Jahlil Okafor: From Magnificent Mile To No. 1

For the second release in a row, Jahlil Okafor tops the 2014 player rankings. What separates Okafor from his competition? Who does he compare to? Rob Harrington breaks down the 6-foot-10, 270-pound big man.

There's an adage in sports that has proved worthy for more than a century: A good big man usually beats a good little man.

That's why, over the years, the nation's top basketball prospect frequently inhabits the post. And that's how Scout.com's No. 1 rising senior, 6-10, 270-pound Jahlil Okafor, has been able to fend off a potent challenge from elite point guard Tyus Jones. No one can know how the rankings will shake out by the time we issue our final version next spring, but Okafor's size thus far has served as the tiebreaker.

Okafor continues a proud lineage of Scout's previous top-rated centers. Names such as Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Greg Oden earned the top overall spot in this space and went on to achieve soaring collegiate heights and, more often than not, a high lottery pick in the NBA draft. Okafor competes with a style distinct from that trio but hopes to perpetuate the tradition.

Oddly, for a guy who's been a national name for several years, Okafor has struggled to capture his home city's attention. Class of 2013 forward Jabari Parker enjoyed consensus opinion as Chicago's top prospect throughout his prep career, obscuring his younger Mac Irvin Fire teammate under the cloak of his own eminence. But now that the Duke-bound Parker has graduated, and given that Okafor has created slight separation between himself and fellow Chicago center Cliff Alexander, he'll stand tall in the Windy City for the next nine months.

What can fans expect him to accomplish during that timeframe? Okafor's dominance lies with his size, strength and skill; he'll never capture imaginations with his YouTube highlight reels. And unlike last year's No. 1, Andrew Wiggins, he won't generate as many murmurs in a crowd. Okafor inspires fewer dropped jaws and more nodded heads. He's a big man's big man, an homage to the beastly 1980s post anchors like Patrick Ewing and (H)akeem Olajuwon.

But it's a player from the following decade — Michigan's Chris Webber — who may elicit the most striking comparisons. Okafor doesn't possess quite as much athleticism as the young Webber, but he does boast outstanding hands and nimble feet for a power player. He also shoots well from diverse angles and can finish either above the rim or expertly off the glass.


Okafor is Scout.com's No. 1 player
Okafor relies heavily on a spin move to go baseline and incorporates finesse along with his immense size. He turns free throw opportunities into and-ones because he's so adroit with his left hand, scoring through even hard fouls and making it look easy.

His full skill set includes fine interior passing and a jump hook with range to eight feet. He's no face-up dynamo with flashy dribbling abilities or three-point shooting range, but there remains a place in the game for a classical center. And if there's any doubt, simply watch him play and you'll likely receive a reminder.

On balance, Okafor doesn't draw quite the same raves as Davis, Oden and others. He lacks the same explosive straight-up leaping ability compared with those recent predecessors, and he doesn't run as speedily or move his feet as well away from the basket. If Davis represents today's prototypical, rangy big man, Okafor brings a more traditional style to a modern application.

Offensively, anyway, he may carry the most complete game of any big man to play in the past few cycles. Simplicity doesn't preclude dominance. He also should become a fine defensive center and elite rebounder on both ends of the court, and obviously he won't enter college physically underdeveloped like so many of his peers.

There's this recruiting thing to monitor, too. His list includes Michigan State, Duke, Ohio State, Arizona, Baylor, Illinois, Kentucky and Kansas, and Okafor continues to speak to the possibility — make that a probability — of attending the same college as Jones. Seasoned observers know that package deals ultimately crumble more often than that, particularly given that the professional stakes are so high for elite prospects and no one wants to make a mistake.

But Okafor and Jones actually may be expanding their sphere of influence. Top-15 forward Justise Winslow recently has spoken about joining that duo in college, and in fact all three have scheduled a visit to Baylor for late August. Like most of today's top players, Okafor is savvy to social media and has learned to craft messages without revealing critical information. As was the case with Wiggins, Julius Randle and others from the 2013 class, educated (at best) guesses may become the rule heading toward decision day.

But no one need guess about his potential. True, NBA-minded observers legitimately may question whether his sub-elite speed and leap will prevent him from becoming a true superstar at that level. As a baseline, however, Okafor should become an instant impact performer for the duration of what's likely to be a brief stay in college, followed by ample professional success.

In the meantime, here's to a healthy and thriving month for the nation's No. 1, followed by a legacy-making senior year in Chicago.


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