Welcome back to the 3rd week of Duke in the NBA weekly. Congrats again to Kyrie Irving who was named a starter for the All-Star game on Thursday night. This will be Kyrie’s 6th All-Star game already. The 14 reserves who will be joining Irving and the 10 starters will be announced on Thursday and we are hoping to hear Jayson Tatum’s name called. Appearing in the All-Star game in only his second year in the league would be a big accomplishment for Tatum, who is averaging 16.4 PPG. Tatum got a lot of hype after his excellent performance in the playoffs last season and it seems like that momentum plus a very weak Eastern conference roster will lead to him getting the All-Star nod, though he is still working to find his rhythm and role on the Celtics this season who have seemed so far to have a little too many cooks in the kitchen. The deep dive this week will focus on Jahlil Okafor who had a big week!
(Deep dives: Week 1 Justise Winslow, Week 2 Brandon Ingram, Week 3 Jahlil Okafor)
Deep Dive: Jahlil Okafor
This week was a huuuuuuuuge week for Big Jah. Pelicans star center/power forward Anthony Davis got injured Jan 18th vs the Trailblazers and since that injury Okafor has started all 4 games in his spot. In replacement of Davis, Okafor put up 19.8 PPG and 10.8 rebounds and did that while shooting 75% from the field! This is the Jahlil Okafor that dominated college basketball during his 1 season at Duke and who averaged 17.5 PPG in 53 games his rookie season. Davis might be out for another week or potentially 3 more weeks according to their coach. This injury is a huge opportunity for Jah to show NBA teams that he is still an extremely valuable piece and to hopefully convince a team who could use a dynamic low post scorer to give him a solid contract.
As crazy as it is, almost 4 years now after winning a National Championship at Duke, being the first ever freshmen to win ACC Player of the Year, and being drafted 3rd overall, Okafor is on a 1-year deal making $1.5 million this year. Then the Pelicans have a $1.7 million option on him over the summer. I’m not sure if Jah will get a say in whether he has to take the $1.7 million option next year but to think that a guy who can go in and start and put up 20 and 10 on 75% shooting is making less than $2 million a year in a league with bloated contracts in crazy. All Jah can keep doing is playing well with the minutes he gets and turn more NBA teams into believers.
The decline of Jahlil Okafor in his first 4 years in the NBA was tough to see. Teams really were not attracted by a center that really struggled on defense and wasn’t a great shooter. Jah is not a good shot blocker and isn’t the most mobile big man which made guarding the pick and roll hard. Defensive liabilities were his biggest issue, but additionally he has never been a great rebounder. For a guy without a consistent jump shot who stays on the low block, one would think that he would be a big time rebounder but that is actually not the case. Jah is in the bottom 10 of centers in the league in terms of rebounds per 48 minutes, though he has been improving as of recent.
Overall, Okafor is just a bit of an odd fit in today’s NBA game. Elite low block scoring combined with not much else and a lot of negatives just is not valued very much even in a league where for the most part other positions get paid to score (just ask Jabari Parker). My hope for Jah is that he can up his rebounding numbers and produce a good enough stretch here that if the Pelicans trade Anthony Davis in the summer, they feel comfortable going into next season with Jah either as the starting center or even splitting minutes with another center. The man is only 23 years old and is in the best shape of his life and still will get better. Keep an eye on him over the next few weeks as he continues to look to impress the Pelicans and other teams across the league in Davis’ absence.
Below are highlights from his 24 point 15 rebound game in a loss to the Spurs.
Quick Notes from the week:
- Marvin Bagley III got the first start of his NBA career and put up 22 and 11 on 50% shooting. After this game he has been back on the bench. Why the Sacremento Kings are not starting Bagley ahead of Willie Cauley-Stein at the center or Nemanja Bjelica at power forward is beyond me…
- Seth Curry had 17 and 22 point performances for the Trail Blazers this week. It was also announced that Curry will be participating in the 3-point contest over All Star weekend in Charlotte and going against his brother Steph.
- Frank Jackson got a lot of playing time for the Pelicans in their last 2 games this week, playing 25 and 26 minutes in the games. He scored 12 and 15 points in those games which is nothing spectacular but it seems like the Pelicans are having more and more trust with the second year guard. On a team that struggles from the perimeter, Jackson should hopefully be able to continue to play significant minutes.
- Mason Plumlee got ejected on national TV on ESPN for getting physical with Derrick Favors early in the game on Wednesday. He followed that up with two very efficient 16 and 17 point games on the week to continue to help the Nuggets put up one of the best records in the league. Don’t mess with the Plum-dog.
Hope that image fires you up and inspires you to not take no BS this week! Have a good one!