Okafor performs like a top prospect shouldJahlil Okafor, a standout at Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young, has sat at the pole position in the 2014 class for quite some time.
While there are a handful of players, notably Myles Turner, Cliff Alexander and Stanley Johnson, making a play for the number one spot, Okafor certainly looked the part during the first open McDonald's All-American practice on Monday.
Okafor was aggressive inside and attacked the opposition every time he got a touch. His size and strength allowed him to consistently get terrific post position. Once he got the ball, he was quick and effective with his post moves.
Okafor's clear advantage over the rest of the big men in the 2014 class, is his ability to score on the block. None of the other big men in attendance are as consistent or as crisp with their scoring moves. His hands are terrific, as is his touch around the rim.
In practice, Okafor was going up against Thomas Welsh, who has made significant improvements to his game. At 7-feet tall, Welsh is a presence inside and tough to score over, but Okafor played with power, while also showing his finesse and finishing ability.
There's still another practice session, a scrimmage and the real game to be played, but Okafor is certainly off to a strong start in Chicago and is proving why he's currently ranked No. 1 in 2014.
Johnson shows versatilityOne of the standouts from Monday's practice in Chicago was no doubt Stanley Johnson. The 6-foot-6 Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei small forward showed up to practice with the same no-nonsense mentality he brings to games and it led to a successful morning.
Johnson started the day off doing most of his damage on the defensive end. He used his size, strength and athleticism to stay in front of his man, while also blocking shots on help side.
Once the west team started working on transition drills, Johnson's offense really came alive with his improved ball skills, ability to finish in contact and vision. He was tough to stop when he wanted to get to the basket, but also hit some outside jumpers and made multiple terrific passes for assists.
Johnson has made consistent strides as a player throughout his high school career and has become one of the most versatile prospects in the 2014 class.
Point guards are strugglingA dominant theme here has been the excellence of the big guys. The frontcourt isn't as athletic this year as it was 12 months prior, when Chris Walker and others jumped out of the gym, but centers and power players are getting touches and performing very assertively in the paint.
And to the extent they're distributing, the point guards deserve credit. That said, for the most part that position has been unable to notch much in the way of offensive impact.
Tyus Jones did get going late in the morning session, scoring on slick drives and using the glass very cleverly to avoid Cliff Alexander and other shotblockers. But even he played quietly relative to his reputation. He hasn't frequently gotten into the paint and also hasn't been consistent on defense.
After Jones, the East team doesn't have a true playmaker on its roster. Romelo Trimble appears the most likely to play that position in college, but he has done so here only in a platoon capacity. He accomplished some nice things today but remains more of a combo guard. Meanwhile, both Theo Pinson and James Blackmon — who also spent some portion of the practice at point — are pure wings.
For the West, neither Tyler Ulis nor Joel Berry has gotten into an offensive groove. Both are passing the ball laterally to more aggressive teammates, and neither has found his scoring touch to any consistent degree. That said, Ulis did begin to turn it on later in the session and Berry made some nice defensive plays. Still, every other West position has been more effective than the point guards.
And we haven't yet discussed Emmanuel Mudiay. Although he projects as a long-term point, Mudiay is playing off the ball at McDonald's to accommodate Ulis and Berry. They can't play on the wing and he can, so despite being the best talent of the trio he isn't able to play the way he's accustomed.