Jahlil Okafor entered the league with expectations as large as his fingers following a championship season at Duke. After being chosen with the No. Three general decide 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 workforce in the course of “The Course of.”
Sadly for Okafor, there was one other middle 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 recreation on his technique to the Rookie of the Yr trophy. Whereas their numbers have been pretty comparable, Cities had one thing Okafor did not: an entire 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 a giant with conventional measurement who might muscle inside for layups and dunks, gobble up rebounds and step outdoors as a spot-up shooter, opening up the ground for his workforce and scoring with terrific effectivity.
Okafor, alternatively, was a participant trapped within the unsuitable period. Gone have been the times of the back-to-the-basket middle, 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 powerful for any younger participant to get used to the expertise and velocity of NBA offenses, however how do you clarify performs like this?
His second season was a sophomore droop to say the least, as his minutes (30.zero per recreation 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 grow to be a franchise cornerstone like Cities so long as his physique did not break down, and Okafor rapidly grew to become an afterthought.
The following 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 decide to the Nets for Trevor Booker. Okafor performed 26 complete video games for Brooklyn, averaging 6.four factors and a pair of.9 rebounds in 12.6 minutes.
He appeared to be going the best way of the dinosaur in an NBA targeted on tempo and house. Nonetheless, there might be mild coming by the clouds on the finish of this storm.
Okafor signed a partially-guaranteed one-year cope with the Pelicans this previous summer time, which actually did not imply a lot till Jan. 18, the day Anthony Davis sprained his left index finger in a recreation towards the Path Blazers.
With Davis out, Okafor earned a slot within the Pelicans’ beginning lineup and performed practically 36 minutes the subsequent recreation. The end result? 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 recreation was practically 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 towards the Pistons and 18 factors and eight rebounds towards the Thunder. After which it bought 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 towards 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 practically 37 minutes of motion.
Since that begin towards Memphis, Okafor has averaged 18.2 factors, 9.eight rebounds and a pair of.zero blocks per recreation 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 always makes up its thoughts on younger gamers earlier than they’ve actually discovered the correct 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’ enjoying time might shrink because the common season winds down with a purpose to forestall an damage, and New Orleans does 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 unhealthy, take a look at that draft decide shifting up the lottery!)
Okafor’s success might finally come right down to the correct match and workforce state of affairs. He might be a backup large 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 meanwhile, Okafor has to show the workforce ought to decide up his possibility for subsequent season or persuade one other entrance workplace he’s price signing. And he might need to undergo that course of once more along with his subsequent workforce, and the workforce after that.
Possibly 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 current stretch reveals he can do it.