Seemingly ages ago, Jahlil Okafor was once seen as the clear-cut favorite to go No. 1 in the 2015 NBA draft for his standout post-up game. Despite exceeding sky-high expectations in leading Duke to the national championship as a freshman, the rise of opposing college stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell saw Okafor’s stock plunge to the No. 3 spot into the hands of Philadelphia 76ers.
In Philadelphia, Okafor completes a trio of young big men with 2013 No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel and 2014 No. 3 pick Joel Embiid who appear to be an awkward fit on paper. It was assumed that 76ers’ GM Sam Hinkie would then field trade offers for the 19-year old out of Duke, but that wasn’t the case as he opted to keep what he believed as the best talent left on the board. Furthermore, last year’s No. 12 pick, skilled Croatian big man Dario Šarić who is currently playing overseas is expected to join Philadelphia sometime within the next few years, making Hinkie’s decisions that much more bewildering.
In 30 minutes per game, the NCAA champion put up averages of 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while clipping at an astonishing rate of 66% from the court.
Graphic via nba
From the beginning of the season, you didn’t have to be an expert to tell that Okafor possesses has a natural affinity for scoring in the post as his massive -11, frame meshed perfectly with his brute strength to help him establish great low-post positioning on nearly every possession. With these physical tools, he rounds his game off with a -5 wingspan, soft hands and great fundamental footwork to boast an NBA ready body and intangibles – something that’s becoming increasingly rare for big men entering the league. With his back to the basket, his offensive repertoire is already very polished and he can score at will in one-on-one situations. When defenses sent multiple defenders at him in college play, Okafor displayed his ability to read the double teams and make the right pass out of the low-post. He has no trouble finishing at all within a few feet of the hoop, which compliments his offensive rebounding ability and consequently his ability to rack up the second-chance points.
Though he was gifted with great size and strength, he lacks the explosive athleticism that is becoming the standard for low-post players in today’s game. Despite his outstanding stature and length, Okafor’s sub-par lateral quickness and leaping ability assure he won’t develop into a reliable rim protector at the pro level. His 1.4 blocks per game as a Blue Devil were almost exclusively because of his long arms. On offense, one of his strengths was that he drew plenty of fouls each game, yet he only managed to hit 51% of his free throws. It doesn’t look like he has a probable chance to develop into a stretch 4 due to his lack of an established jumper, which is troubling considering the direction in which most NBA systems trending.
In Okafor, the 76ers bolster their inside scoring presence immediately. Although spacing and shooting issues may arise next to sophomore Nerlens Noel, their sheer size and length gives them potential to be a formidable defensive duo. During his time at Duke, Jahlil’s game has been under a microscope with many critics believing that his game is much too traditional to thrive in the modern NBA where elite athleticism and adept skill flourish more than size and strength. Sam Hinkie has stated that he plans to have Okafor around for the long-term and sees him as a key cog of the 76ers’ rebuilding process.
Graphic via draftexpress.com