76ers take Duke's Okafor with 3rd pick in NBA draft
Jun. 26, 2015
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers were thinking big yet again on draft night, selecting Duke center Jahlil Okafor with the third pick on Thursday night.
Okafor, 6-foot-11, 270-pounds, joins a frontcourt already stocked with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. Embiid was the No. 3 pick last year and missed the entire season with a broken right foot.
Noel also missed his first season because of injury, but Okafor should be ready to go as a rookie.
"I'm definitely used to being the centerpiece of a team," Okafor said. "That's what I've become accustomed to. That's what I've been."
A Sixers official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team was not publicly discussing their plans, told The Associated Press the team expects to keep Okafor and not use him as draft night trade bait.
Embiid quickly welcomed Okafor on Twitter, saying: "Aye my boy is in philly with me #AfricanConnection."
Embiid is from Cameroon, while Okafor was born in Chicago with a grandfather who immigrated to the United States from Nigeria.
Team president Sam Hinkie said the night of the draft lottery he did not anticipate trading the pick ahead of the draft, and wanted to keep stockpiling young players. They also have Croatian forward Dario Saric stashed overseas playing for the Turkish team Anadolu Efes.
"We're clearly building through the draft," Hinkie said in May. "We're clearly trying to find star players we can move forward with."
The Sixers hope they found one with Okafor. He was the 17th All-America pick at Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski and was also the first freshman in history to be voted player of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He helped lead Duke to a national championship.
Okafor averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in his lone season at Duke.
Okafor ranked eighth in the nation in field goal percentage (66.4 percent) and 19th in the country in offensive rebounds (3.53 orpg). He set Duke freshman records for double-figure scoring games (35), total rebounds (322), offensive rebounds (134) and dunks (64). Okafor scored 20 or more points 14 times and added 11 double-doubles.
"I think I'm a great teammate," Okafor said. "I became a better talker on the floor, being at Duke, being in leadership with Coach K, and I think I got better defensively as the season progressed."
His arrival could mean Embiid's role as a potential cornerstone is already in doubt without ever playing a game for the Sixers. Embiid not only didn't play, the Sixers said earlier this month the foot "revealed less healing than anticipated."
If Noel, Embiid and Okafor are all healthy and on the roster, the Sixers could have three playmakers — or might need another ball.
"It's not my job to figure out" how it will work, Okafor said.
The Sixers kept the ball rolling on big men for most of their second-round picks.
They selected international prospects Luka Mitrovic, Willy Hernangomez and Arturas Gudaitis. They also drafted Bowling Green forward Richaun Holmes and North Carolina forward J.P. Tokoto.
Philadelphia's first four picks in the second round were all centers/power forwards and all were at least 6-foot-10. Only Tokoto checked in under 6-10 and
Hernangomez wasn't sticking in Philly. A New York Knicks official said the team acquired draft rights Hernangomez for two future second round picks.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday night because the trade had not been finalized by the NBA.
The Sixers ended the season on a 10-game losing streak and went 18-64, one win less than 2013-14, when they matched an NBA record with a 26-game losing streak.
Okafor, whose mother died when he was 9, had his father with him at the Barclays Center for the draft.
Okafor becomes the 29th player under Krzyzewski selected in the first round of the NBA draft.
Associated Press writer Denis Gorman in Greenburgh, New York contributed to this report.