What does the future hold for Jahlil Okafor on the New Orleans Pelicans?
Okafor was taken with the third overall pick in the 2015 draft in a doomed situation with the then-abysmal Philadelphia 76ers.
Okafor put up empty stats on a team that stopped trying to win in 2015-16, and was quickly shown the door with the emergence of Joel Embiid for the Sixers.
Okafor was traded to the Brooklyn Nets before coming to New Orleans, and completely transformed his game by the time he got to the Pelicans. In the 2018-19 season, Okafor put up then-career-highs in true shooting, win-shares and an above-average player efficiency rating, as well as looking far more tenacious on defense than ever before.
Even though the 2018-19 Pelicans were loaded in the frontcourt with Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic and others like Christian Wood and Cheick Diallo, Okafor still managed to appear in 59 games, starting 24 of them.
The sentiment around Okafor changed from being labelled a bust to being called a promising underdog in a matter of one season. Okafor was the only retained player of the frontcourt from 2018-19 as the Pelicans remade their roster in the 2019 offseason, but he quickly seemed to fall out of favor.
Despite posting a career-high true shooting percentage, net rating and doubling his assist rating, Okafor has landed himself out of the rotation once more, and seems to be out of the Pels’ plans for the future.
Okafor has only appeared in 28 games this season for New Orleans, starting in nine of them and has tremendously increased his turnover percentage, though that often comes when project players expand their skillset.
Okafor has eight games to prove himself to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Although not the tell-all for how the seeding games will look, Okafor only played a total of 24 minutes in the three New Orleans scrimmage games, putting up a total of 14 points in the process, before being held out of the final game.
Even with the bleak possibility that Okafor returns to the Pelicans on another contract, the eight game stretch for the Pelicans will be perhaps the most important of Okafor’s career. The 6-foot-10 center out of Duke will be playing for a spot in the league next season, and arguably has the most to lose out of any player on the roster.
Okafor hasn’t had a necessarily bad season, but his offensive game doesn’t mesh well with the high-octane threat the Pelicans are pushing. Even though he was retained over all the frontcourt players from the 2018-19 season, Okafor was pushed onto the bench by the emergence of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, Jaxson Hayes and Nicolo Melli.
It isn’t impossible that the Pelicans retain Okafor this offseason, but it isn’t likely unless Okafor shows a better defensive presence and a transformed offensive game over the next eight games and potentially into the playoffs.
What is entirely feasible however, is that Okafor plays his way into the rotation and helps the Pelicans inch closer to the eighth seed in the west, if not usurping the Memphis Grizzlies entirely.
The Pelicans looked great in their three scrimmage games, going 3-0, and if Okafor could break his way into the rotation consistently while knowing his role, a team would be sure to notice.