Draft Analysis: KZ Okpala

The Utah Jazz have the 23rd pick in the NBA draft, so I have started to breakdown some of the prospects that might be available to them at that spot ahead of the June 20th draft.

One name that has often been mentioned with the Jazz is Stanford forward KZ Okpala, the 6’9 combo forward who had a breakout sophomore season.

The first thing that jumps out about Okpala is his elite size. At 6’9, with a rumored 7’2 wingspan, Okpala has better than average height and length for his position even at the NBA level, and it’s very apparent at the college level. He towers over most players on the floor in college, and with the NBA relying less on 7 footers in the paint, his size should translate well to the next level.

His athletic fluidity is also at an NBA level, as he comfortably runs the floor, doesn’t waste steps, and seems to move with a purpose. He has good feet, can get out in transition, and doesn’t appear to struggle with his late blooming frame. He grew up playing guard before a growth spurt developed his nearly 7 foot frame, but still moves very well for his size. While he doesn’t have overly broad shoulders, I would be surprised if he struggles to add weight at the NBA level, he has a good frame that will continue to develop.

At Stanford he showed a developing handle, which will make him a threat with the ball in his hands, with a varied dribble series that should continue to develop. He’s a threat to get to the rim from the perimeter with one dribble, but doesn’t seem out of control if he’s forced to handle the ball more than that.

Right now, his best asset offensively is his willingness to use his length to his advantage, shooting over smaller players near the rim, or using his length to finish around the hoop. He’s good rolling across the paint for lay ups, or pulling up for 8-12 foot jump shots. He also displays nice footwork in the post, finding new angles to release his shot.

He does lack strength, and thats apparent when he tries to bang down low, and can be thrown off of his shot. Again, that will have to develop in the NBA, but I would be surprised if it’s a major issue long term.

His jump shot is a work in progress, though he did make an encouraging 37% of his three point attempts in his sophomore season in college. As a freshman, he shot just 22%, so it appears his shot is heading in the right direction. Still, he often misses badly from beyond the three point line, missing the rim entirely. Stretching his game out to the NBA three point line will be key if he wants to become a high level scoring threat at the next level. His 67% career free throw percentage doesn’t automatically allow you to assume that he will become a high level three point shooter, but his jump shot isn’t broken, and won’t need a major overhaul in the NBA.

Like most college players, he can get lost defensively, and struggles getting over screens, but his length and athleticism allows him to impact games on that side of the floor, and that should continue to develop. He’s a threat as a chase down shot blocker, and shouldn’t be a negative on that end of the floor as he ages.

I’ll be surprised if Okpala is actually available at 23 for the Jazz, and I won’t be surprised if he breaks into the lottery by draft night. His elite height and length are ideal for the NBA, and if he shoots well during his pre-draft workouts he’ll fly up draft boards.

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