Chikezie “KZ” Okpala - Stanford University
Small Forward/Power Forward, 6’9.5”, 210 lbs, 20 years old
46.8 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 67.4% FT%
27.2 MIN 13.6 PTS 7.2 REB 0.9 AST 1.0 STL 0.5 BLK 2.5 TOV
Random crazy fact - did you know that Stanford has won the NACDA’s Directors’ Cup for most successful overall athletics program (based on NCAA championships success) for 24 years in a row out of the 25 years it’s been awarded? (They were second in 1993-94). Stanford has had a lot of respectable basketball players, including current NBA players Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Dwight Powell, and Chasson Randle, and former players like Landry Fields, Josh Childress, and Jason Collins. It’s actually crazy how many Stanford players who made it to the NBA played for the Jazz: Adam Keefe, Jarron Collins, Curtis Borchardt, Rich Kelley, and Brevin Knight are probably semi-familiar names. Most of these guys played all four years at Stanford (with the exception of the Lopez brothers). Will KZ join that list of Stanford Jazz players?
KZ Okpala might be the prototypical 3 in the NBA: a rangy stopper, with incredible physical measurements. At the combine, he clocked in with a body fat percentage of 4.60%, crazy wide wingspan of 7’2”, standing reach of 8’10.5”, and a vertical leap of 37 inches. One scout described him as a “longer Trevor Ariza” or “Bruno Caboclo but way more skilled”. He’s always been a great scorer, showing off a great slashing ability and creativity at the basket, especially in transition. His shooting also really improved from his freshman year into sophomore year, with his 3PT% going from 22.6% to 36.8%.
For all of his physical tools, he didn’t show many of them off, particularly on the defensive side. While he generally took the hardest assignment on the perimeter, he didn’t block a lot of shots or get a lot of steals. Offensively, he needs to become a better playmaker (definitely more than 0.9 APG) rather than a shotmaker, and his college free throw percentage of 67.4% is a bit worrying. In spite of his large frame, he plays much more like a shooting guard both offensively and defensively, which may not be what teams want out of him in the future as the league gets smaller.
Q&A with Grant Avalon from Rule of Tree
I linked up with @Grant Avalon, Stanford alum and basketball writer for SBNation sister site Rule of Tree, for some deeper insights into KZ’s game. Responses are Grant’s.
What strengths of KZ Okpala will translate well to the NBA?
KZ’s a gifted slasher, which is even more impressive considering how teams clogged the paint against Stanford. At 6’9” he can get into the lane and is a creative finisher. He won’t be asked to do that as often as he was in college, but he could really flourish as a secondary creator, particularly given NBA spacing.
His physical gifts also give him a great shot. As a freshman he was the Cardinal’s stopper, locking down a variety of the better perimeter players in the Pac. He’s long, rangy, and can move his feet. He took a step back this season on that end of the court, but part of that could be the increased role in the offense. Teams will undoubtedly like his upside as a defender, and his overall versatility.
What weaknesses of KZ’s will need to be improved in the NBA?
The most obvious thing is shooting. He shot 37% from deep this year, but was around 20% over the last 13 games. His form improved year over year, but it still has a bit of a hitch in it. Analytics say that free throws are the best predictor of shooting at the next level, and he was sub 70% in each of his two seasons on the Farm.
His feel for the game isn’t always the best, either. Coach Jerod Haase often stressed that he needs to get better at making plays for others when the defense collapses on him. He also missed the extra pass on many occasions due to tunnel vision and habitual jab stepping. Defensively he can get caught sleeping at times, and gambling at others.
What role do you see KZ being in the NBA?
He’s a bit of a project, but the hope for KZ is that he can turn into a versatile 3/4 that allows you to get creative with lineups and go small. If he puts some weight on, his upside is something like a Siakam. I fully expect his career to start as inauspiciously as Pascal’s did. The good thing is he’s a great guy, a perfectionist, and will undoubtedly put in the work.