Duke basketball 2014-2015 player review: Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor

Season breakdown: Jahlil Okafor reigned supreme as king of the paint throughout his freshman season. From the first time he stepped onto Coach K Court, Okafor established himself as a dominant force down low and quickly silenced those who questioned the hype he had garnered coming out of high school. Early in the season, the Chicago native held Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky—who would go on to win the highly-coveted John R. Wooden award—to just 41.7 shooting from the field and added 13 points in Duke’s 80-70 victory against the then-No. 2 Badgers. Okafor’s success in the paint—which continued throughout the season—can be attributed to his polished footwork, which is incredibly advanced for a 6-foot-11 freshman. He led Duke with 17.3 points per game and ranked second in the country by shooting 66.4 percent from the floor.

Unsurprisingly, Okafor headed the Blue Devils’ rebounding effort, posting 8.5 rebounds per contest. He also would go on to make history, becoming the first freshman to win the ACC Player of the Year award.

Okafor’s Achilles heel in an otherwise flawless season came at the free throw line. He averaged a mere 51 percent shooting from the charity stripe on the season. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski was often forced to sub Okafor out in the final minutes of close games, as he was consistently unable to convert on his foul shots.

Results relative to expectations: Entering as the No. 1 player in the 2014 recruiting class, Okafor was touted as one of the most polished players to come out of high school in recent history. Though faced quite a bit of pressure to perform up to his monumental expectations, Okafor was able to play his game despite all of the hype surrounding him. He bested some of the most elite centers in the NCAA, including Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas, Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski and North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks.

Okafor was able to provide Duke with the true post presence it was lacking during the 2013-2014 season and was the go-to scorer for the Blue Devils. When opposing teams challenged Okafor with double-teams—as they often did throughout the season—his skilled passing game gave his teammates ample opportunities to score. As a result, Duke’s offense often ran through Okafor’s demanding presence. He managed to exceed expectations offensively by not only dominating in his own right, but also by opening up the floor for his teammates to step up.

On the defensive end, Okafor’s stature was enough to keep opposing teams from taking control of the paint. His defensive skills did not come close to rivaling his offensive prowess, but he was, at times, able to shut down some of the nation’s best big men—such as limiting Christmas to a 5-of-17 shooting performance at the Carrier Dome. He averaged a solid 1.3 blocks per game, but Okafor's defensive abilities farther away from the basket—particularly his ability to defend the pick-and-roll—were exposed as a glaring weakness by several teams.

The Blue Devils’ star center has already announced that he will forfeit his remaining three years of eligibility to enter the 2015 NBA draft, where he is expected to be taken with one of the first two picks. Though he will be sorely missed in Durham, his commanding presence and adept offense will help him as he tries to turn around an NBA organization.

Players we've already reviewed: Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen


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