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NBA Draft Prospect Watch: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones Deliver Down Stretch to Win National Title

Duke’s Jahlil Okafor had a rough first 36 minutes of the National Championship Game against Wisconsin on Monday night. Missed bunnies, foul trouble and poor defense against Frank Kaminsky plagued Okafor for much of the game, but when the game hung in the balance, the potential No. 1 pick came up huge in a 68-63 victory that gave the Blue Devils their fifth national title.

Upon returning to the game in the final minutes, Okafor immediately went at Kaminsky in the post and hit the Badgers big man with a nasty move that left him helplessly trying to commit a foul. Instead, Okafor easily finished through the contact (something he hadn’t done all night) for an and-1, although he missed the free throw.

On the other end, Okafor finally was able to stay with Kaminsky in the post, blocking a shot and ultimately forcing a 35-second violation. Then, Okafor came up with a huge offensive rebound and bucket to give the Blue Devils a five-point lead with just over two minutes to go.

On the whole, this wasn’t a good performance from Okafor, as he had just 10 points and three rebounds in 22 minutes. While he shot 5-of-9 from the field, he started 3-of-7 and missed several point-blank looks at the bucket. Of course, that’s an outlier and not really indicative of his ability to finish around the rim.

The defense against Kaminsky was a problem, as that’s just a poor matchup for Okafor. Kaminsky hit Okafor with several nice moves in the post that Okafor couldn’t defend, and he picked up several cheap fouls because he wasn’t in good position to defend those moves. Kaminsky also had some great looks from outside and several more that he passed up. The Duke defense was better with Okafor on the bench and Amile Jefferson on Kaminsky.

Even so, it would be an overreaction to trash Okafor’s draft stock or pro potential because of what happened. He’s typically a superb finisher around the basket, and we figured he was going to have some problems against Kaminsky. Those defensive issues against versatile bigs are sure to be an issue in the NBA, but again, that’s not exactly a new problem. If anything, perhaps this reinforces the recent sentiment that Karl-Anthony Towns should be the No. 1 pick, but I can’t imagine it means much else.

While Okafor didn’t exactly have a standout game, there were some standout performances from Duke freshmen, although not by Justise Winslow. One was by Grayson Allen, the reserve guard who scored 16 huge points off the bench on 5-of-8 shooting. But Allen really isn’t a draft prospect this year, so we’ll leave that at that.

The freshman who really stood out for Duke was Tyus Jones. The point guard had 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and he hit big shot after big shot down the stretch. He knocked down two stone-cold treys in the second half, and he also helped ice the game at the line with two free throws and went 7-of-7 from the charity stripe for the game.

I haven’t talked much about Jones throughout this tournament, because the play of Winslow and/or Okafor has overshadowed him. But Jones deserves his props right now, and it’ll be interesting to see what he decides to do about the draft. DraftExpress immediately updated their prospect rankings after the game and has Jones at No. 21. He could very well just take this title (and Final Four Most Outstanding Player award) and bolt for the league with Okafor and Winslow, or he could try and boost his draft stock even more with those two gone and try and get into the lottery. I’m not sure there’s a wrong choice here.

As for Winslow, he was saddled with some foul trouble like Okafor and had 11 points and nine rebounds while shooting just 3-of-9 from the field in 32 minutes. Also like Okafor, Winslow missed a few chippies at the rim that would have made his line look much better. However, Winslow was strong defensively (when he wasn’t fouling), and he was Duke’s best overall player throughout the tournament. There’s no doubt he has helped himself, and he may go in the top five.

Over on the Wisconsin side, Kaminsky had himself an excellent game as mentioned, going for 21 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 7-of-16 overall and 2-of-4 from three. He seemed clearly worn down at the end of the game, but he left it all on the court. His skills were on full display and the way he went at Okafor was great to see.

Defensively, Kaminsky naturally had some problems in the post against Okafor, although the missed bunnies saved him. There was some nice rim protection in there (including one MASSIVE block) and a crafty steal against Okafor when it looked like he was beat for a layup, but Kaminsky is never going to be a defensive ace at the next level. The quickness, athleticism and strength just isn’t there, and we also saw some problems guarding pick-and-roll on the perimeter. But I’m convinced he has a place in the league just because of how skilled he is. He can play inside and out, and he can also put the ball on the floor. Some of what he does won’t work against pros, but he should be able to find a niche somewhere, and he could wind up going in the lottery.

Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes had rather uneven performances. Dekker had been absolutely on fire in the tournament, shooting 15-of-30 from three prior to Monday’s title game. There was some serious regression to the mean, with Dekker going 0-of-6 from three, including two air-balls. The forward managed to do some nice work in the paint on hustle plays and nice cuts, and he finished with 12 points and eight rebounds while shooting 6-of-15. His draft stock took a hit because of the poor three-point shooting, but he’s still a borderline lottery pick at this point because of his versatility.

Hayes had it going from three, knocking down 3-of-4 from long range. However, he missed several easy layups and only grabbed a single rebound in 37 minutes. Like Jones, what Hayes decides to do with his future will be interesting. The forward has helped himself over the course of this season, and he could be a first-rounder this year. On the other hand, he could go back to school and be “The Man” and possibly improve that draft stock even more.

 

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