Observing David Okwera, Makur Maker, and Ariel Hukporti

December 5th, 2021

By Alan Lu

I decided to take the time to watch Makur Maker and the Sydney Kings play against Ariel Hukporti and the Melbourne United in a December 4th game, with thanks to YouTube via National Basketball League.  I wanted to see how far along Makur Maker has came in terms of him being a prospect for the NBA, and it provided another opportunity to assess his and Hukporti’s skills. 

While it was not a perfect game for either of them, both of them had some good moments, and there were times where Maker really shined on offense.  One prospect that really jumped out at me and stood out was Melbourne’s seven-foot tall center, David Okwera.  His athleticism, ball-handling, and energy on both sides of the ball was refreshing to watch, and I thought he played very well in this game.  Here are my thoughts on those players fared in this match, as well as where they may stack up as prospects for the NBA.

Melbourne United’s David Okwera scored 10 points, and he also blocked a shot in his team’s loss to the Sydney Kings in their 2021-22 NBL regular season opener.
Graham Denholm/Getty Images for NBL)

Melbourne’s 7-0 center, David Okwera is a very athletic, high-motor center that thrived at making plays on both ends of the floor.  He thrived at scoring around the basket, and he showed off very good athleticism, motor, and some ball-handling skills when he was on the court.  To me, he looked to be a very underrated prospect that could make some real ground to be a potential first round pick, whether if that were to be in the upcoming draft or in the 2023 draft.

Okwera did a good job of scoring off the dribble.  He utilized a pump fake and drove in to score on a quick, running floater.  He also drove quickly to the hoop to score on a running floater another time.  He showed a knack for scoring on floaters, as he has good speed, handles, and body control for a player his size.  Plus, he also managed to score on a tip-in after leaping up to get an offensive rebound to show his ability to score on off-ball motion plays. He also was able to run to the post to get the ball down low, and he scored while finishing through contact to draw the extra free throw.  He struggled to knock down threes though, as he wasn’t able to find his shooting touch from long distances, but Okwera excelled at scoring the basketball when he was inside the arc.

He also displayed above average playmaking skills.  Okwera showed some ball handling skills, as he can handle the ball in the open floor, and he has good speed and acceleration to push it up court before passing it off to teammates on dribble handoffs.  He also would sometimes look to set screens on offense.  Though he ultimately did not collect an assist in this game, he also did not commit a turnover on offense, either.

Also, he did a decent job of rebounding the basketball.  Okwera was able to leap up to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he also managed to push the ball up the floor off of a defensive board late in this game.  He also boxed out on a defensive rebounding attempt another time to show good technique on that possession.  Okwera also played satisfactory defense in this game.  He was able to rotate to block a shot off the dribble due to possessing solid length and timing.  He also was able to leap up to catch a deflected pass to help his team get a steal.  He also ran in to tie up an opposing ball handler, and he allowed a teammate to steal the ball away on a drive.  Plus, he also would rotate to contest shots in the paint to force misses, and he also showed quick feet when defending out on the perimeter. 

Sometimes though, he would be late on his rotations or to contest shots.  On one play, he was a bit late to contest the floater, which led his team to allow the score.  Another time, he was caught ball watching, as he stared at the opposing point guard and lost track of the roll man, as he got beat and allowed the score.  There also was one possession where he didn’t communicate to a teammate to defend the shooter as his team scrambled and kept switching their rotations midway, which resulted in them giving up a three-point basket.

In general, David Okwera is a very athletic, high-motor big man that excelled at making plays on both ends of the floor when he was on the court.  He is a good ball handler for his size, and he also was an active interior presence on the defensive end.  He is a talented prospect, and if he keeps playing as well as he did in the NBL in this game, he could end up moving up to the late first to the early second round range in the 2022 draft.

Makur Maker had a decent showing in his team’s win over Melbourne.  He was able to have some very good moments, and he is a tall, athletic big man that can shoot and handle the basketball.  On the downside, he was quite inconsistent at times, as he would struggle to do those things on occasion, but Maker definitely showed his talents and potential as a prospect for the NBA.

Maker looked to be most efficient as a scorer from around the basket.  When grabbing an offensive rebound once, he spun right to score on a right-handed jump hook in traffic while drawing an extra free throw due to possessing good agility, body control, and scoring touch.  He also managed to draw free throws on a strong put back another time.  He also was open underneath the hoop another time, and he then scored on a powerful dunk.

He also showed off some promising shooting skills, and he could be a really interesting prospect if he can consistently knock down outside shots.  Maker was able to utilize a crossover to score on a smooth, pull-up three early on.  He showed a really promising jump shot and shooting stroke, and he has good handles that allow him to easily get up shots.  On the downside, he struggled to make threes or mid-range jumpers consistently, and he even threw up an unsightly air-ball on an open corner three once.

