Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor has made the announcement that everybody expected: He is entering the 2015 NBA draft.
The trend of 19-year-old freshmen turning pro no longer comes as a shock. The thing is, with how well Okafor played for Duke last season, he could be one of those few who will eventually stand out in a relatively short period of time.
Consider his list of accolades:
- NCAA champion (2015)
- Consensus first-team All-American (2015)
- USBWA National Freshman of the Year (2015)
- ACC Player of the Year (2015)
- Pete Newell Big Man Award (2015)
The fact that Okafor is the first-ever freshman in league history to earn ACC Player of the Year honors (per Duke’s official athletics website) could be a sign of things to come.
These facts beg us to ask the question: Will Jahlil Okafor make an immediate impact in the NBA?
To answer this, we will look into his upside as well as some experts’ opinion and assessment of his game.
Mike Krzyzewski Announces Jahlil Okafor Will Enter 2015 NBA Draft
No less than Okafor’s head coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, told GoDuke.com on Thursday his star center will turn pro in June:
What a great decision! This is a tremendous opportunity for Jahlil and he has earned it. Obviously, he has done an incredible job here at Duke and he will always be part of our Duke basketball family. We could not be happier for he and his family.
For his part, the 19-year-old Okafor told Duke’s official athletics website it has always been his dream to be an NBA player since his childhood days in Chicago’s South Side:
As early as I can remember, I’ve fantasized and dreamed of the day I could play professional basketball. I recall at the age of six, promising my mom and dad that when I made it to the NBA I would buy them both different colored trucks.
They would laugh with me in support and encouraged me to dream big and work hard. With that being said and now at the age of 19, my dream is still alive!
My freshman year has been an amazing experience to say the least. It exceeded my expectations! I love Cameron and Duke University! I can’t thank my coaches, teammates and family enough for making this year special and helping me grow on and off the court.
With Coach K’s and my family’s blessing I will be fulfilling my lifelong dream and proudly entering my name into the NBA draft.
Okafor’s statement is indicative of how he will use his childhood dream to really make it big at the pro level. No doubt, he will use that as an inspiration to be the best big man he can possibly be.
Analyzing Okafor’s Stats and Expert Opinions Of His Game
Here’s a summary of how Okafor’s first and only season in college went stats-wise, per GoDuke.com:
- 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.4 blocks per game
- Eighth in the nation in field-goal percentage (.664)
- Nineteenth in the nation in offensive rebounds per game (3.53)
- Established Duke freshman records for double-figure scoring games (35), total rebounds (322), offensive rebounds (134) and dunks (64).
- Scored at least 20 points 14 times
- Recorded 11 double-doubles
With these, there’s no question Okafor can score and rebound. The bigger question is if he will able to sustain his intensity in these two areas once he plays in the NBA.
In terms of passing, The Washington Post’s Matthew Giles believes this is “the one skill that separates Okafor from other elite college bigs, past and present.”
Giles says Okafor is efficient in double-team situations down low. When this happens, Okafor will go to the perimeter and make that important cross-court pass which opens up holes in the defense and sets up uncontested jumpers from his teammates.
It’s pretty obvious Okafor makes his living on offense in the shaded area. According to DraftExpress.com, “52 percent of Okafor’s half-court touches come from post-ups.”
He has to make a huge adjustment in the NBA. Pros like Al Jefferson (32.8 percent), Nikola Pekovic (31.4 percent), Dwight Howard (19.2 percent) and Nikola Vucevic (18.4 percent) don’t post up as often as people think.
This simply means they’re constantly moving without the basketball to set screens and open up the lane for their teammates to drive into.
Moving without the ball is something Okafor will get more accustomed to in the NBA.
On the defensive end, Okafor isn’t so stellar…yet.
He did average 1.4 blocks and 0.8 steals during his freshman year at Duke. However, CBS Sports’ Sam Vecenie thinks another NBA prospect, the Kentucky Wildcats’ Karl-Anthony Towns, is much better when it comes to defense.
“Basically, he (Okafor) hasn’t been even an average defender this year,” Vecenie says. “But he also hasn’t been the worst defender for a potential lottery pick, which is what it feels like criticism veers into sometimes.”
Finally, SB Nation’s Kevin O’Connor explains why Okafor slipped to third in his April 7 NBA draft board:
“But he slips to the three spot on my board because of warts in his game that can’t be ignored, such as his defense, free-throw shooting and perimeter scoring, all of which make him tough to fit onto many rosters,” O’Connor explains.
Okafor shot just 51 percent from the charity stripe in his lone season at Duke, per ESPN.
The Parting Shot
To sum everything up, Jahlil Okafor’s outstanding college credentials make it appear he will make an immediate impact in the NBA, even if he spent just one year at Duke.
Okafor is a big man who makes his living on offense primarily on post-ups and put-backs. He can score at will, given the opportunity.
However, he will have to really up the ante on offense if he is to go up against the likes of DeAndre Jordan, Roy Hibbert and human pogo stick Anthony Davis down low.
His other areas of strength include rebounding and passing. Even though Okafor is especially good at passing out of double teams, he needs to be wary of guys such as Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Tony Allen—the NBA’s best when it comes to steals.
Needless to say, Okafor has to shore up his perimeter scoring and free-throw shooting percentage if he wants to be a big-name NBA player. If we take into account these areas of improvement and his age (19), it may take a year or two for him to adjust to the pace of the NBA game, which is much different from the NCAA’s.
If Okafor winds up getting drafted by a team which badly needs a low-post presence (such as the New York Knicks), he will be thrown into the lions sooner than expected.
As a parting shot, no, Jahlil Okafor, for all of his accolades, will not make an immediate impact in the NBA. However, that’s not to say he won’t. He will.
It might just take a bit of time.