Bulls

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

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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.

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

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AP

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.