COLUMBIA — Defense and rebounding have always been Alex Oriakhi’s strengths, dating back to his days at Connecticut.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But there’s little doubt that Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound power forward who transferred to Missouri in spring 2012, takes pride in the ways he improved as a senior last season, when he posted a career-high 11.2 points per game with a burgeoning back-to-the-basket game and a better stroke from the free-throw line.
But with the NBA Draft set for Thursday, Oriakhi maintains it is his ability to hit the 15-footer — something he did not show at all last season — that has surprised NBA scouts the last three months.
“People didn’t think I could really shoot the ball until they saw I wasn’t missing,” Oriakhi said of his workouts. “People don’t believe me, but it’s always been something I’ve worked on.”
So why didn’t he show that more at Missouri, where his points primarily came on free throws, putbacks and low-post moves?
“I’m a guy that does what the team asks me to do,” said Oriakhi, who posted the highest field-goal and free-throw percentages (63.9 and 74.6, respectively) of his career last season. “Coach never asked me to shoot 15-footers. It wasn’t really in the offense. I knew I could always shoot it. And I knew I would get a chance to show it, so that’s what I’ve done.”
At least one draft analyst has seen proof of it. Ed Isaacson, who runs NBADraftBlog.com, says he’s seen Oriakhi drilling the jumper in workouts.
“I haven’t seen (a jumper) in sort of the three-on-three situations he’s played in,” Isaacson said, “but when working out and going through the drills, he can hit the 10- to 15-footer.”
This could be a positive sign for Oriakhi, as several power forwards have made a living in the increasingly pick-and-roll centric NBA because of their ability to make the short to midrange jumper. Brandon Bass, who signed a three-year, $20 million contract with the Boston Celtics last July, immediately springs to mind.
“I watched Brandon Bass highlights recently — he can definitely shoot the ball,” Oriakhi said. “When I was in Chicago shooting, one of the coaches said you can make a lot of money hitting the 15-footer. I definitely think that shot is definitely emphasized at the next level.”
Still, Oriakhi — who also averaged 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game last season — might be considered a long shot to get drafted on Thursday. ESPN’s Chad Ford doesn’t have Oriakhi being taken in his most recent projections, and neither does Isaacson, even though Isaacson is clearly a fan of Oriakhi’s game.
“He has a strong body, he can rebound, he’s efficient around the basket and he shows he can run the floor,” Isaacson said. “There’s a lot there to like. But there’s as much chance of him getting a shot in the late second as there is of him not having his name called.”
Part of the reason for this, Isaacson said, is that while this year’s draft is weak at the top, there will almost certainly be some intriguing talent to be had in the second round. In that way, Oriakhi’s age (23) could work against him for teams looking for younger players with potentially more upside.
“He’s someone I’d love to slot in there somewhere, but when you see the other guys considered to be second-round prospects, you can understand why he’s not there,” Isaacson said. “You’re looking at power forwards like Grant Jerrett from Arizona, who certainly isn’t as good as Oriakhi is now but is younger and has much more upside. Or even a guy like (Ohio State’s) Deshaun Thomas, who is more of a three or four and was one of the best scorers in the Big Ten and may not hear his name until the middle of the second round.”
Regardless, Oriakhi — who has been preparing in Los Angeles for the draft — said he has had workouts for the Lakers, Nets, Mavericks, Pacers, Suns, Bucks, Clippers and Grizzlies and is hopeful he’ll hear his name called Thursday. But if he doesn’t, it certainly won’t keep him from pursuing his lifelong dream.
“I’ll just try to get onto a summer league team and take it from there,” Oriakhi said. “This is something I’ve been wanting to do since I was 5, so I’m not going to start to doubt myself … I’m not out here busting my (butt) to say so-and-so is better than me. I refuse to do that.
“I have enough confidence in my ability to know that I can play at the next level. Hopefully a team sees that and they give me the opportunity. I think that’s all you need sometimes.”