestrating an interview a few weeks ago with Duke's Rodney Hood. It gives you an idea of his maturity and people skills:


Bottom Line: Where Would He Land?

Given his entire package of size, expanding skills, court awareness and off-court maturity, he looks every bit the part of a lottery-caliber prospect right now.

Even in this year's strong, deep (albeit not earth-shattering) draft class, Okafor would likely challenge for a top-10 selection.

Without getting too bogged down in hypotheticals, you can make a case that he should be considered for a top-five pick. Outside of the sensational ceilings of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Dante Exum, there isn't anyone who really stands above Okafor in terms of value.

Is he a franchise savior or the next great NBA big man? It's too early to tell, and it's pointless to stick those kinds of labels on him at this juncture.

But we do know he possesses NBA size with a grown-man's game, and he's got a good head on his shoulders to make the most of his gifts.

He's the kind of kid who would be hard to pass up.


Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.

Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR