Jahlil Okafor entered the league with expectations as massive as his arms following a championship season at Duke. After being chosen with the No. Three total choose within the 2015 NBA Draft, Okafor averaged 17.5 factors and seven.zero rebounds on 50.eight p.c taking pictures as a rookie, a strong marketing campaign for a Philadelphia crew in the midst of “The Course of.”
Sadly for Okafor, there was one other heart outshining him on the rookie stage.
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Karl-Anthony Cities burst onto the scene his first yr, posting 18.Three factors and 10.5 rebounds per sport on his strategy to the Rookie of the Yr trophy. Whereas their numbers have been pretty comparable, Cities had one thing Okafor did not: a whole offensive repertoire, together with an outdoor shot. Cities hit on 34.1 p.c of his 88 Three-point makes an attempt that season. Okafor shot solely six Three-pointers over 53 video games, making one try.
Cities represented the way forward for the middle place. He was an enormous with conventional dimension who might muscle inside for layups and dunks, gobble up rebounds and step exterior as a spot-up shooter, opening up the ground for his crew and scoring with terrific effectivity.
Okafor, however, was a participant trapped within the unsuitable period. Gone have been the times of the back-to-the-basket heart, pounding away within the low put up earlier than unleashing a hook shot or slick up-and-under transfer.
Even worse, Okafor was a step (or three) too gradual on protection. It is robust for any younger participant to get used to the expertise and pace of NBA offenses, however how do you clarify performs like this?
His second season was a sophomore hunch to say the least, as his minutes (30.zero per sport as a rookie right down to 22.7) and manufacturing (17.5 factors right down to 11.eight) decreased with the arrival of teammate Joel Embiid. It was clear Embiid had the potential to turn out to be a franchise cornerstone like Cities so long as his physique did not break down, and Okafor shortly turned an afterthought.
The subsequent season, on the age of 22, Okafor suited up in solely two video games for the Sixers. An Embiid-Okafor pairing was out of the query, so Philly determined to commerce Okafor together with Nik Stauskas and a second-round choose to the Nets for Trevor Booker. Okafor performed 26 complete video games for Brooklyn, averaging 6.four factors and a couple of.9 rebounds in 12.6 minutes.
He appeared to be going the way in which of the dinosaur in an NBA targeted on tempo and house. Nevertheless, there may very well be mild coming by means of the clouds on the finish of this storm.
Okafor signed a partially-guaranteed one-year cope with the Pelicans this previous summer time, which really did not imply a lot till Jan. 18, the day Anthony Davis sprained his left index finger in a sport in opposition to the Path Blazers.
With Davis out, Okafor earned a slot within the Pelicans’ beginning lineup and performed almost 36 minutes the following sport. The outcome? A 105-85 win over the Grizzlies. Okafor exploded for 20 factors and 10 rebounds on 9-of-11 taking pictures.
It was a revelation. The final time Okafor had scored 20 or extra in a sport was almost a yr earlier than when he dropped 21 factors on the Timberwolves as a member of the Nets.
He instantly adopted it up with 17 factors, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks in opposition to the Pistons and 18 factors and eight rebounds in opposition to the Thunder. After which it acquired higher.
In opposition to the Spurs, he went for 24 factors, 15 rebounds and three blocks on 10-of-12 taking pictures. Sadly, the Pelicans misplaced.
However in opposition to the surging Rockets, they bounced again with a gutsy 121-116 win. Okafor was the person of the hour, scoring 27 factors and snagging 12 rebounds in almost 37 minutes of motion.
Since that begin in opposition to Memphis, Okafor has averaged 18.2 factors, 9.eight rebounds and a couple of.zero blocks per sport whereas taking pictures 67.Three p.c from the sphere. He deserves credit score for persevering and making the most of a chance in a league that usually makes up its thoughts on younger gamers earlier than they’ve really discovered the precise function or match.
Now, let’s not be unreasonable. Okafor will lose minutes with Davis anticipated to play out the remainder of the season in New Orleans after the Pels did not commerce him earlier than the deadline. Okafor additionally stays a legal responsibility on protection, and whereas his particular person stats look good, his on vs. off numbers over this nine-game resurgence are… tough.
2018-19 Pelicans Off Score Def Score Internet Score Eff FG % Okafor On (278 minutes) 100.9 111.four -10.5 50.1 Okafor Off (154 minutes) 116.Three 98.5 17.7 57.eight
However Davis’ taking part in time might shrink because the common season winds down with a view to stop an harm, and New Orleans would not have a can’t-miss prospect Okafor ought to sit behind. The Pelicans are successfully out of the playoff race, so what’s stopping them from empowering Okafor to attempt to attain his ceiling? (And even when the Pels are dangerous, take a look at that draft choose transferring up the lottery!)
Okafor’s success might in the end come right down to the precise match and crew scenario. He may very well be a backup massive in a rotation and log a couple of minutes off the bench, scoring just a few factors right here and grabbing some rebounds there. He merely cannot play in particular matchups, however that is the case for loads of different gamers. So long as his angle is not a priority, he can discover a roster spot someplace.
With New Orleans not caring a lot about successful in the intervening time, Okafor has to show the crew ought to choose up his choice for subsequent season or persuade one other entrance workplace he’s price signing. And he might need to undergo that course of once more together with his subsequent crew, and the crew after that.
Perhaps this shocking play from Okafor will simply find yourself being a flash within the pan, however he might additionally carve out a distinct segment. It will not be star standing like Cities or Embiid, however Okafor should drop these expectations if he desires to remain within the league. This latest stretch exhibits he can do it.