Jahlil Okafor

Okafor Practices With Pistons, Return Imminent

After undergoing surgery on his left lateral meniscus in February, Pistons reserve center Jahlil Okafor practiced with Detroit yesterday, per James Edwards III of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Pistons head coach Dwane Casey noted that he expects Okafor to be suited up and back on the court for Detroit within the next few days. Okafor’s recovery was expected to take six-to-eight weeks following the procedure, reported on February 10, so an imminent return fits with that projected timeline. Okafor has not played for the Pistons since January 30.

The No. 3 pick by the Sixers in the 2015 NBA draft, the 25-year-old Okafor has become a journeyman reserve as the league has moved away from score-first centers without a long-range shooting stroke. 2020/21 marks his first season with Detroit, on a two-year veteran’s minimal deal.

The 6’10” center has appeared in 12 games for the club, averaging 10.0 minutes per night, as rookie big man Isaiah Stewart has replaced Okafor in the rotational slot backing up starter Mason Plumlee.

Central Notes: Forbes, Holiday, Nwora, Stewart, Plumlee

Shooting guard Bryn Forbes has moved into the Bucks’ starting lineup in place of Jrue Holiday, who has been sidelined by the league’s health and safety protocols, according to Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Holiday will miss his third consecutive game on Friday and it’s unknown how long he’ll be out.

In the Bucks’ first two games without Holiday, Forbes averaged 16 PPG. Forbes holds a $2.45MM option on his contract for next season. Backup point guard D.J. Augustin has remained in that role.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • The Bucks have recalled rookie Jordan Nwora from the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars, according to a team press release. Nwora appeared in one game with Salt Lake City and scored a game-high 26 points against the Erie BayHawks. The second-round pick has appeared in 10 NBA games, averaging 5.1 PPG and 1.5 RPG in 8.2 MPG.
  • Rookie center Isaiah Stewart made his first start for the Pistons on Thursday in place of injured Mason Plumlee and scored a season-high 17 points. Stewart, one of three first-rounders from the 2020 draft on Detroit’s roster, has to learn the nuances of the game but coach Dwane Casey loves Stewart’s energy, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. “I wouldn’t trade his intensity, his disposition, his earnest approach for anything in the world,” Casey said. “That kid, he’s going to be OK.”
  • The Pistons were severely shorthanded up front against the Celtics on Friday, Langlois tweets. Plumlee missed his second straight game with right elbow bursitis and Sekou Doumbouya was sidelined by a concussion. Another backup big man, Jahlil Okafor, is out 6-8 weeks after undergoing knee surgery.

Jahlil Okafor Out 6-8 Weeks After Procedure On Knee

Pistons center Jahlil Okafor will miss six to eight weeks after undergoing a surgical procedure to clean the lateral meniscus in his left knee, the team announced in a press release.

Okafor, 25, has been dealing with pain in both knees for a while and hasn’t played since January 30. He has appeared in 12 games this year and is averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10 minutes per night. Rookie Isaiah Stewart has taken his spot in Detroit’s rotation.

Okafor was the third player picked in the 2015 draft, but he has turned into a journeyman, playing for four teams in the past four seasons. He signed a two-year contract with the Pistons in November at the veteran’s minimum.

Pistons Sign Jahlil Okafor To Two-Year Contract

DECEMBER 1: Okafor’s agreement with the Pistons is now official, the team announced in a press release.

NOVEMBER 20: The Pistons added another big man to their stockpile of frontcourt players, as they’re signing Jahlil Okafor to a two-year contract, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Okafor will sign for the veteran’s minimum, Rod Beard of the Detroit News tweets.

Detroit has added a number of centers and power forwards in recent days. It drafted Isaiah Stewart in the middle of the first round on Wednesday and traded for Dewayne Dedmon. The Pistons also reached a three-year agreement with Nuggets free agent Mason Plumlee.

All this makes it more unlikely their top free agent, Christian Wood, will return. It’s still conceivable they could make a sign-and-trade deal with one of Wood’s pursuers.

Okafor has spent the last two seasons with the Pelicans. He contributed 8.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG and 1.2 APG in 15.6 MPG in 30 appearances last season. Like Plumlee, Okafor is not a 3-point threat. The third overall pick in the 2015 draft has averaged 11.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 220 career games.

Pistons Notes: Wood, Okafor, Hayes, Williams

In an extensive look at intriguing free agent Pistons big man Christian Wood, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer offers some intel on Wood’s possible asking price in free agency and his potential suitors.

There is a significant disparity among O’Connor’s league sources in gauging the annual cost of Wood. Some speculate that Wood may net a deal in the range of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception – which starts at $9.3MM per year – while others think he could earn as much as $18MM a season, equivalent to the current yearly take of Pacers center Myles Turner with incentives. O’Connor expects both championship-caliber clubs looking to add size and young squads making a playoff push to have an interest in Wood’s services.

