Jahlil Okafor must turn talent into production to stick with Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans announced the signing of free agent center Jahlil Okafor to a one-year deal with a team option for a second season.
Okafor was drafted third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2015 draft, behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
After a solid rookie campaign where he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games, Okafor’s career fell off a cliff as teammate Joel Embiid emerged to become the 76ers franchise player.
Okafor also struggled defensively and turned it over nearly twice as often as he made an assist.
Last season Okafor played in only 28 games, just two with the Sixers before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets for a second round pick.
So why would the Pelicans bring Okafor in?
The risk is low. Okafor’s contract is only partially guaranteed. If he doesn’t work out, it’s pretty easy for the team to move on.
The Pelicans are also in need of a true backup center. Anthony Davis prefers not to play there and both Niko Mirotic and Julius Randle, while solid defenders, are undersized at the position.
Last season, Emeka Okafor was solid and helped spark the team’s 10-game win streak, but he is also 36 years old as well as a limited offensive player.
Dell Demps has been pretty open in his desire to acquire Okafor. As they approached the 2017 trade deadline, Okafor was the Pelicans’ initial target for a big man to team with Anthony Davis.
Now, Demps gets his man at a great price and without giving up talent or picks to do so.
The incoming Okafor, just 22 years old, hasn’t experienced much team success in the NBA. He has displayed some talent though.
For his career, Jahlil Okafor has shot the ball at nearly a 52 percent clip. At the rim he’s converting better than 68 percent of his attempts. For comparison, Anthony Davis is among the elite at 72 percent.
This offseason, Okafor appears to have gotten into much better shape and shown commitment to working on his ball handling and outside shooting. He seems like an athlete fully aware that his chances to prove himself are dwindling.
Okafor should be motivated entering camp. Staying the NBA will be an earned privilege, not a gift.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…