Jahlil Okafor anchoring Pelicans in absence of Anthony Davis

Jahlil Okafor and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Jahlil Okafor and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans rolled the dice by signing Jahlil Okafor to their roster last offseason. In the last five games that Anthony Davis has missed action, Okafor has been proving his worth.

The NBA journey of New Orleans Pelicans backup center, Jahlil Okafor, was one that went downhill extremely quickly. After being drafted third overall by the still-processing Philadelphia 76ers in 2015, Jahlil battled injuries and controversy in Philly, and eventually Brooklyn, leading to a free agency in 2018 where people thought no one would even want him. The Pelicans needed injury insurance for the often dinged-up Anthony Davis, and it’s starting to pan out nicely despite initial worry he might not even crack the rotation at all.

In the last five games, Anthony Davis has missed time with a fractured finger.  Because of this, Jahlil Okafor has been inserted into the starting lineup, and the results have been very encouraging. Jahlil seems like he totally understands that he’s playing just to keep himself in the league at this point, and he’s taking full advantage of his current opportunity to prove his worth.

Over this 5 game span, Jahlil has put up four impressive double-doubles while totaling an uncharacteristic 13 blocked shots to boot. He’s second on the team in points per game with 21.2, leads the Pellies in blocks by a mile, and is the best rebounder among players that have played in at least 3 of the last 5 contests. He is shooting an absurd 74.6% from the field, which gives him a commanding team lead over the guy in second place, Cheick Diallo (57.1%).

Even outside of just these last five games, Okafor is currently third on the team over the course of the entire season in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Combine all of this together with the fact that he’s only being paid a meager salary of less than $1.6 million, and it genuinely seems like Okafor is finally beginning to prove he was worth the risk to this point. He is playing with confidence and looks like a force to be reckoned with consistently on the offensive end of the court.

Jahlil is still not without his flaws, however. Throughout his entire career, it’s been clear that Okafor will never be a good, or even decent defender. His game only really has value when the Pelicans have the ball. Even though he’s leading the team in blocks in his current streak of games he’s seen as a starter, he is dead last on the roster in overall plus/minus, largely in part to his typically porous defense.

Still, with his extremely team-friendly contract and current emergence as a force in the post, there is no reason the New Orleans Pelicans shouldn’t bring him back next season as they work to rebuild the squad in the wake of the Anthony Davis trade request. He will need a partner in the frontcourt that is able to cover up his defensive flaws, but his scoring in the post is looking too valuable for the Pelicans to even think about declining his $1.7 million Team Option for the 2019-2020 season.

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In a league where recent high drafts picks like Luka Doncic, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jayson Tatum have stepped on the scene and made huge impacts right of the bat, it seems like other guys that might struggle initially are written off as busts prematurely.

Jahlil Okafor is still just 23 years old. Sometimes, it takes players several years to acclimate to the league and carve out their roles. Remember how the Indiana Pacer’s star guard Victor Oladipo was thought to be a waste of a #2 pick before becoming an all-star seemingly out of nowhere in his fifth season? With hard work and opportunity, why can’t Jahlil do the same?

The New Orleans Pelicans have a cloudy future ahead of them with the Anthony Davis situation still unfolding, but Jahlil Okafor should arguably be a big part of their next era as the team looks for young guys they can develop into core contributors.