There’s more out of the Motor City:

  • In other Pistons big man news, James Edwards III of The Athletic tweets that former lottery pick Jahlil Okafor may be a high-scoring, cost-effective option for Detroit. Still just 24, the 6’10” Okafor most recently served as a reserve center for the Pelicans from 2018-20.
  • BBL guard Killian Hayes, regarded as a high-level lottery prospect, has worked out for the Pistons, Rod Beard of the Detroit News tweets. The Pistons, led by new GM Troy Weaver, have the No. 7 pick in next week’s 2020 draft, though they may consider trading up to secure a player they like.
  • The positional versatility of multifaceted 6’8″ Florida State forward Patrick Williams could intrigue Pistons front office brass. “I’m obviously trying to work as hard as I can every day,” Williams said during a call with reporters today, though he would not elaborate on the teams for whom he has worked out. “My agent and I are kind of keeping team workouts in-house and between us.” Multiple reports have suggested Detroit is high on Williams.

Southwest Notes: Gordon, Ball, Hart, Winslow

Rockets guard Eric Gordon hopes a weight-loss program over the hiatus will help him overcome the knee issues that have slowed him this season, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. A team source tells Iko that Gordon has managed to drop 12 pounds through diet changes and track sprints.

“I think Eric Gordon’s a big key for us,” coach Mike D’Antoni said recently. “He has the potential to put us over the top.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Rockets have been preparing to face the Nuggets in the opening round of the playoffs, Iko adds in the same piece. That would be the pairing if the league goes straight to the postseason and uses its traditional formula. If conferences are set aside and the teams are seeded 1-16, Houston would face the Jazz in the first round, which Iko believes is a more favorable matchup.
  • William Guillory and Danny Leroux of The Athletic discuss whether the Pelicans should give rookie scale extensions to Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. Leroux recommends offering Ball a deal starting in the $13-$15MM range with the willingness to match a larger offer when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2021. Leroux believes there’s more urgency to get a deal done with Hart because his value may rise by next year and suggests that he might get something in the range of the four-year, $52MM contract that the Celtics gave Marcus Smart. Looking at other New Orleans free agents, Leroux expects the team to try to re-sign Kenrich Williams, while Jahlil Okafor will probably be let go. Frank Jackson is a tougher call that depends on whether the front office believes he will become a rotation player.
  • Justise Winslow discusses the hiatus with Evan Barnes of The Commercial Appeal, including a plan to adopt a full vegan diet after his 25th birthday next March. Winslow is still waiting to make his debut with the Grizzlies, as a back injury kept him out of action after being traded in February. “I’ve just been waiting to put on that jersey,” Winslow said. “I’ve been grinding, but I miss the team. There’s just something special about this team.”

Free Agent Stock Watch 2020: Southwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we take a look at players from the Southwest Division:

Ben McLemore, Rockets, 27, SG (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $4.3MM deal in 2019
If you’re in the same backcourt as James Harden and Russell Westbrook, you’re not going to have many opportunities to shoot. And when you do, you’d better make them. McLemore is making them. In his last three games, McLemore has averaged 13.3 PPG and knocked down 11 of 18 3-point attempts. Houston has shuffled its roster over the past month but as long as McLemore remains a perimeter threat, he’ll remain in the rotation. Houston needs to guarantee his modest $2.28MM salary for next season prior to free agency. It will be a surprise if the Rockets turn down that bargain.

Jordan Bell, Grizzlies, 25, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $1.62MM deal in 2019
Bell wasn’t much of a factor with Minnesota this season, even when Karl-Anthony Towns missed some games due to injury or suspension. He got traded to Houston, which quickly flipped him to Memphis for Bruno Caboclo. Bell has only appeared in two games with the Grizzlies but there is a glimmer of hope. With injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke depleting the frontcourt, Bell could get an extended look in the next couple of weeks. He’ll have to show a lot more than he did in Minnesota in order for Memphis to extend a qualifying offer, which would make him a restricted free agent.

Jahlil Okafor, Pelicans, 24, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.27MM deal in 2018
When the Pelicans were shorthanded last month in Detroit, Okafor erupted for 25 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He never left the bench the next four games, which shows how little he figures in the organization’s plans. Okafor has played a total of 25 minutes since that game against the Pistons. Once Zion Williamson got healthy, Okafor’s already spotty playing time virtually evaporated. His ability to score in the low post has lost much of its value since he was taken with the third pick in the 2015 draft. He’ll be seeking another second-unit opportunity this summer.

Bryn Forbes, Spurs, 26, PG (Up) – Signed to two-year, $6MM deal in 2018
Undrafted despite playing for a major college (Michigan State), Forbes has fit well with the blue-collar Spurs. After Danny Green was traded during the 2018 offseason, Forbes became a starter in his third year in the league. He’s held onto that role this season and continues to provide a perimeter option on a team lacking in that area. Forbes has been on fire this month, draining 47.4% of his 3-point attempts. Forbes will enter unrestricted free agency this summer and should get a nice raise and a multiyear deal, perhaps without changing uniforms.

