Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This evaluation centers on Stanford forward KZ Okpala.
Coming off of a first team All-Pac-12 season as a sophomore at Stanford, KZ Okpala chose to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. Most outlets are projecting him as a likely first round pick, but a lot of that projection is based upon his athletic upside and physical profile, not necessarily his current basketball skillset. He didn’t measure out as well in athletic testing at the NBA Draft Combine as he had probably hoped, but, in a collegiate setting, Okpala looked the part of an emerging prospect with just enough game at age 20 to be convincing that there might be real upside when considering his frame and athleticism.
Okpala is the definition of a 3&D prospect. He knocked down 36.8% of his three point attempts last season, which would work at the next level, but his perimeter shooting fell off during the second half of the 2018-19 NCAA season as he got increasingly inconsistent with his footwork.
He graded well, statistically, in the pick-and-roll but it’s very unlikely that he will get opportunities to operate in that action at the NBA level. He’s a right-handed shooter that prefers to dribble left whether working on the perimeter or in dribble penetration (Lou Williams is an extreme version of this).
Okpala is better in catch-and-shoot opportunities than he is shooting off the dribble which could indicate some reason for optimism that it will translate to what his professional role is likely to be.
In Stanford’s offensive system, Okpala would function on the perimeter when they were playing a “four out” scheme and would play at the high post when they were playing a “high-low” scheme. He struggled to be productive at the high post as he is a more natural player when operating in space.
He’s a below average finisher at the rim for his size, which might be cause for concern about how athletic he actually is. He’s also an average passer at best.
Let’s take a look at some samples of his play. It must be noted that these plays are reflective of the high impact plays he occasionally flashed and are not representative of his broader play, which was up and down.
This is a glance at his shooting motion from early in the season before his footwork got inconsistent. It’s nice, quiet and repeatable. His release point is high, which is part of what makes him interesting as a shooting prospect to NBA teams.
At times, when a close out defender would chase Okpala off of the three-point line, he would aggressively attack the rim as he does on this play. He had less success when a big defender would meet him there.
His length serves him well in the mid-range as well. If he plays at the small forward position at the NBA level, he should be able to consistently get shots up with consistency.
Here is a too frequent example of good result, bad process. He makes a tough finish at the rim over two defenders. An NBA team is going to want to see him deliver a pass to the open shooter in the right corner on a play like this.
Landing on the first team All-Pac-12 was a result of his offensive production. He wasn’t special on the defensive end of the court apart from a handful of highlight blocks at the rim.
He moves fluidly and with ease on defense. It’s easy to see why NBA teams with a solid player development track record could talk themselves into believing they could form him into an impact player on that end of the court. He’s 6’8 and 210 pounds with a nearly 7’2 wingspan, a physical profile that, in combination with his fluid athleticism, is hard to come by.
He looked his best as a defender at the collegiate level when he was using his defensive activity to initiate offense. He’s going to have to deliver on that type of impact play at the professional level to develop into a useful rotational player on a good team.
Okpala has the natural ability to grab and go and push the ball in transition. On this possession, he creates a wide open three-point look for a teammate.
When playing with energy, his elite length can enable him to get a deflection on a pass that looks safe. He’s next to impossible to track down once he’s ahead of the field in the open court.
This might be the single play of the season that captures to what interested NBA teams are responding. He, again, uses his length to deflect an otherwise harmless pass. This time he is not alone as he pushes in transition. He effortlessly uses a Eurostep to pin the defender under the rim for the easy lay in.
A team that is going to potentially invest a first-round draft pick on Okpala is going to be one that has strong belief in its ability to develop him into a significantly more skilled player than he is today. It will also have to believe that he will put in the work and embrace the right role for him in an NBA environment. It could end up being a worthwhile investment, but he has a long way to go.