KZ Okpala Loses Himself In The Best Way Possible
Photo Credit: Scott Audette
There’s 2:39 left in the first quarter of the HEAT’s preseason finale against the Raptors.
KZ Okpala is on the right wing as Goran Dragić and Precious Achiuwa run a pick-and-roll at the top of the key. Dragić attacks downhill and looks at Andre Iguodala in the right corner, but instead fires it to Okpala, who sinks his third three of the quarter.
“I think I lost myself in [Friday]’s game,” Okpala said. “And that’s why everyone hoops, to lose yourself.”
Of course, he’s talking about losing yourself in a positive way where you become so fixated on one goal or task.
And well, Okpala certainly did that with a team-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including 6-of-10 from deep, five boards, two assists, one steal and one block.
While the bulk of his work came off spot-up threes, he came through with some awesome dribble drives to the basket as well. What’s more, Okpala also showed his defensive versatility by guarding both Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet throughout the night.
Erik Spoelstra certainly took notice.
“The only thing people probably notice is the six threes and 24 points, but it was the versatility defensively [and] being in the right spots on the weakside,” Coach Spo said. “…those things just kind of created some confidence. He was really playing off the ball, and the ball found him from other actions and guys finding him in the corner. That’s what we often call the karma of the game.”
Bam Adebayo, who’s no stranger to the karma of the game, thinks Okpala can eventually defend like a teammate of theirs.
“I feel like he can be an Iguodala type of defender…active hands, always in the passing lanes, always getting quick strips,” Adebayo said. “I feel like, if Iggy takes him under his wing, and [Okpala] really, really homes in…on being a lockdown defender, I feel like, he can be one of the best defenders in the league.”
In order to be one of the best defenders in the league, you have to be willing to put in the work. And that’s something that Okpala has done throughout his young career, having battled back from injuries.
Spoelstra lauded the 6-foot-8, 215-pound specimen for his perseverance over the past several months and knew the former Stanford Cardinal was ready to rock by how he showed up to camp.
“He had to learn our system, learn the NBA…get in great shape and then be available day after day, so this has really been a process since the quarantine in May and June when he was really working just to get his body right [and] doing a lot of player development,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a credit to his work and consistency. It doesn’t always guarantee the result, but you’re happy for guys when they put in that kind of time, [and] they come in in great shape. I would say he…probably was arguably top three best conditioned going into camp, which was important and much different than his previous camp last year.”
Through all the ups and downs, Okpala has a simple mantra that keeps him going.
“Success is the only option for me, so I’m going to keep working,” the 21-year-old said.
Perhaps it’s KZ SZN after all.