Despite taking centers in the first round in each of the last two drafts, the Philadelphia 76ers had their eyes set on yet another big man entering 2015. Coming off a dominant collegiate year at Duke, Jahlil Okafor was at the top of the Sixers’ draft board.
Initially, fans around the league were quite puzzled by this move. At this point in time, Nerlens Noel had begun to show real flashes of being something special, and the team had just spent the #3 overall pick on Joel Embiid the year before.
However, a majority of those concerns were quieted after Okafor’s rookie season. He played in 53 games and averaged 17.5 points per game. Okafor also eventually switched positions over to power forward, in order to pair up with Noel in the frontcourt. Despite the team winning just 18 games that season, there was reason to be hopeful about the two young centers.
Okafor did end up missing the last 20ish games of the season with a minor meniscus tear, but even with this, he managed to make the All-Rookie First Team.
Although his on-court production was solid, Okafor began showing some maturity concerns. He was repeatedly involved in off the court “fights” that led to the Sixers organization hiring a bodyguard (?) for the rookie center.
Things never really were the same after Okafor’s rookie season. Whether it was related to his knee injury or not, it became clear that the young center was not the same player anymore. He averaged just 11.8 points per game in his sophomore season as he struggled to see the court due to a minutes restriction.
In his third season with the team, Okafor began openly talking about how he no longer wanted to be a Sixer anymore. The team had clearly found their permanent franchise center in Joel Embiid, and had already traded Noel.
With Okafor’s value at an all-time low, the 76ers struggled to find a trade partner while also refusing to buy his contract out. Due to this, Okafor pretty much just sat the bench the entire first half of the 2017-2018 season.
The 22-year-old center was finally dealt to the Brooklyn Nets right before the deadline, where he would play in just 26 games for them. Okafor failed to make an impact with his new team and entered free agency as an unrestricted free agent.
The former #3 overall pick generated little to no interest on the open market, eventually deciding to sign with the New Orleans Pelicans in a backup role. He was inked to a 2-year league minimum contract worth just over $3 million.
In one and a half seasons with the Pelicans, Okafor has been a pretty solid backup. He plays around 15 minutes per game and is good for an average of 8 points per game. With that said, he has really struggled with his rebounding and his defense, issues that have plagued him since his days in Philly.
Obviously, the Pelicans are moving forward with Zion Williamson as their franchise’s centerpiece. Considering he and Jahlil play similar positions (small-ball 5), it’s unlikely Okafor will ever earn a bigger role on his current team. In fact, it may be unlikely he even receives a second contract.
At just 24 years old, and a backup on a non-playoff team, it’s pretty safe to say that “Jah” has been a major bust. Injuries hindered Okafor’s development, and he never seemed to get things 100% in order off the court. Barring Okafor rebuilding himself on a new team sometime in the future, I doubt any of us will be hearing his name anytime soon.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Check out some of the other entries in our “Rewinding the Process” series:
Nerlens Noel: https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2020/03/21/noel-2/
Hollis Thompson: https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2020/03/23/hollis/