Jahlil Okafor in the NBA: Is He as Good as We Think He Is?
Coming into this college basketball season, Jahlil Okafor was widely regarded as one of the best players -- if not the best player -- in the nation.
Basketball people knew both why he was going to Duke -- to improve his game under Coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff -- and how
short long he would be there.
Okafor proved those expectations right. There's no question that Okafor matured his game under Coach K. Who wouldn't? He is a living, breathing legend and an amazing coach.
He's also something else -- a reigning champion.
By now we all know that Duke cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium. But this, of course, means that Okafor did something no one was really expecting him to do in his "one and done" season.
He won a national title.
Yes, maybe some people did expect the freshman to lead his team to a national title game. What about winning it though? Even after Duke secured a 1 seed on Selection Sunday, Kentucky was the odds on favorite to win it all.
Okafor will without a doubt enter this year's NBA Draft. To be safe, he's a projected top-five pick, and based on the talk around the basketball universe, he's a projected top-two pick. It's nearly a certainty that Okafor, if he doesn't go number one overall, will be second only to Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns.
Chad Ford of ESPN has Okafor as the number-two overall prospect on his Big Board and several mock drafts fulfill the Ford prophecy.
That's more than understandable. There is and will be a high demand for a player of Okafor's size and offensive skillset in the NBA. There's a really low supply of low post threats like Okafor could ultimately prove himself to be.
As for me, I can't deny the demand for his potential. I'm a human, and I watch basketball -- I see it.
But I'm not sold.
Okafor hasn't really proven himself in his one year under Coach K. The numbers are all I need to tell you why.
Breaking Down the Stats
Check out Okafor's numbers for the full season, the regular season, the NCAA Tournament, and the comparison between his regular season and NCAA Tournament stats.
At first glance, Okafor had great regular season numbers but that his numbers declined during the NCAA Tournament.
Why was that?
Regular Season Reasons
You can see for yourself that Okafor's regular season was superb. He averaged nearly three more points per game prior to the tourney than he did during the postseason. The only area in which he struggled was free throw percentage, which has become an item of note for the big man.
Let's take a more detailed look at his successful regular season.
Okafor played seven games against teams from the CAA, Big South, MAAC, Patriot, MAC, and Southern basketball conferences. Those teams were Elon, Presbyterian, Fairfield, Army, Toledo, Furman, and Wofford.
In those games Okafor played below his season average minutes per game (27.6) largely due to the blow out nature of the contests. But he still produced at a ridiculously high level as a result of the talent discrepancy. Okafor put up 22.4 points on 77.8% shooting and 9.4 rebounds per game -- numbers well above his season averages.
These games played a big part in boosting Okafor's regular season averages. When you look at these numbers side by side with the freshman's numbers against ACC competition, there are some discrepancies.
He put up 17.1 points (on 65.7% shooting) and 9.1 rebounds per game in over 31 minutes per contest. Those aren't terrible considering the pressure of in-conference games. However, that also includes two games in which he completely dominated Zach Auguste and the Fighting Irish's lack of size and defensive presence down low.
Everyone is well aware that Okafor will be facing much better -- and much bigger -- big men at the next level.
For example, this season Zach Auguste (at 6'10") posted a Defensive Rating of 99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions and a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of less than 1. He blocked 2.8% of two-point shots while on the floor this year.
As for an example of an elite NBA post defender, Andrew Bogut (7'0") is posting a Defensive Rating of 96.0, a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 5.7, and a 5.5% block rate. And I need not remind you that that's against much better competition.
It's not that you should compare Auguste to Bogut directly, but he's going to face much better post defenders at the next level, leaving him few chances to rack up stats.
NCAA Tournament Reasons
Once again, there's no denying Okafor's presence in the game at his size, but production is a big part of the NBA game on a nightly basis. Every defender (for the most part) is better and every team is better as a whole, so production night in and night out is something scouts undoubtedly look for.
In Duke's NCAA tournament run, Okafor wasn't as productive as an NBA team would need him to be on a nightly basis. In fact, he was largely outshined by his teammates.
His one really good game came in the Round of 32 against San Diego State. In a dominating Duke win, Okafor scored 26 points on 12 of 16 from the floor and 2 of 2 from the line. He was super efficient and dominated the Aztecs' usually solid defense. This performance, according to numberFire Live, earned him co-MVP honors for the game. Okafor's game rated out as a perfect 100 in terms of impact.
That was Okafor's lone dominant performance of the Dukies' title run. He was a factor in the championship game when on the floor, but he was saddled with foul trouble for most of the game (thanks to Frank Kaminsky), and as a result, he forfeited the spotlight to his teammates, Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones of note.
Throughout the tournament, Okafor experienced much of the same. He had problems on and off with foul troubles, as he struggled defending opposing bigs on the defensive end. As for his own production, Okafor -- like I mentioned prior -- took a backseat to fellow freshmen Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and even Grayson Allen.
In fact, during the tournament, Okafor finished just once (One. Time.) in the top-two performers on his team, according to our algorithms.
Winslow carried the load right up until the championship game when Tyus Jones swooped in to steal his thunder and the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
A Top-Two Pick?
So, should Jahlil Okafor go number one or two overall? Eh, maybe. Again, there is an undeniable demand for someone with his size and skillset. If a team needs a big guy and the front office believes that they can get him the help he needs on defense, then he is possibly worth that level of draft capital.
Okafor's not a finished product like many seem to look at him as. He's a work in progress who needs to work on his game if he wants to hang with the big boys.
We can see in his numbers, both in the regular season -- and especially in the tournament -- that he needs to get better in order to produce at a top pick level.
While it may not be a popular take, if you ask me, the jury's still out on just how good Jahlil Okafor is and can be.