Jahlil Okafor Carving His Niche

It is hard to earn minutes in the NBA, it’s even harder when you have a reputation as a bad defender (especially with referees buying into your “reputation” when deciding to call or not to call fouls”), especially if you are a role player. Some stars can get away with it because they excel so much in other areas. The key for players not in the stratosphere of “star” is to find things they can excel at to help their respective teams win. Role players go into games without always knowing how many minutes they are going to play, if they are going to start, or come off the bench, or even if they will play at all. Sometimes it probably feels like an exercise in futility to them. They have to constantly stay ready when it might feel like their work doesn’t matter, but it might, and soon. There is a divide in what people believe to be a “good” player in the NBA and the role players are often the forgotten man, until they can take advantage of an opportunity. Consistency can be lost when they aren’t always in the rotation playing the same role or amount of minutes, but they have to stay consistent, even if their time isn’t.

Jahlil Okafor is earning every bit of the minutes he is playing, starting in three straight games due to injuries decimating the rest of the Pelicans front court. He’s posted strong stat-lines in each start, most recently a 24/15 line against the Spurs. Jah has been a breath of fresh air for a season that has sucked much of the remaining air around us away. He has been plain fun to watch, with a post game that is reminiscent of Al Jefferson. There are few things more aesthetically pleasing in the NBA than fancy footwork and ball fakes leading to a bucket. Scoring isn’t the only thing he is doing well either. For the most part he is staying in front of his man on defense and moving his feet well and fouling less. He is probably the best screen setter on the Pelicans and a decent rebounder on a team that seems to be allergic to the notion of both. In a season devoid of wins, with constant rumor clouding every conversation, warranted or not, Jahlil has been something to look forward to with the Pelicans holding a team option on him for the 2019-20 season.

Okafor is currently in the midst of the the most efficient year of his career, touting his highest rebound percentage, highest true shooting percentage, and lowest turnover percentage yet. His hard work is paying off and after struggling early in his career with this being his 3rd team at only 23, we are starting to see he can stick in the NBA. With the trade deadline coming up in a few weeks it might not be surprising if Okafor became a starter for the remainder of the year, which I would be lying if I said I expected it.

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