ND Okafor was one of the most interesting players at the 2019 U16 European Championship B. The Irish basketball prospect played eight games and averaged 16.1 points, 14.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 5.0 blocks, 2.4 PFs, and 4.2 TOs while shooting 52.9% from the field. After this tournament, Okafor received offers from dozens of NCAA colleges but chose to play at NBA Academy.
Physical Tools & Approach
Okafor has great physical tools for a 17 year-old prospect. Standing at 6-foot-8 with a +5 wingspan and a fit frame. Okafor has great strength on his upper body, average width on his shoulders but a really strong, muscular chest and long and very strong arms. His general size and frame give him the opportunity to get stronger in the future if he puts in the work in the weight room. His lower body needs more work, especially his legs.
While Okafor is short for a Center, he’s not just a player who is embedded to the painted area, thanks to his ability to dribble the ball, excellent reverse spin skill-set and good body fakes. Despite not being a threat as a shooter, he has other ways to space the floor. In addition, his vertical pop, his ability to change direction in the air and on the ground, his body coordination, and his linear speed for his size make him a fluid and explosive athlete.
My concerns about him are more about his approach than about his physical tools. I mean, if Okafor fails to dominate his opponent offensive in one possession, he can force the issue in the next three or four offensive possessions. Of course, there some hits in these situations, but forcing the game is not something you want to see in general.
It wouldn’t be fair however to describe him completely with this label – a “force the issue” type of player, because he is not generally a selfish, score-first player. I do believe he needs to learn to use his strength and fluidity better. Especially if he wants to be the “one” in four + “one” sets at the NBA level, where he can act as a driver from the perimeter or a dunker-spot scorer thanks to his athleticism and dribbling ability.
The way the NBA is heading toward a position-less basketball the mental aspect will play an important part in his development process. I think this mental change will determine if Okafor can become a player in the mold of Pascal Siakam/Sekou Doumbouya/Luc Mbah a Moute. If he can’t learn to use his physical tools, plus, if he can’t shoot around 30% on 3-pointers he probably will become similar to Johnathan Williams.
Family background: Born to Nigerian parents. His father played basketball in Nigeria at his local school and his mother was a track athlete. His dad is 6’7” and his mother 5’10”. He has three sisters and one younger brother.
Beginnings in basketball: Growing up as a kid, he was playing soccer and he wasn’t as much into basketball as he is today, but he just kept growing and growing. He played basketball for his high school team as a freshman and just fell in love with the game.
About him: His favorite meal is chicken and chips. His favorite film era is the mid-90s and his favorite music is rap. Favorite series is the Money Heist.
Okafor does the majority of his scoring by creating offense inside the arc, where he can create with nice high dribbles, dive to the rim, crash the offensive glass and shoot from the mid-range.
As a post-up player, he’s able to dribble the ball, attack mismatches far from the rim and use fakes and spin moves to create space, then he’s able to finish with dunks or with solid touch. Okafor is right-hand dominant and he can turn around and finishes over both of his shoulders. While I don’t think he is a traditional post-up scorer, his up-and-under moves, quick and strong footwork, some body fake tricks, passing fake and great upper body make him a potential modern post-up scorer. Despite his ability to fight for the ball on the boards, Okafor could be more aggressive as a post-up player and learn how to play through contact.
Off-the ball, Okafor is a solid finisher who can play above the rim and catch lobs. He is not a highlight dunker, but it’s not necessary. He is active on the offensive glass and he has an amazing second and third (if needed) jump. Great jumper, high-level motor on his finishing. High release point on his around-the-basket finishing makes his shots difficult to block.
Okafor ability to create for himself on the interior creates a gravity effect, then he uses his average court vision to pass if he’s facing an intense defense. Not a perfect dribbler on the full-court, but he showed drive-and-dish ability on a number of possessions last year. I like his dribbling but his scoring identity is interior scoring.
Despite his flashes as a passer, just can’t really create for others and dish the ball consistently. As a passer and handler he needs to work a lot. I don’t think he is a turnover-prone big but sometimes he really makes bad decisions with the ball. Has to learn some fundamentals of ball-handling: step-hand coordination, eye-move balance.
Shooting is one of the main areas he needs to work on as he’s far from being able to hit behind the three-point line or even free throws, however he is a decent mid-range shooter.
Okafor possesses amazing qualities on the defensive end, both physical and instinctive. One of the best anchors in the 2003 international pool, Okafor does much of his best work defensively protecting the rim. Averaging 5 blocks per game at the 2019 FIBA U16 European Championships B, ND’s instincts and general ability to protect the rim are perfect in my opinion.
My favorite thing about his blocks is his balance. Okafor is not a defender who just blocks against back-to-the-basket, face-up or transition plays. He’s also a defender that can make perfect blocks by sliding to shooters after pick-and-roll plays. In these possessions, he combines his high vertical pop with good balance and to avoid fouling. Even when he can’t block his opponents, he completely covers his opponent’s angle to shoot. Apart from blocks, he knows very well when, where, and how to rotate around the rim. He’s not a perfect switch defender, but he can defend SFs, PFs and Cs well.
Okafor is very agile and his great lateral quickness give him quite an advantage in European competitions, where he’s rarely beaten on one-on-one offenses. Very active hands while pressuring the ball despite his size. His transition defense is also really good, he runs the floor very quickly and covers his opponent’s offense. Not a defender who has a great steal or deflection rate, but his length and level of activity help him make an impact.
The concerns with Okafor on defense are in terms of post-up, off-the-ball motor and help-defense. Lack of elite strength and footwork-IQ hurt his post-up defense. I would like to see him more aggressive, fight for positioning against post-up offense. Vocally he is downright awful, I have yet to see him communicate with anyone. He does also a poor job at help defense, just showed some weak-side blocks. He is a great, really, a great rebounder both on the offensive end and on the defensive end. He is just not a “size” rebounder, he uses his feel for the game, BBIQ and all physical tools to get the ball.
Will he improve his shot?
Will he go to the NCAA or the G-League after the NBA Academy?
How well will he be able to use his physical tools?
Will his motor run on the defensive end consistently?
Will he be able to keep up with offense without a ball?
I think ND Okafor is an excellent NBA prospect. The lack of ND’s shooting threat in the 2020s NBA trend is a bad thing but he can find his own shot off the dribble and he can play as a catch-and-finish scorer in off-the-ball motions. Has versatile athleticism. Sometimes he tries to do too much on offense, but he usually plays with BBIQ and offensive awareness. There is definitely room to improve on the defensive end against post-up and off the ball actions. He must learn to use his awareness and good-level motor consistently on the defensive end. Apart from that, he has a completely defensive package; the instincts and fundamentals remain a work in progress, but he has some unique building blocks.
If ND adheres to the NBA Academy’s principles of discipline, stability and sharpening talent, and improves himself, I think he can add an average shot to his offensive arsenal. This makes him a very special prospect. But another very important thing about his projection is how much he can develop physically. This will be important for his future.
He never hesitates from taking responsibility in critical moments, using his instincts for the game at the highest level, and leading his team to victory. I think his fundamentals will be invaluable at the NBA Academy because Okafor has a great talent pack. He just needs to take that step from raw project to professional. And he has a lot of time to do it.