As a playmaker, he looked to be fairly average.  On one good play, Maker sprinted down the court to get the ball in the post, and he then passed out to an open shooter to notch an assist.  He has good running speed, and he also was able to make a timely pass to set up a score for his teammate that time.  He also would set plenty of screens, and he would be able to help his teammate get open jump shots.  Sometimes though, he would occasionally be careless with the ball, which would lead him to commit turnovers.  He stepped out of bounds when handling it before dribbling to show off a solid crossover move once.  Another time, he drove wildly to the hoop and had the ball poked right back to him, and he then threw an ill-advised, off-balanced pass while falling out of bounds that ended up getting intercepted.

Maker also did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  He would leap up aggressively to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he especially showed a knack for getting offensive rebounds in this game. He also played adequate defense in this game.  Maker would rotate to contest shots in the paint to force misses due to possessing the length and timing to do so.  Sometimes he would back too far off his man, which would lead him to give up open jump shots, or he would overcompensate and commit aggressive fouls when defending opponents in the paint.

In summary, Makur Maker put forth a fairly solid performance in his team’s win over Melbourne United.  He is a very athletic big man that has promising offensive skills, and he showed some of his tantalizing potential by shooting and handling the ball very well at times.  He’ll need to be a more consistent player and play more under control.  Even still, he is a talented prospect that could be worth it for NBA teams to take in the second round of the 2022 draft.

Ariel Hukporti also had a decent showing in his team’s loss to Sydney.  He didn’t shoot the ball very often, and he had a much quieter performance than either of the two prospects listed above.  It was very surprising that he didn’t shoot the ball much, or look to take jumpers from outside the paint area, but Hukporti thrived as a screen setter due to possessing great size and a wide frame, and he also threw down a ferocious slam towards the end of the game.

Hukporti excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  Late in this match, he leapt up to catch a lob pass off of a roll to score on a powerful alley-oop dunk.  He also showed some low post scoring skills.  He was able to use a pivot move to draw a foul on his defender on an awkward, up and under move to get to the free throw line.  On the downside, despite being able to get deep position on the block, he ended up missing on a left-handed jump hook.

He also displayed average at best playmaking skills in this game.  Hukporti did a good job of setting firm screens to help his teammates get open jump shots and driving lanes, and his strong screen-setting skills helped his teammates score on a couple of possessions.  On the downside, he tended to struggle when he would try to post up.  When posting up once, he managed to get deep position, but then was called for a three seconds in the key violation.  Another time, he bumped into an opponent off the ball when looking to post up that led him to commit an offensive foul and a turnover. While he didn’t grab many rebounds in this game, Hukporti was able to leap up to get boards on both ends of the floor.  He also would tip balls to teammates to help his team get a pair of defensive boards.  On the downside, there was another play where he committed a foul on an opponent’s put back attempt.

Also, Hukporti played decent defense in this game.  He showed a penchant for getting his hands on passes to get steals.  He also would use his length to contest shots both out on the perimeter as well as in the paint, and he was able to force opponents to miss three-point shots.  He also rotated to defend a roll man, and he used his length and wide frame to help force a passing turnover.  On the downside, he would tend to sag too far off opponents and give up too much space to them, which would allow them to score on jumpers.  He also got beat off the dribble, and ended up fouling his man another time.  On a separate play, he didn’t effectively communicate to a teammate that the screen was coming, and they ended up being late to rotate to an open shooter on a pick and pop play, as they allowed a three-point basket that time.

Overall, Ariel Hukporti didn’t have his best game, but he quietly was able to make some solid team plays to help Melbourne when he was on the floor.  Specifically, his strong screen setting skills enabled his teammates to consistently get open jump shots, and that looked to be the best part of Hukporti’s game on this day.  He didn’t look to score very often, but he did throw down a really nice alley-oop dunk when rolling to the basket, so that was another plus.  Right now, Hukporti will need to be more assertive and trusting of his offensive skills, as he’s shown when he was in Lithuania in the LKL, that he can shoot it a little, and he was able to flash some stretch big potential at times.  More film will be needed to assess his draft projection, but for now it seems that he projects to go in the mid to late second round range for the 2022 draft.

Other Notes:

Former Hawaii point guard, Sydney’s Biwali Bayles played fairly well, as he had some really good moments during the brief amount of time he was on the floor in his team’s win over Melbourne.  He’s not an overwhelming athlete, but he is an agile combo guard that was able to make some high-impact plays on both ends of the floor.  Sometimes he looked sluggish and plodding, and sometimes he looked very athletic on other moments of this game, and he may need to play at a consistent tempo in the future.

