Preview - Dwight Howard/Emeka Okafor

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

How do you make a choice between Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor? Until recently, Okafor seemed to be a consensus number one pick, and Howard was projected in some mocks to even drop as low as fifth or sixth. Yet in the last few days and weeks, Howard and his agent have launched a monstrous campaign, and Howard has said Carmelo-esque things about himself, comparing his game to a combination of Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan just for example, that people may have subconsciously taken as facts.

The typical consideration is do you want help now, or for the long term? The cliches have that Okafor is better able to step in and contribute right away, but Howard may have a higher ceiling. Character is not an issue with either player. Both are well-grounded and not, to use a technical term, knuckleheads.

Okafor has been plagued by people underestimating his offensive game. He is widely thought to be a shot-blocking defensive center more in the mold of Ben Wallace than Shaquille O'Neal. Yet he did average 20 points in college, where he was not necessarily the primary option on every play. You can't average 20 points a game on just putbacks.

The two other big knocks on the big fella are his height (about the same as Wallace, surprise surprise) and his back. Every team that has had medical personnel look at him has, to my knowledge, come away thinking there's nothing wrong. Okafor missed only a handful of games. His back is fine. Anybody can get injured but his back is fine. It's probably in better shape than McGrady's anyway, and there's no shortage of suitors for his talents.

My favorite quote by Emeka Okafor came in today'sGreenwich Time, a Connecticut newspaper, in an article that focuses both on Okafor and his teammate Ben Gordon. The two are looking to become the first pair of UConn players ever to both be taken in the lottery in the same draft. The quote itself was an answer to the persistent question of how he would feel about moving to Charlotte if Orlando drafts Howard first. His answer?

"An expansion team would be a struggle and a challenge," he said. "In college, I wrote a paper on leadership using Plato and Machiavelli as examples. With Plato, leadership was an innate quality. Leadership from within. Machiavelli was all about wheeling and dealing in terms of leadership." I like this quote for three reasons. One, it educates me about Plato and Machiavelli. Two, I like the comparison. Three, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the question asked.

It's so hard to avoid answering a question that reporters ask you. You can't just keep ducking it and ducking it, or hiding. You have to face the music. The key secret is to give anecdotes or quotable words that border on answering the question, or at least address the topic, but without specifically saying anything. It's a fine talent to have.

Okafor is a smart guy. He did not drop out and miss his last year of college: he graduated. And he didn't graduate in some "phony major" to quote the Simpsons, like communications, but he did it in finance.

Now, maybe I'm biased because I'm based in Connecticut and my background is finance. Maybe I'm biased because I'm a journalist who likes getting good quotes from players even if the answer doesn't exactly answer the question asked. Maybe I'm biased because I'm a big fan of Bill Russell, whose trademarks were leadership, winning, and intelligence. Maybe I'm biased because I'm turned off by people who talk big about themselves and compare themselves to the greatest players on earth, rather than letting the fans make those comparisons.

Maybe I'm biased because Emeka Okafor has earned Larry Brown's blessing and will join Team USA this summer.

Or maybe at #2, Emeka Okafor is the steal of the draft.

GM Bernie Bickerstaff is putting out feelers for another mid-round pick to try to land Jameer Nelson.

Note that the Bobcats still don't have a point guard. Could they be thinking about Atlanta's Jason Terry? If they swap and Orlando selects Okafor, the Bobcats could use the sixth pick on a big like Andris Biedrins and have a good shot at Nelson, or perhaps Devin Harris, with the seventeenth pick. Then their backcourt troubles are over.

To recap: Charlotte drafts second tonight. They also draft 45th because they traded Zaza Pachulia, whom they selected in the expansion draft, to Milwaukee. The Bobcats also have a future first-rounder owed them by Cleveland in exchange for Aleksandar Pavlovic, also taken in the expansion draft. Finally, they have a future first round pick from Phoenix in exchange for taking Jahidi White off their hands.

