Utah Jazz: KZ Okpala offers intrigue as a late first-rounder

Former Stanford standout KZ Okpala may be raw offensively, he’s got size and athleticism that could make him a draft-night steal for the Utah Jazz.

On Sunday, the Utah Jazz had their biggest day of pre-draft action yet, welcoming in two different groups of prospects for workouts, including multiple potential first-round picks.

For me though, it’s mostly significant because it’s the day that KZ Okpala came in for his audition for Jazz brass.

Okpala made a major impression on me back in January when his Stanford Cardinal pushed my Utah Runnin’ Utes to the limit. Stanford was winning late, before a Utes comeback put them in the driver’s seat, that is until Okpala nailed a big 3-pointer to even the game at 66 with just over a minute left.

Ultimately, Utah held on for a 70-66 win, their first in Palo Alto in more than four decades, but Okpala scored 22 points in the game and had the look of a big-time player at the next level. And, despite his somewhat quirky jump shot and raw offensive skillset, he could exceed expectations as a likely late first-round pick.

He has the physical tools to develop into an impact player on both ends in the NBA.

At the NBA Draft Combine, Okpala measured nearly 6-foot-10 in shoes and boasted a wingpsan approaching 7-foot-2, which made him the second-longest wing player at the combine. That’s elite size and length on the wing, which is complemented by a respectable 37-inch vertical; he’s a perimeter guy, slasher and transition player in a big man’s body.

He utilized his physical gifts to score 17 points and grab six boards per contest for Stanford last season. He also made large strides as a shooter, upping his 3-point efficacy to nearly 37 percent after shooting in the low 20s on just one attempt per game as a freshman.

That said, he still has work to do as a shooter, mechanically and from a confidence standpoint. Okpala shot below 70 percent from the line during both of his years as a collegiate, which gives one pause about his ability to continue to improve and became a consistent threat.

He is, however, a fairly creative and effective finisher in the paint and at the rim at times. Although, one has to wonder if he’ll have a bit of the Alec Burks problem where numbers as a finisher don’t really jibe with his rep.

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Still, his athletic gifts and physical frame are lottery-level, and lead one to believe that he has big-time potential on both ends of the floor. He needs to become more skilled and, as it stands, there are some flaws in his game, but at pick No. 23, no one is a clear-cut home-run.

But you should still try to swing for the fences, if you ask me.

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