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The Duke product averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 assists across 53 appearances during his rookie season. His offensive numbers have faded considerably over the past two years, though, and he’s remained a defensive liability.
He put up just 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game in 28 contests split between the Sixers and Brooklyn Nets, who acquired him in a December trade, last season. He ranked 70th of 79 qualified centers in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, per ESPN.com.
In January, the 22-year-old Arkansas native wrote in The Players’ Tribune he understood there were areas he must improve to crack an NBA rotation consistently moving forward:
“As a player, I recognized some key areas in my game that needed work. One, I’ve gotta improve on defense—improve both my physical quickness and my mental discipline. Two, I have to rebound better—maintain smarter positioning, be more aggressive on the jump. And three, I want to be the type of player who makes his teammates better—whether that’s by gaining confidence as a passer, or getting more comfortable spacing the floor, or even just being a supportive guy in the huddle. I’ve been working hard, and I’ll continue to work hard, to make those things happen.”
Okafor has already lost the additional leeway given to high draft picks, as evidenced by his limited playing time with both the 76ers and Nets last season. Now he must showcase substantial improvement if he’s going to blossom late and turn into a valuable asset.
Ultimately, joining the Pelicans represents another fresh start for Okafor, but he shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than a fringe roster player at this stage. He’s going to need a strong showing throughout training camp and the preseason to earn regular minutes to open the year.
He should slot in behind Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic, Emeka Okafor and Cheick Diallo in the New Orleans frontcourt rotation at the outset. However, his addition provides extra depth following the departure of DeMarcus Cousins, who signed with the Golden State Warriors earlier in the offseason.