From their web site: Be a part of history when the Bobcats make their first-ever draft pick live at the Charlotte Coliseum on Thursday, June 24 as a part of free Bobcats Draft Party. Festivities tip off in the parking lot at 5:30 p.m., before moving inside for live coverage of the NBA Draft at 7:00 p.m. The entertainment lineup includes “The Pick”, plus appearances by Rufus Lynx, the Bobcats Expansion selections, the new dance team and the NBA Jam Van.


David Whitley ofThe Orlando Sentinelwrites: Okafor will be good, maybe real good. Howard could be great.Then again, he could become the next Brown, Tyson Chandler or DeSagna Diop, high-school monsters who may never get the pacifiers out of their mouths. Then again again, he could become the next Kevin Garnett. Therein lies the mystery, the allure, and the risk. Every high-school pick has the physical promise. The key is figuring out which ones aren't knuckleheads. Howard seems about as safe a bet as any 18-year-old... It will be harder to go wrong with Okafor. But things could really go right with Howard. 

John Denton ofFlorida Todaywrites: Magic general manager John Weisbrod has played it straight for weeks, saying the franchise could live with picking either player. But Weisbrod also might have interest in trading down to second in the draft if it meant acquiring an established NBA veteran while still ending up with the player the Magic preferred among Howard and Okafor.Charlotte general manager/head coach Bernie Bickerstaff has professed his fondness for Okafor for weeks and even admitted recently that if he had the No. 1 selection, he would snatch up the 6-foot-9, 257-pound Okafor without hesitation.

John Denton ofFlorida Todaywrites: They [Orlando] like Okafor but are afraid to not take Howard and his enormous potential; could flip-flop with Charlotte and still get Howard.

Jenna Fryer ofThe Associated Presswrites: The Charlotte Bobcats would like more than just the second overall selection in the NBA draft, and are talking with several teams about trading for another first-round pick.Bernie Bickerstaff said he has spoken with fellow executives from New Orleans, Miami, Denver and Utah about possible trades to obtain a mid-first round pick in tonight's draft. "We've put out our tentacles, and anywhere from (No.) 18 to 21, we've made some inquires," the coach and general manager said Wednesday. "It's all contingent, a lot of 'If my player is not there, then there is a possibility we'll trade.' But we've put it out there."

Darin Gantt ofThe Rock Hill Heraldwrites: After coming through the expansion process without a single point guard among the 19 players selected, the team is openly looking to trade for another first-round pick to find an answer at the position.Their preference would be to land St. Joseph's Jameer Nelson, the undersized national player of the year. But since he fears Nelson is going to end up in Cleveland with the 10th pick, Bobcats coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff has expanded the search. They also liked Connecticut's Ben Gordon and Wisconsin's Devin Harris during the workout process, and if one was available in the middle of the first round they might make a move.

Vince Murray ofThe Ocala Star-Bannerwrites: If you are a Charlotte Bobcats fan or were thinking of becoming one, hold that thought ... until about 2010 . . . maybe longer.The National Basketball Association should be embarrassed, ashamed, in disgrace over their expansion draft offerings to the newest NBA team. Throw in today's rookie draft pick - assumed to be Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor, and Bobcat fans figure to be in for a long wait - just to be competitive, much-less playoff caliber. But hey, that's just my first impression.

Rich DePreta ofThe Greenwich Timewrites: "Each team overanalyzes things to the point that it makes everybody crazy," said Okafor, who has been besieged by whispers about his back."I didn't average 20 points per game in college by accident. I've got an NCAA Championship ring and people are still questioning me. What else do I have to do?" However, if Okafor falls to No. 2 in the draft, it would be a harder road but he would be the perfect ambassador for the return of NBA basketball in Charlotte, N.C. with the expansion Bobcats. "An expansion team would be a struggle and a challenge," said Okafor, who lost a total of 23 games in three seasons at UConn. "In college, I wrote a paper on leadership using Plato and Machiavelli as examples. With Plato, leadership was an innate quality. Leadership from within. Machiavelli was all about wheeling and dealing in terms of leadership."