Duke standout Jahlil Okafor seemed to vanish during the Blue Devils’ victories against Utah and Gonzaga to reach the NCAA tournament’s Final Four.
The Whitney Young product had six points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes against Utah, then had nine points and eight rebounds against Gonzaga. He was the only Duke starter not to reach double figures in scoring.
His performance made SB Nation’s Kevin O’Connor wonder if Okafor’s draft stock is taking a tumble.
Okafor is one of the finest low-post talents to enter the draft since Al Jefferson came out of high school in 2004. With advanced post moves the majority of pros can only dream of using, clean footwork, exceptional mobility and soft hands, Okafor could someday develop into an All-Star scorer on the block. But no player is perfect, and Okafor has displayed that throughout the season with his lack of explosiveness, poor rim protection and nonexistent shooting ability. Those weaknesses were on full display last weekend. After Duke demolished their first two tournament opponents, Okafor has struggled in the last two games, averaging just 7.5 points, eight rebounds and a nearly-even assist-to-turnover ratio. Duke is in the Final Four in spite of him, not because of him. Okafor had previously scored fewer than 10 points only once this season, and that came in a game he logged only 19 minutes in a blowout win over Wake Forest, which makes his low scoring output in the tourney even more worrisome.
Okafor’s presence on the court alone is a big part of his game. He draws double teams and opens opportunities for the rest of the floor.
But, as O’Connor notes, Okafor got pushed around by Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski, and he’s got video evidence to prove it.
If a transition opportunity occurred, Okafor’s man outran him. The effort Okafor displayed on the national stage certainly didn’t support the positive reputation he earned as a winner in high school. The scarier question: what if it’s not just a matter of effort? What if Okafor is actually struggling with conditioning late in Duke’s tournament run against NBA-caliber players like Poeltl, Donatas Sabonis and Karnowski? There were concerns about Okafor’s Jared Sullinger-like body shape heading into the season. Maybe those issues are finally rearing their ugly head late in the year. [snip] Okafor is undoubtedly one of the top offensive talents in the 2015 NBA Draft, but his questionable fit, possible conditioning issues and shaky performances against legitimate competition during March Madness is causing him to lose his hold on the top spot in the draft. Still, the Duke Blue Devils have more games to plan. A turnaround performance in the Final Four against Michigan State on Saturday could do a lot to win back support.