Duke can’t develop big men! Coach K’s motion offense doesn’t work with big men! How can a big man succeed being coached by a point guard? With the improvement of Mason Plumlee over four years and Jahlil Okafor (the most polished offensive Center in years) deciding that Duke’s offense fit his skillset (or the other way around, haha), these types of questions can no longer be asked with any legitimacy. He is the centerpiece of this 2014-2015 Duke team and the nightmare of all opponents, forcing game plans designed solely to preparing for Jah. As the consensus number one pick in the 2015 NBA draft barring an unforeseen circumstance, Okafor will leave Duke after this season to turn pro.
Written on 2/13/15
Jahlil Okafor has measured around 6’11, 270 pounds with a 7’5 wingspan for three straight years, meaning he’s not growing into his body like many young players his age. His incredibly large hands make it seem like he’s holding a ping pong ball, which has encouraged the Duke staff to coach him to pass out of double teams with one hand. His vision on his passes are a thing of beauty, and his statistics don’t show how impactful it has been, as many times an Okafor pass ends up as a hockey assist, with the next pass after his leading to the basket. Equally adept at kicking out to teammates at the three-point line or cutting to the basket, Jah is incredibly unselfish and seems to have no problem sacrificing his stats in order to make the correct basketball play. Both on the block and when facing, he is very polished. When facing up, Okafor has a feathery touch on his mid-range bank shot from the left or right block, a rarity these days, and make the Tim Duncan comparisons very easy when analyzing this specific skill set. Jah is gifted at feeling out a defender and getting them off-balance. He can do this facing up or with his back to the basket. For a player of his size, his finesse on spins and scoops make him lethal when combined with his footwork and ability at reading the defense. As the season has progressed, Okafor has showed more bullish tendencies, which is a good thing. When he gets down low and uses leverage, he’s more capable of using his strength to the best capability. Jah is extremely quick off the ground, making him a great offensive rebounder when he’s in the right mindset. If getting deep post position, Jah is simply unstoppable and finishes with ease. In transition, Okafor runs well and can work in space. On defense, his catcher’s mitt hands allow him to spear rebounds in space, and because he’s quick off the ground, he can affect shots as the shooter is going up with the ball.
First of all, Jahlil Okafor’s mindset. Based on how much this has improved already, he seems to be ready to turn a weakness into a strength. On offense, Jah seems content at times to post up outside the paint, almost near the three-point line on the left or right baseline, and work his way in. This allows the defense more time to come over and double him far away from the basket and take away angles. When a team game plans to double him the majority of the time, Okafor seems to accept this and his decision of what to do with the ball is already made before he brings it in. He has become better at reading the defense and getting deeper position, and will continue to improve in these areas. On offense, when playing against a defender(s) with good footwork and an ability to overplay to his right shoulder, Okafor sometimes struggles. Unless he’s next to the basket, he does not have go-to moves to his left in his repertoire. It is surprising to see teams avoid overplaying to his right shoulder, especially on double teams. Though he can free himself at times with a spin move or drop step to his left, it is rare, and will most often try and go right. Besides a bank shot from the left or right block, Okafor is not a threat to shoot without deep position. His humongous hands will always make jump shots difficult without having the backboard to soften the shot and create angles. On free throws, his motion is pure, but releases the ball too far behind his head, causing a jerk in the release and affecting his percentage. If he works on the release, this should turn into a strength as well. Okafor has trouble knowing how to use his strength on defense, allowing the offensive player to get leverage and bull him to the basket. Jah is stronger than any opponent he has faced this season, so it is an ominous sign for his NBA future against bigger players if he cannot hold his ground. Okafor’s footwork on defense is a major issue. Without quick-twitch muscles, he lacks the advantage on defense that he has on offense of feeling out the defender and being a step ahead mentally. It takes Jah a while to stop, start and reverse direction. So while he may be quick off the ground, he is laterally poor, especially when combined with his awareness issues in space. Teams already have scouted this, and try to get him involved in the pick and roll as much as possible. A inconceivably small angle a defender can get on Okafor is almost impossible for him to overcome at this point in his career, which is one reason why Coach K has played consistent zone defense for the first time in his career. Okafor is not an elite athlete and gets most of his blocks as the shooter is bringing the ball up. Once the shooter leaves the ground, he has Jah at his mercy. In transition defense, some confuse Okafor’s running as lack of effort, but the tape shows over and over that, to put it simply, he lumbers rather than runs. This is true at all times when successful or struggling, but when he is exposed in transition, it is easy for some to see it as an effort issue.
Jahlil Okafor hasn’t dealt with many opponents during his basketball career who have posed much of a threat to stopping him, and thus his mindset is just starting to fully develop at this point. He is strong as an ox, and if he can turn into “Angry Jah” while still keeping his composure and fundamentals, he will be unstoppable on offense. He might never be the type to develop a turnaround jump shot or a mid-range without using the backboard, but he has the ability to add more options to his arsenal (I think a sweeping hook wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.) On defense, he can do drills to improve his footwork, but his awareness issues compound his footwork. If he can study film and learn how to anticipate better and take away the angles in space, this can improve, though will most likely not ever be a strength. Many fans, media, and scouts are obsessed with the indefinable “upside” that causes a different player to be hyped up each week as the new, shiny toy. While a player like Karl Towns is the definition of quick twitch athleticism, he is very raw. Jahlil Okafor is anything but raw. Opponents have never game-planned around one player when facing Duke like Coach K has seen this year with Okafor, and some fans don’t seem to understand that EVERYTHING Duke does well is based on Big Jah, the #1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and the reason there are some pro teams are taking on the “lose more for Okafor” mentality.