Bayles did a good job of scoring on quick, right-handed drives to the hoop.  He has a solid first step to the hoop, and he also was able to score on a tough, crafty layup late in this match.  While he didn’t take many threes in this game, Bayles was able to dribble right off of a screen to score on a pull-up three early in the fourth quarter.  He didn’t shoot the ball often, which was odd since his three-point shot was such a huge staple of his game at Hawaii, but Bayles made sure to let it be known that he can quickly attack the basket to score at the NBL level. He displayed fairly average playmaking skills in this game.  Bayles was able to use a pump fake to make a drive and kick pass to set up a scoring chance for a shooter once.  Another time though, he threw a hasty interior pass that got intercepted by a defender.

He also played adequate defense in this game.  On one really nifty play, he didn’t bite on a pump fake, and he proceeded to block a shot when rotating to the post, as he managed to swat it to a teammate.  Bayles has good acceleration and timing, and he made a very good play to block the shot that time.  He also was able to actively contest a step-back three and close out on the shooter to force the miss.  On the downside, he would sometimes struggle to defend opponents off the dribble or screens, and he would sometimes commit aggressive fouls when trying to make plays on the defensive end.

Overall, Biwali Bayles is an interesting prospect, and he is an agile combo guard that could be a legitimate draft prospect if he can continue to refine his game.  He’ll need to continue to establish his strengths in the NBL, and he’s shown that he can be a crafty scorer that can make shots in a variety of ways, while also being active at contesting shots to help his team get stops.  He’ll need to continue to play well with the playing time he’s given this year, but if he can keep progressing and hone his game, he could end up being an effective rotation player in the NBA.

Melbourne’s Zac Triplett also played fairly well in his team’s loss to Sydney.  He’s an agile, skilled combo guard that can shoot the basketball, and he showed that he can score in a short amount of time.  Triplett made his presence felt by running off of a ball screen to make a quick three, and he has a lightning quick release that enables him to easily get his shot off.

He also cut to the hoop to run down a loose ball, and he proceeded to score on a quick floater off the glass.  Another time, Triplett ran the floor to get the ball and used a spin move to his right, but he ended up missing on a wild, off-balanced layup in transition due to rushing. Triplett didn’t grab many rebounds in this game, but he was able to run down a ball to get a defensive board once.  He struggled defensively though.  On one play, he had trouble guarding a bigger player in the post, which led him to commit a foul down low.  

Overall, Zac Triplett is an agile, combo guard that can score the basketball in a variety of ways, and he has the potential to thrive in a regular rotation role as a scorer off the bench for his team this year.  He’s not overwhelmingly athletic, but he is deceptively quick and he plays very hard out there.  He may need to spend some time in the NBL to prove that he can play well at that level, and he’ll likely need to show teams that he can effectively run the point.  Still, his jump shot and ability to score could enable him to get looks from NBA teams in the future.

Sydney’s 6-6 swingman, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk received some meaningful minutes off the bench in his team’s victory over Melbourne.  He is an agile player that was able to show his spot-up shooting skills, but unfortunately, he disappeared for stretches, and he was a hard player to find on the floor at times.  He really just blended in for most of the game, and he didn’t really stand out at all in this contest.

He didn’t look to shoot the ball very much, but Swaka Lo Buluk was able to make an open spot-up three off the catch early on.  However, he missed on a tough, awkward leaner another time when driving aggressively to the hoop. He also looked to be fairly average as a playmaker.  Swaka Lo Buluk was able to make a quick drive and kick pass to find an open corner shooter once.  He also ran off of a ball screen, handled the ball after receiving it, and he then threw a nice pocket pass to a roll man to find him on the move.  However, he also was called for setting a moving screen another time.

Though, Swaka Lo Buluk didn’t grab many rebounds, he was able to leap up to get an offensive rebound late in this game.  He especially showed a willingness to crash the offensive glass.  He also ran in to help his teammate save a ball to help his team get an offensive board later on.  Also, he showed off adequate defensive skills in this game.  Swaka Lo Buluk was able to fight through a screen, as he defended his man off the ball tightly, and helped inadvertently force a passing turnover.  However, there was another play where he didn’t stay attached to a shooter, and he had a brief lapse by ball watching, and he then was late to rotate and to contest the shot, which led him to give up a three-point basket to his opponent.

Overall, Swaka Lo Buluk didn’t really stand out, but he showed his potential to be a low volume, 3 and D player in professional basketball.  He may need to be much more aggressive on offense in order to be able to successfully play at the NBA level, and he will need to turn his jump shot and defensive skills into elite skills.  Right now, he’ll need to continue to hone his game at the NBL level.  It may be uncertain and doubtful if he ever does end up getting to the NBA, but Swaka Lo Buluk’s team play and 3 and D potential could enable him to carve out a lengthy career as a rotation player in the NBL.

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