Jahlil Okafor – The next Al Jefferson?

Jahlil Okafor figures to be one of the top picks in the NBA's June draft. (Photo credit to FoxSports.com)
Jahlil Okafor figures to be one of the top picks in the NBA’s June draft. (Photo credit to FoxSports.com)

Jahlil Okafor had a spectacular freshman season at Duke University. After he helped lead the Blue Devils to a national championship, Okafor has decided it’s time to try his hand in the NBA.

While he is considered to be a one of the first players drafted once the draft gets underway, what will Okafor become on the big stage?

Here is my opinion.

Al Jefferson was the 15th pick in the 2004 draft. The Boston Celtics selected the 6-foot-10 center out of Prentiss High School in Mississippi.

He made one start his rookie season on a team that featured Mark Blount, a young Kendrick Perkins, and several other bad players. Jefferson’s numbers were modest: 6.7 points per game and 4.4 rebounds in 14.8 minutes.

The book on Jefferson coming out of high school was that he was “very strong, very good post skills and soft hands.” His negatives? “Must improve conditioning and defense needs work.”

In his third season with the Celtics, Jefferson had his best season as a pro: 16 points, 11 rebounds and 51.4 percent shooting on a team that won just 24 games. That summer, he was the main piece the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired from Boston in the Kevin Garnett trade.

Jefferson quickly blossomed into one of the best big men in basketball. He averaged 21 and 11 in his first season, but Minnesota didn’t win. In fact, the T’wolves finished with 22 wins on the season. The next year, Jefferson went back to work. Through 50 games, Jefferson averaged 23.1 points and 11 rebounds before he tore his ACL on Feb. 8 2009.

The injury didn’t have much of an impact on Jefferson’s game because his game never relied on athleticism. His numbers were still solid, but he wasn’t impacting games on both ends of the floor.

He was sent to Utah in 2010 to clear the way for Kevin Love.

Jefferson has spent the last two seasons in Charlotte, where he has accumulated stats but the Hornets. However, his numbers have only led to 76 wins two years.

I see Okafor being the same type of player that Jefferson has been.

The knocks on Okafor are nearly identical to the knocks on Jefferson 10 year’s prior. According to NBADraft.net, the site compares Okafor to Jefferson, too. I didn’t know that until I checked it. My number one goal is for my content to be original.

Okafor’s conditioning was a problem while he was at Duke. The All-American played 30.1 minutes per game, but had 16 games in which he committed at least three fouls. In the championship game against Wisconsin, Okafor was limited to 22 minutes because of foul trouble. If he turns out to be a 25-28 mpg kind of guy in the NBA, well, that team will have drafted poorly. The NBA game is much faster and he will have to do a lot more running. Teams take advantage of his poor conditioning.

Another big knock on him is he is a very bad free throw shooter. He shot 51 percent from the line in his only season as a Blue Devil, and with the way teams treat DeAndre Jordan at the end of games, this is not something a team wants to see out of a top draft pick.

His defense has been a source of concern, too. While Jefferson has averaged 1.3 blocks per game during his career, Jefferson hasn’t been known as a rim-protector. He gets blocks because he plays around the rim, not because he is making plays at the rim.

Okafor is the same way. He averaged only 1.4 blocks per game at Duke. The real question will be, can he handle the athleticism at the next level? His skill set will be able to help offset some of his inabilities, but certainly not all of it.

On a more positive note, Okafor has great footwork, hands and touch around the rim. Frank Kaminsky gave him some difficulties in the championship game, but Okafor was the one who was responsible for not getting himself into a rhythm. Most of the time, Okafor will score the ball if he gets into the paint. He is too big and offensively skilled not to shoot a high percentage from the field during his career.

He also has some hidden explosiveness in those tree-trunk legs of his. He doesn’t have to jump very high to dunk it, but he is explosive when doing so. I really like the spring in his bounce. He throws it down hard and with authority, something that big men don’t do much of anymore.

When I see Okafor, I see a big risk-reward guy, more than most people think. With all the stretch players in today’s game, big men like Okafor can become obsolete during games. He will either put it all together and be a force around the league, or he will be like Jefferson, a very good offensive player who doesn’t do much else besides score and rebound.

That’s not a knock on Jefferson, but he has never been an All-Star for a reason.

I see Okafor’s ceiling being a rich-er-man’s version of Jefferson, in the Brook Lopez realm of the basketball world, and he might even turn out to better than Lopez. While Lopez is more of a face-up guy, I could see that being Okafor’s next progression. He could develop some semblance of a face-up game, it will dramatically improve his value.

For as highly as he’ll be taken though, he better turn out better than both of them.


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