For a guy who could potentially go No. 1 in the NBA Draft after leading his team to a national championship, there are a lot of doubters about him. It all comes back to his defense — if you watched him look lost trying to defend the pick-and-roll back in January it was easy to picture him getting torched at the next level.
But PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson and others say his defensive issues are overblown. Certainly part of it was scheme — Duke couldn’t afford to lose his impressive offense, so they didn’t ask a lot of him on defense — but Isaacson adds that Okafor needs to show more of a mean streak on that end of the court.
Okafor says just wait, he’s going to get better on that end.
Here is what Okafor told Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com in a story about Okafor’s draft prep.
“I know I’m going to get better,” Okafor said of his defense. “I can get better at everything I do, and I always improve. I don’t think my defense was as bad as people made it out to be. We did win a national championship and all of my coaches were extremely happy with the way that I played on both ends of the floor. Also, I couldn’t get in to foul trouble and with the way our defense was set up, I wasn’t really in rim-protecting situations.
“Honestly, that is one of my flaws that I can improve on, but I can also improve on the offense end. Luckily, I’m 19 years old and I think I have a lot of time to improve my game. … I think a lot of people forget that a lot of us are still 18 or 19 years old. We’re put under the microscope and expected to be perfect, on the floor and sometimes even off the floor. Oftentimes, I do think people forget how young we actually are.”
There are very good reasons Okafor is going to go in the top two of the draft (the buzz is the Timberwolves still like him in the top spot, if not don’t buy the smokescreen out of L.A. the Lakers would take him). He’s already got better footwork and polish in the post than three-quarters of the bigs in the NBA. He’s going to be able to walk in the door and score.
He may never be a defensive stopper but if he can not be a liability he can be paired with better defenders and put in matchups that better play to his strengths. He’s going to have to work on that end, but he has shown a strong work ethic through his career (that post footwork didn’t develop itself).
And he is just 19. Maybe it’s a tad early to say who he is and isn’t yet.