The New Orleans Pelicans reached a deal with fourth-year center, Jahlil Okafor yesterday.
The deal is partially guaranteed for the 2018-19 season and includes a team option for the following season.
The Pelicans will be the third team for the third overall pick from the 2015 draft, though it may seem like the former Duke Blue Devil has bounced around a bit more.
The team who drafted Okafor, the Philadelphia 76ers, didn’t pick up the team option on his rookie deal, and subsequently tried to trade him. Because no deals immediately came to fruition, Okafor was benched during the process (no pun intended).
Eventually, Okafor was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, the perfect team to find his footing and show why he was selected so high in the draft and won a national championship in college. Except the 6”11 center wasn’t in shape when the Sixers traded him as a result of being benched, and in the end, he couldn’t make an impact in Brooklyn.
Now in present day, Okafor has signed a deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. How well does he fit in?
For starters, the Pelicans lost their starting center in DeMarcus Cousins as he unceremoniously signed with the NBA juggernaut, the Golden State Warriors.
The Pelicans might be able to work out a frontcourt with former Kentucky studs, Anthony Davis and newly-signed Julius Randle. However, that would likely have AD playing the center position, where he can play for stretches but should predominantly stay at the four spot.
This would make Jahlil Okafor an off-the-bench big man, but in what rotation? The Pelicans also have Emeka Okafor, who will surely be fighting for a spot in the second-string rotation, possibly even in the starting lineup.
Having been in the league already, Emeka Okafor can afford to have his reputation back him up a bit, but the same can’t be said for Jahlil.
This could be Jahlil’s last chance in the NBA. If it doesn’t work out in New Orleans, he might have to realistically consider playing overseas. Okafor’s back-to-the-basket, offensive-minded game doesn’t mesh with the direction the NBA is going in.
Centers should be able to have an interior presence, both offensively and defensively, as well as shoot the ball consistently, ideally from behind the three-point line.
Okafor has to excel in his craft in order to justify being in the league. With the Pelicans being a playoff team, Big Jah has to be ready to contribute from the get-go and have the best season of his career to stay afloat in the NBA.