Just how good is Jahlil Okafor?

Last year, I had the privilege to watch Jahlil Okafor play in the Illinois state high school basketball tournament. My school was one of the four teams to make it to that point, and as a result me and a few friends made the three hour drive up to watch our team play. Before our team’s eventual loss the first night, we got to see the second half of Okafor and Whitney Young High School take on Stevenson high school. While his standout performance of 38 points and some double-digit number of rebounds was nice, he was overshadowed by 56 points from lefty Jalen Brunson (who now plays at Villanova) on Stevenson.

I never realized that I would be watching a future NBA player in that game.

At 6’11”, Okafor was too big for any defenders in that game. Nobody could defend against old-school style of play at the center position. His tremendous footwork overwhelmed the defense and his hook shots were nearly automatic. He and the rest of his team from Whitney Young would go on to win first in state (the second year in a row that a Chicago team had won the tournament, with the prior year being taken by Jabari Parker and Simeon Academy).

Before he even stepped on the court at Duke, people were already contemplating whether or not Okafor would go on to be the first pick in next year’s NBA draft. It was a valid argument based on the potential he had shown during his play in high school.

Now, just a few games into the college season, Okafor is probably a lock to be next year’s first pick (if he decides to enter the draft).

Through his first five games, he has shot 80% or better in three of them and is 60% overall. He is second on the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game and leads the team with 8 boards per contest, helping his Duke Blue Devils get off to a 6-0 start (not unexpected). He adds 1.6 blocks per game and a steal per game on the defensive end.

To put it simple: he’s probably already the best player on his team.

Given his size and proven ability to be a threat in the low post, Okafor is already NBA ready. If the draft started today, he would go first. Few other players are even in that conversation. Okafor would be a unique player in the league because of his traditional play as a big man and he would definitely add something that the league hasn’t seen in a while. While there is still a long season of college basketball yet to be played, it would seem that the only thing that could prevent Jahlil Okafor from being picked first in next year’s draft is if he decided to return to another season at Duke.

What do you think? Who do you think could be in the conversation for first pick next year? Let me know in the comments below!

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