Okafor or Howard? It's Orlando's move
CHICAGO -- Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor should have just ordered the NBA to clear out some time at the Moody Bible Institute for a game of one-on-one.
If the league had set it up, it would have been the event of the pre-draft camp week in Chicago. Instead, the closest they got was opposite ends of a banquet room Saturday at the Wyndham Hotel during a casual gathering for reporters.
Orlando, which owns the top pick, would have taken up the front row of seats if the league had arranged the workout. The Magic gets its own private workout -- with each one, individually -- later this week. But Howard and Okafor won't be matched up against each other, even though both players would relish the chance.
Each is adamant that he should be the top pick the night of June 24.
Each has a strong case.
"I just think I proved myself," said Okafor, the Connecticut junior power forward/center who led the Huskies to the national title and then graduated a month later in three years at the school.
Okafor was the most outstanding player at the 2004 Final Four. He was the NABC's co-national player of the year award winner with Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson. He was a first-team All-American and the national defensive player of the year as a sophomore and junior. He finished seventh all-time in block shots in the NCAA with 441 and leaves leading the Huskies in all-time field-goal percentage (.590).
"A team should pick me because I'm a hard worker and I'm mature," Okafor said.
"With me, what you see is what you get," Okafor added. "I'm the guy who comes in and works hard and does what I have to do. I don't have an ego and never have. I just want to win. I never had anyone telling me I was the greatest. I still remember what got me here."
Okafor wasn't taking shots at Howard from across the room. But his point was direct. He's the veteran, the proven commodity.
"Why should I be the No. 1 pick? Because I bring everything to the table, mentally, spiritually and physically," said Howard, who has impressive high school stats in being a national high school player of the year, a McDonald's All-American, Mr. Basketball in the state of Georgia and a career that includes 2,146 points, 1,728 rebounds and 811 blocks in 129 games at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy.
"I'm not afraid of anything the NBA has to offer," Howard said. "I should be the No. 1 pick. I'm going to give 100 percent every night. I'm the guy."
So, why not settle things (at least for a day) on the court?
"I doubt that would happen," Howard said. "If I don't play him there (in Orlando) then I'll play him in the NBA at least four times. I can prove it on the court. But you don't go one-on-one in a game, you go five-on-five. It doesn't matter to me."
Okafor said he wouldn't mind such a matchup, either, saying, "I'm not going to run away from it. I'm never scared (of an opponent)."
As for the tale of the tape:
What do these numbers settle? Not much. Call it a draw when it comes to the players' height and weight. The pair's athletic work ethic is also a push, although Howard doesn't have as many years put in just yet.
The only tangible edge goes to Okafor in the classroom, where he owns a college degree and Howard won't attend college. (But the NBA doesn't spend scouting hours on a player's GPA.)
On the court, like Okafor, Howard is adamant about spending quality time in the gym.
"I love this game so much and have so much passion for it and I'll do whatever it takes," Howard said. "I don't have to get up at 5 a.m. to work out, but that's something I want to do. I've got the heart, the will and the mindset to go in (to the league) and play right away. I'm up at a 5 a.m. when other people are sleeping to be the best player I can be."
Okafor and Howard each took a step back, saying they wouldn't be disappointed if they didn't go No. 1. But they weren't going to lie. They want it.
Josh Smith, who was a summer league teammate of Howard's on the Atlanta Celtics and is projected to go in the lottery out of Oak Hill Academy (Va.), said Howard wants to prove those who doubt his ability to be an impact player next season wrong.
But it was Okafor's Connecticut teammate Ben Gordon, another projected lottery pick, who offered the most balanced break down of the Magic options with the first overall pick.
"It depends on what the team wants," Gordon said. "If they want someone who has proven himself as a shotblocker and a good defender, then I would say Emeka. But if they want someone who has the potential down the road, then I would say Dwight.
"Emeka is going to come into the league rebound and play defense. It's hard to find power forwards like that in the league. He's one of the best shot blockers of all time. He's someone that I'd want to start my franchise with."
While Orlando isn't starting from scratch, picking either Okafor or Howard wouldn't be a bad first step back to the playoffs.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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