Will Jahlil Okafor Be A Classic Big Man?


Jahlil Okafor was the third overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft for the Philadelphia 76ers. There’s high expectations there. There’s high expectations for just about any player in the top five, and heck, maybe even up through the top 15.

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With the NBA evolving, the definition of a big man is constantly changing. More and more, teams are realizing they don’t need a dominant front court, and can go with a smaller lineup that is able to shoot from long range. Okafor and the Sixers seem to see things a bit differently.

While Nerlens Noel still prepares himself to be a deeper shooter as he takes over the reigns at power forward instead of center, Okafor is still — as far as we can tell so far — a traditional big man.

Okafor might have an occasional 10 foot shot in him, but for the most part, the general thought about his role in the offense is primarily offensive paint domination, which is more towards what people see as a ‘traditional big man’ job, and not what some like to see from centers today.

Over the course of NBA history, and even just Sixer history, classic big men have been some of the most popular players. Growing up I watched a lot of Shaquille O’Neal, and was awed by his dominance as a big man and his powerful dunks.

His career was paved by the likes of other big men, like Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who preceded him.

And this week, it’s hard not to look back on one of the Sixers’ best all time big men, Moses Malone, who passed away on Sunday. Malone was titled as the ‘Chairman of the Boards’ even by commissioner Adam Silver in his statement on Malone’s passing. This is something consistently shown by NBA legendary big men, their domination on the boards. Although Malone skipped out on college, a lot of these players put up statistics in college that showed regular high scoring, and regular high rebounding.

Since Okafor has only been seen in college, we only know about his college statistics. Did he demonstrate the statistics to be projected as a legendary big man? Somewhat surprisingly, no, he didn’t.

Now, keep in mind that the era Okafor played college ball in is drastically different than some of the classic big men. No longer is it common for players to attend years of college, now the norm is leaving school as soon as players’ draft stock will get them where they are satisfied.

Still, there’s something to be said for a player that has low stats compared to what some of the legendary centers in NBA history had as they came into the league.

Here’s a look at some legendary players’ stats in their last year of college.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 9/16/2015.

David Robinson


Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 9/16/2015.

Hakeem Olajuwon


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Generated 9/16/2015.

Tim Duncan


Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 9/16/2015.

Now, I also wanted to compare him to a younger player, and get a feel for the fact that, maybe, even in this era, Okafor could be a few steps behind.

Anthony Davis


Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 9/16/2015.

In the past, I have compared Okafor to the likes of Davis. While they aren’t identical, they do still have some similarities. Davis seems to be more on the side of a modern big man, while Okafor — at first glance — looks like he’s sticking to posting up in the paint.

For comparison, here is Okafor’s statistics from his only season playing college ball.


Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 9/16/2015.

There are some clear flags when comparing Okafor’s college stats to those who are accepted as ‘classic big men’ and even compared to modernized, but soon to be ‘classic big men,’ he can be a bit behind.

Here’s some notable things to realize about Okafor compared to this group of players:

  • His 66.4% field goal percentage compares well, coming in at second out of the group of six.
  • He’s last in rebounds in this pool, by a long shot.
  • His blocks are last in the group of statistics available (Kareem’s block stats from college were not available).
  • The only person he beat out in points was Davis.

Is it premature to be worried about Okafor not doing well in the NBA because he doesn’t compare well as far as college statistics to legends like David Robinson, Kareem, and Duncan? Yes, it is. I think it would be early to even project that Okafor’s career becomes anything close to as legendary as any of these guys, also.

He’s got the offensive tools to be a classic, and he will obtain more and polish up his offense even more as the years go on. Despite not coming close to the point production that the others had when they were in college, it must be remembered that Okafor was on a team with lots of great players, and a team that won a national championship.

They were ranked first in total field goals, which means that the whole team was involved in scoring, and Okafor had to share shots with other players. This may not have been the case for the other guys on this list.

Of the rest of the players, three of the players’ teams made the Final Four in their final college season, and two of them (Abdul-Jabbar and Davis) won a national title in their last college season (for Davis it was also his first). Kareem seemed to have to carry his team much more than Davis had to do with the Kentucky team in 2012.

The block issue is one that’s been discussed a lot this offseason, as we’ve pointed to the fact that Okafor has bad tendencies on defense. In the context of the Sixers, this isn’t terrible, since Nerlens Noel does a lot on defense.

In conclusion, I think Okafor is much more traditional than Davis is, as far as style of play. That being said, I don’t think it’s fair to base his future off a single year in college, although his stats don’t compare very well to those who have done well in the center position in the past.

What he has above these guys is a few years head start. Most of the classics stayed in college for years, so at a very young age, Okafor is playing in the NBA and getting real experience.

Okafor wasn’t the only star on the Duke team last year, and will have a bigger stage for himself in Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see how he starts his career, and if he can set the foundation to, in fact, be a classic player, and specifically, a classic big man.

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