The Trail Blazers memorable postseason run might be over, but the the 2019 NBA Draft is right around the corner. Portland’s President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey currently has the No. 25 pick in the draft at his disposal and he will look to supplement the Blazers’ roster with a talented prospect in the latter stages of the first round. Today we look at the two-way potential of Stanford forward KZ Okpala.
- Height: 6’9”
- Weight: 210
- Wingspan: 7’1”
- Shooting Hand: Right
- Position: SF
- Age: 20
- Projected draft range: 21-35
- PPG: 16.8 | Per 40: 20.6
- RPG: 5.7 | Per 40: 7.0
- APG: 2.0 | Per 40: 2.4
- FG%: 46.3
- 3P%: 36.8
- FT%: 67.1
Bursting with potential, Okpala’s upside begins with his terrific frame on the perimeter. Due to his length and serviceable athleticism, the California native can bother players on the interior and exterior. Offensively, Okpala took significant strides to increase his efficiency in his second year. His three-point shooting elevated to a respectable standard, which allowed him to exploit hasty closeouts delivered by aggressive defenders. Once on the move, Okpala does a good job of using his length to his advantage when attempting shots inside the arc.
Okpala’s positives start with his physical gifts and his negatives start with his lack of polish. Even after a year of noticeable improvements, he must refine his ball handling and outside shooting. Despite increasing his three-point percentage as a sophomore, his free throw accuracy failed to achieve the same gains—which is a troubling indicator for prospects making the leap to the NBA. Okpala has the tools to be an effective slasher, but for right now, he is still a straight-line dribbler. When attacking downhill, he can get into trouble with turnovers and contested shots. At the next level, Okpala must find a way to create space instead of shooting over opponents.
Stanford’s 15-16 record last season didn’t drive a ton of coverage, but Okpala’s emergence did capture attention. After starting in 29 games, the 20-year-old forward earned a spot on the All-Pac-12 First Team. Okpala is embarking on an unfamiliar path in regards to his journey to the NBA. It is rare for Stanford players to leave early for the professional ranks. Okpala is set to join Robin and Brook Lopez on a short list of Cardinal players to make the leap to the NBA ahead of schedule.
Okpala has all the physical tools to thrive at a position of need in the NBA. If he returned to school and continued to improve his efficiency, he would likely be in the lottery discussion for the 2020 NBA Draft. With that in mind, the team that selects Okpala must have a clear plan to cultivate the under-developed parts of his game. Offense aside, his length should allow him to see the court in defense-first scenarios. Given the improvements he has already made in two seasons at Stanford, Okpala could blossom into a late-round steal for a contending team.
The Blazers are facing real questions when it comes to the future of their forward rotation. In the last two drafts, Portland has invested in guards and post players. It would make sense for the Blazers to take a long look at Okpala if he is still on the table when they are on the clock. His fit on the defensive end is obvious, but he will need time to develop into a reliable floor spacer on the other end. Coach Terry Stotts’ staff has shown they can extract every ounce of potential from post-lottery prospects—making Okpala an intriguing option for Portland.
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