For a long time, a lot of people assumed that Jahlil Okafor would be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. As it turns out, though, Okafor wasn’t drafted No. 1. In fact, he wasn’t even drafted No. 2. No, those honors went to Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, respectively.
That Towns, who had gained steam in recent months, went No. 1 was not surprising. But Russell at No. 2? Well, yes and no.
“Listen, if you believe in star power, Russell’s got that,” CBSSports.com national columnist Gary Parrish said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I liked Okafor better than anybody in this draft, including Karl-Anthony Towns, (but) I totally get why you would go Russell in L.A. I’ve said for a long time – and maybe I’m just sort of hedging my bets here – but I would take Okafor No. 1, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Russell turned out to be the best pro from this draft class. So I stand by both of those things. I would have gone Okafor, but again, if we look up in three years and it’s clear Russell was the right pick, it will not surprise me in the least.”
Okafor was taken third overall by the tank-now, win-never Philadelphia 76ers. What will the 76ers do with the Duke product?
“Well, what do they do with him, who knows?” Parrish said. “A lot of it’s going to be determined by is Joel Embiid healthy? Can he ever be a significant big? We’re not even sure if he’s going to be able to open training camp with them. We just do not know the future there. If you get a healthy Embiid and a healthy Okafor, can you play them together? I’m not real sure. But that’s something to worry about later. Because if you do get a healthy Okafor and a healthy Embiid, you’ve at least got some pretty big assets that can be easily moved.
“But listen, I’ve said this many, many times,” Parrish continued. “Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Lyles – all these freshmen that you saw in the draft, they’ve been playing against and with each other since forever since they’re like 14, 15 years old. And at every turn, everybody agreed Okafor was the best prospect of the group. Heading into the freshman year of college, who’s the best one? Okafor. Then it was a year. Who’s the best one? Okafor. So what happened? The kid averaged 18 and 8 in college, won a national championship and somehow slips from 1 to 3, so it’s a pretty bizarre thing.
“Again, I’m not calling it dumb because I really like Towns and I really like Russell. But if you’re Philadelphia and you’re able to get a true big-body center with an array of offensive moves, terrific feet, terrific hands – and with the third pick – I don’t care how he fits with you roster. You got to feel pretty good about that.”