Image Credit: NBA.com
For those that follow the NBA closely, you’re already aware that New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis hasn’t played since January 18 due to an avulsion fracture of the volar plate in his left index finger. You also know that he has informed the team he does not intend to sign a contract extension and wants out of New Orleans.
What’s flown under the radar during Davis’ absence is the stellar play of former 76er and Net, Jahlil Okafor. After averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games during his 2015-16 rookie season, Okafor saw those numbers decrease to 9.8 and 4.2, respectively, per game over the next two seasons. Failing to adapt to the new era of NBA basketball (floor-spacing bigs that can defend in space), “Jah” needed to fix things – and quick.
Signing a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract (club option for 2019-20) with the Pelicans during the offseason, many considered this Okafor’s last shot to make a lasting impact in the NBA. For a team that lost center DeMarcus Cousins to free agency but added PF Julius Randle, a starting role wasn’t in the cards for Okafor initially. With his best month of the season prior to January consisting of just 6.0 PPG, his impact wasn’t felt much. Since Davis went down, though, the former Blue Devil has been on a tear:
|Per 36 MIN||36||19.9||11.8||1.8||60.9|
21 points, and 11 rebounds per outing are borderline All-Star numbers. Throw in 2.6 blocks per game (would rank 2nd in the NBA this season) and a field-goal percentage of 74.6 (would lead the NBA), and you’ve got a potential All-Star starter on your hands. What’s even more shocking about Okafor’s last five games: he’s putting up better numbers in just under 33 MPG than his per-36 averages. Scoring at a high rate with remarkable efficiency, rebounding the ball at an elite level and blocking shots with the best the league has to offer, Okafor’s had one heck of a week.
The resurgence doesn’t stop at your everyday counting numbers, though. Before this season, Okafor had never posted an offensive rating above 95.4. That mark would currently rank 86th among qualifying centers this year. Taking his game to another level, regardless of minutes played, Okafor’s mark of 108.7 puts him 27th in the league. In regards to his offensive progression, the proof is in the pudding at this point in the 2018-19 campaign.
Of course, offense is only one half of a player’s game. Defense is also important, regardless of what you think about the NBA’s increased pace and amount of three-point shooting. The second-worst center in the NBA last year by defensive rating standards, Okafor is now 67th out of 86 in that metric. While that is far from good, or even average, it’s an improvement nonetheless. More playing time will tell how good (or bad) Okafor is capable of playing on that end.
Because this is such a small sample size, it’s important not to read too much into Okafor’s “resurgence” just yet. Once Davis returns from injury, Okafor’s playing time will take a huge hit. Until that happens, though, sit back and enjoy an exciting young talent play some inspired basketball. Still just 23 years old, people often forget how much basketball Jahlil Okafor has yet to play. Quality minutes will be a big need for a Pelicans team sitting five games below .500 nearing the All-Star break. If this last week-and-change has been any indication, that basketball will be all the more meaningful moving forward.