2018-19 SEASON STATS
Listen to Jim Eichenhofer & Daniel Sallerson's Review of Jahlil Okafor's 2018-19 Performance
What a difference seven months can make.
Back in September, Okafor entered New Orleans training camp as a modestly-priced, late-summer free-agent pickup, a player who’d shown some early-career promising signs in Philadelphia, but also one with a lot to prove. By the end of the ’18-19 schedule in April, the fourth-year pro was a focal point of the short-handed Pelicans’ offense, tallying a season-best 30 points in Game 82 vs. Golden State, two days after dropping in 23 points in a win at Sacramento.
“Overall, it was a positive season,” Okafor summarized, a day after his 30-point outing. “Comparing this to where I was at this time last (year), it’s a completely different mindset. I’m in a positive mindset. I’m happy with the season overall and have a lot to look forward to next year. Now I’m going to relax for a little bit and get back to it.” Much like his pro career so far, there were several bumps in the road along the way this season for Okafor. He only appeared in 13 of New Orleans’ first 31 games, and even that number is misleading, because just four of those 13 appearances consisted of him logging more than four minutes of action. His first breakout game occurred Dec. 19 at Milwaukee, when he scored 17 points in only 13 minutes, but even in mid-March, his role was still in constant flux due to the changing availability of other Pelicans frontcourt players. Amid the uncertainty, Okafor still managed to register 21 games of double-digit scoring and seven double-figure rebounding performances.
“I thought I made the most of it,” Okafor said of his periodic opportunities to contribute. “I thought when my number was called, I stayed ready. A lot of credit goes to the coaches we have here, the player-development coaches that work behind the scenes. Day-to-day, they lock in on guys who aren’t playing, (who are) racking up DNPs. They were really beneficial for me.”
As was the case for young Pelicans such as Frank Jackson, Cheick Diallo and Kenrich Williams, Okafor was a much more prominent figure in the second half of the season. After appearing in 13 of the team’s first 31 games, he played in 46 of the final 51. He appeared to gain confidence as the season progressed, but that may have been simply due to the chance to be on the floor more.
“I thought they did a great job developing us,” Okafor said of the coaching staff’s impact on the quartet. “They didn’t let us play right away, but everything happens for a reason. When certain guys got that opportunity, they did some really good things, like Frank, Cheick, obviously Kenrich working his way into the starting lineup. It was positive, and obviously I’m excited for next year, because we have a lot of good guys coming back.”
New Orleans has a team option for ’19-20 on Okafor, who said that he’ll focus on fine-tuning his conditioning, allowing him to stay on the floor and excel for longer stretches. In today’s NBA, with nearly early team boasting multiple perimeter-shooting threats, even traditional low-post centers like Okafor need to be mobile defensively, making quickness and agility important aspects of improvement at that end of the floor.
“It always comes down to my body, making sure I’m in the best physical shape possible,” said Okafor of the offseason, which he plans to spend working with his trainer, David Alexander. “I’m confident in my abilities, and I feel like I’m in a good rhythm. With a consistent chance to play, I can go out there and play with the best of them. It was good to have good games to look back on this offseason, but I also have more things to improve on.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Times Okafor recorded double-digit points among the 22 games in which he logged 18 or minutes of playing time. In the other five instances, he scored at least six points each time.
Percentage of Okafor’s field goal attempts in ’18-19 that came from within 0-3 feet of the rim, by far his career high in that category, via Basketball Reference. His career rate over four seasons is 42.5 percent. Part of that increase was related to Okafor significantly reducing how much he relied on mid-range shots with the Pelicans, taking only 8.6 percent of his field goals from 10-16 feet (career rate in that category is 15.9 percent).
Okafor’s potential NBA rank in field-goal percentage (58.6) among all players, but he did not have enough baskets to qualify among the statistical leaders. A player must make 300 hoops to qualify, but Okafor shot 212 for 362.
Top 15 Jahlil Okafor Photos from the Pelicans 2018-19 Season VIEW GALLERY