NBA Draft: Jahlil Okafor hopes to be the next Tim Duncan


NBA Draft: Jahlil Okafor hopes to be the next Tim Duncan

When Jahlil Okafor was born in Fort Smith, Ark., Tim Duncan was nearly 1,000 miles away in the middle of his first of two All-American seasons at Wake Forest.

Less than two years later, in 1997, Duncan was selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs, embarking on a Hall-of-Fame career that has included five NBA titles, two regular-season MVPs, three Finals MVPs and 15 All-Star appearances. And during throughout his historic career - one that is expected to continue as Duncan enters his 19th NBA season - Okafor watched from afar, growing to idolize one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Now ready for his own name to be called at the NBA Draft 18 years later, Okafor hopes to mirror what his idol accomplished for whichever team selects him as the face of their franchise Thursday night.

"I just love everything that he does and the way he carries himself on and off the floor, that's a guy I always look at," Okafor said of Duncan at Wednesday's draft media availability. "For as long as I've been alive he's been in the NBA. So he's been a consistent guy for me to look up to."

It's no surprise, then, that Okafor has drawn comparisons to Duncan. The Chicago native has been touted as having the best offensive post game seen in a college recruit since Duncan averaged 20.8 points on 60 percent shooting as a senior. Okafor, as a freshman with Duke, averaged 17.3 points on 66 percent shooting, using a variety of lethal inside moves and soft finishes that made him look more like a 10-year NBA veteran than a kid a year removed from his senior prom. Okafor said he has no doubts about his ability to score at the next level and he's an apt passer, too, making the right decision when double teamed in the post by averaging 1.7 assists.

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The consensus All-American averaged 15.0 points on 63 percent shooting in six NCAA Tournament games, and though he was limited by foul trouble against Wisconsin in the national championship game he went back to that inside scoring prowess late, hitting a pair of layups in the final 3 minutes as the Blue Devils pulled away to win the program's fifth national title.

In an era where stretch forwards and small-ball are quickly transforming from trend to the norm, Okafor proved in his lone season there's plenty of value in a back-to-the-basket center who can score from the low block. It's why he's confident in his own abilities, whether he's able to show them off in Minnesota (first pick) or with the Lakers (second pick).

"I think there's always a place for a dominant big man," he said. "I'm a basketball player and I think I could fit in anywhere."

[NBA DRAFT: 2015 NBA first round mock draft]

And yet, for a player touting such an impressive skill set offensively, questions still surround the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center. His defense was put under a microscope all year long, as he struggled in pick-and-roll situations and, despite averaging 1.4 blocks per game, isn't considered a leaper with true rim-protector capabilities. He shot just 51 percent from the free throw line, and at this point in his young career hasn't had to expand his shooting range as he'll have to do at the next level.

But Okafor, playing in Durham for a year, is used to the nitpicking. And he believes some good will come out of it when he finally settles in to his NBA home.

"The best guys in the NBA still get criticized, (and) I'm not on their level, so I expect it," he said. "Especially playing at Duke, one of the biggest platforms in college basketball, the attention we get definitely will benefit me going up to the next level."

Okafor certainly will have personal goals at the next level, and his ability to score from Day 1 will make him a popular pick for Rookie of the Year. More important to him, however, is that he becomes the kind of player Duncan was, and not just in numbers and championships.

"I would like to be considered a true professional, one of those guys like a Tim Duncan, somebody who never really had any problems off the court," he said. "When people ask me what's the one player I'm looking forward to playing against I say Tim Duncan. I idolize him."

And in a few short months, the ultra-talented Okafor will get his chance.

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."