Willie Cauley-Stein, 27, PF/C (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.46MM deal in 2019
When Dwight Powell suffered a season-ending Achilles tear late last month, the Mavericks opted to trade with Golden State for Cauley-Stein. It seemed like a great opportunity for Cauley-Stein to pump up his value on a playoff contender. It hasn’t worked out that way. Cauley-Stein’s role has been limited since joining the Mavericks and he hasn’t played since the All-Star break due to undisclosed personal reasons. It’s a good thing for WCS that he has a $2.29MM option on his contract for next season. It should come in handy the way things are trending.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

And-Ones: Buford, Wiseman, Okafor, Bibby

Wisconsin Herd coach Chase Buford has been suspended two games without pay for a direct and extended public attack on the integrity and credibility of the game officials, according to a league press release. Among other comments, Buford called one of the officials a “clown” after his team, the Bucks’ G League affiliate, got outscored 48-20 in the fourth quarter and lost 126-117 to the Grand Rapids Drive on Sunday. Buford subsequently apologized for his tirade.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Projected lottery pick James Wiseman felt he was treated unfairly by the NCAA before he decided to leave Memphis during his freshman season, as he told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. He left the Tigers during a 12-game suspension for rules violations. His family accepted $11,500 in moving expenses in 2017 from Penny Hardaway, who became the team’s coach a year later. “I was really in the middle of a hurricane,” Wiseman said. “That’s like the worst place you could possibly be.” Wiseman is currently rated No. 3 on ESPN’s Best Available list.
  • Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor has agreed to play for Nigeria in this year’s Tokyo Olympics, Marc Spears of The Undefeated tweets. The team will be coached by Warriors assistant Mike BrownOkafor’s grandfather Chicko was born in Nigeria.
  • Mike Bibby will coach the Aliens in the BIG3 this season, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets. The former Kings guard was the Ghost Ballers’ team captain last season.

Pelicans Notes: Williamson, Griffin, Offseason

Pelicans players, coaches and executives alike are trying to shield phenom Zion Williamson from as much of the pressure and spotlight that comes with being the most-hyped player since LeBron James that they can, but it may be a futile endeavor, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic.

Vardon admits it’s an admirable strategy, to try to create an environment in which Williamson matures into an adult naturally, to the degree that’s possible as a professional basketball player. But it’s hard to convince people that this is Jrue Holiday‘s team when everybody and their mother at media day only wants to hear from Zion, even if it meant waiting after the Pels purposely didn’t bring him out until later.

“He’s still 19, a very young 19,” Pelicans’ Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin said. “I think Zion is finding more comfort just with himself as a man, as a person. And that’s really important to us. We don’t have expectations that we are hoisting on him with the players. It’s really about finding himself, finding comfort with his teammates, finding his role and we’re blessed. All Zion wants to do is win.”

But whatever Griffin says, the NBA didn’t “put (the Pelicans) on national TV 30 times” because of anybody but Zion, and New Orleans knows this. So try as they might, the Pelicans probably won’t be able to protect Williamson from what’s coming at him this season.

There’s more news this evening from the Big Easy:

  • As training camp gets underway, William Guillory of The Athletic writes that the Pelicans’ uncertainty entering camp might be higher than it is with any other NBA franchise, as New Orleans only returns five of 20 players from last season’s roster – Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, Jahlil Okafor, and Frank Jackson.
  • Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com explores how Griffin was able to make good on his promise to bring multiple, accomplished NBA veterans to New Orleans when he took over in April. One example? Griffin managed to bring in J.J. Redick, Derrick Favors, and Nicolo Melli, a trio that boasts a combined 30-plus seasons of professional experience.
  • ICYMI, Luke Adams took a look at how New Orleans was able to successfully transition from one franchise player to another in the span of a few months, among other Pelicans’ related tidbits, as part of our 2019 Offseason in Review series.

Pelicans Exercise Team Option On Jahlil Okafor

3:27pm: The Pelicans have officially exercised Okafor’s team option, the team announced today in a press release.

11:24am: New Orleans will pick up its $1.7MM option on center Jahlil Okafor for next season, tweets Malika Andrews of ESPN.

The third overall pick in 2015, Okafor revived his career after signing with the Pelicans as a free agent last summer. He appeared in 59 games, starting 24, and averaged 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per night. He impressed the coaching staff with his improved fitness and a commitment to defense, Andrews adds.

Okafor only has a $54K guarantee on next year’s contract, notes Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link). He’ll have to remain on the roster through January 7 for it to become fully guaranteed.

Okafor is one of a handful of players with team options for 2019/20. The complete list is available here.