By Peter Gleason
As the Sixers continue training camp down the Jersey shore, the rest of the NBA is planning to defend against:
Jahlil Okafor, the 6-11, 270-pound talented center from Duke who was the team’s No. 1 pick and third overall in last June’s draft.
Can Okafor be a superstar? Barring injury of course, Okafor will be a productive player. Of course.
With fellow Chicagoan Anthony Davis about to break the bank on a max deal, can Okafor become that level of player? Can he break the stigma of The Curse of the College to Pro Big Man? In this day and age, good enough is never good enough.
Like it or not, Okafor is not going to have this luxury of dominating the post in the NBA. It’s just not how the game is played anymore and the difference between going up against a 7-foot athletic beast-type Marcin Gortat every night compared to a 6-foot-9 slender post from Clemson is literally night and day.
However, what Okafor possesses that separates him from the other former hyped up bigs is not just the skill set that everyone sees on the surface (he won’t blow you away athletically and you won’t see any SportsCenter type blocks) but his ability to do everything with what I call ‘The Extra Half-Second.’
This basically means that in every situation, Okafor is able to do things a half of a second quicker than the defender is used to reacting to. This is what makes Marc Gasol so dominant, he can’t jump much higher than any of you out there reading this article, but his high level IQ and extra half-second ability is what has made him the best center in the NBA. Okafor has this same ability. It’s very rare, especially for a 19-year-old kid.
In the NBA, there are certain offensive movements that reign supreme: Pick-and-roll situations, player movement/ball movement Spurs flow, and high post cerebral big allocations.
In pick-and-roll situations, Okafor finished at a points per possession rate of 1.588. That is extremely high level. Okafor’s soft hands, which allow him to catch everything thrown his way, coupled with his ability to quickly get out of the point of attack in ball screen situations will translate very well to the NBA.
But what is even more impressive than his finishing ability in pick-and-roll situations is his ability to find the open man out of these situations as well as low-post doubles to flow directly into player movement/ball movement. In pick-and-roll situations, Okafor has a 64.5 percent score rate when he passes out of the roll. (This means quick touch passes to the opposite big, kick-outs to the open shooter on the wing by way of his peripherial vision – ‘half-second’ quick split decisions). When hard doubled in the post, which happened on 20.9 percent of Okafor’s touches on the block, Duke scored at a points per possession rate of 1.186.
Okafor’s ability to see the next play developing before it happens is what will separate him from other bigs and what will make him a very successful offensive NBA center. More importantly than a super-athlete big who pins shots against the glass is a center who the offense can run through basically as a ‘point-center’ (similar once again to Gasol and Duncan).
The area that is continually questioned in Okafor’s game is his defensive ability and whether he will he be able to guard elite centers in the NBA. In isolation situations in college, Okafor was giving up an adjusted field goal percentage of 44.6 percent to his opponents and ranked in the lower 70 percent of college basketball in isolation defense. That is a glaring statistic. How is he going to be able to defend elite NBA bigs if he can’t stop a Kinesiology major from Virginia Tech? His foot quickness and overall explosiveness are not going to be what Okafor hangs his hat on.
But once again, his high level IQ and ‘half-second’ ability is what will make him a better-than-average defender in the league. He’s never going to be Marc Gasol on the defensive end, but he has the potential to flirt with that type of ability. Once again, one of the most important aspects for a big is not only how they function offensively in the pick-and-roll situations, but also how they are able to defend it. In pick-and-roll situations at Duke, Okafor held opponents to 0.677 points per possession rate and a percent score rate of only 25.8 percent.
So as he might struggle in isolations situation, more importantly, he thrives in team defensive reads and rotations/adjustments.