Jahlil Okafor

Pelicans Notes: Okafor, Roster Decisions, Payton

The Pelicans only have 12 players on fully guaranteed contracts, leaving three potential openings on their 15-man regular season roster. However, it sounds like one of those three spots has already been claimed. According to Scott Kushner of The Advocate (Twitter link), Jahlil Okafor is a virtual lock to end up on the 15-man squad.

Okafor, who joined the Pelicans this summer after stints in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, injured his ankle last week, but head coach Alvin Gentry suggested that the ailment wouldn’t prevent him from making New Orleans’ roster. Kushner cautions that it’s not quite a done deal yet, but Okafor’s spot appears safe for now.

Here’s more from out of New Orleans:

Southwest Notes: Chriss, Okafor, Grizzlies, Mavs

The Rockets hope Marquese Chriss will develop into the type of backup center they thought they acquired when they signed Brandan Wright late last season, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Wright got hurt quickly and only played one game for Houston, but the team sees Chriss as the same style of player, a mobile big man who can attack the rim on pick-and-rolls.

Chriss was acquired from the Suns at the end of August in the trade that sent Ryan Anderson to Phoenix. The former eighth overall pick had a solid debut for the Rockets on Tuesday with 11 points and four rebounds and welcomes a more defined role.

“The difference is they know what they want me to do,” Chriss said of the Rockets. “They’re asking me to do a specific job. I’m trying to do it to the best of my ability. There really is no question about what they want my role to be. They made it straightforward to me when I first got traded here. I embraced it, and I’m working to do it as best as I can. Being on the Suns, it was kind of touch and go what we were capable of doing or I was able to show.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Jahlil Okafor‘s ankle injury won’t prevent him from making the Pelicans‘ roster, tweets Scott Kushner of The Advocate. Okafor is expected to miss a week or two after spraining his right ankle late in Sunday’s game, but coach Alvin Gentry said that won’t affect his decision on Okafor’s status.
  • The Grizzlies should have plenty of minutes for both rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. and JaMychal Green, the returning starter at power forward, writes Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian. Jackson attracted more attention at media day, but Green is entering the final year of his contract at nearly $7.7MM and has incentive to put up big numbers heading into free agency.
  • Mavericks‘ forward Ding Yanyuhang hasn’t practiced yet because of knee tendinitis, but may be able to make his preseason debut in his home nation of China, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Coach Rick Carlisle said Ding has been ruled out for the team’s game in Shanghai, but he may practice and play in Shenzhen. Carlisle also said the next update on Dirk Nowitzki‘s condition will come October 12 (Twitter link).

Jahlil Okafor To Miss 1-2 Weeks

Jahlil Okafor sprained his right ankle toward the end of the Pelicans‘ first preseason game on Sunday and he’s expected to miss 1-2 weeks because of the ailment, according to the team’s website.

Okafor signed with New Orleans and was expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. After seeing limited playing him with the Sixers and Nets last season, he was hoping to carve out a role for himself on the Pelicans by working on his weaknesses.

“The knock on me has always been my defense and my rebounding,” Okafor said last month“I let the coaches know that I’m aware of that, and obviously they’re aware of that. They know that I’m 150% bought into doing whatever it takes to win. I think I’ve taken the necessary steps this summer just to become a better defender, a better rebounder — just because I’m moving better and I’m doing all of the right stuff. I’m really excited about it.”

Okafor scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds in his 17 preseason minutes. The Pelicans conclude the preseason on October 11, so Okafor won’t likely make it back on the court to get additional reps before the team starts the regular season on October 17.

Southwest Notes: Anthony, Okafor, Randle, Grizzlies

Carmelo Anthony is looking to make the game fun again in his first season with the Rockets, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. Anthony is set to enter his 16th professional season, with the 34-year-old having his vision set on winning an NBA championship.

“Just enjoy the game and play basketball … I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Anthony said. “I still know how to do it. I’ve just got to make it fun. The game just has to be fun.”

The Rockets are expected to be a championship contender this season, with the team featuring a deep bench, star center and All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and James Harden. The level of production Anthony gives will help determine how far the team gets in its journey.

“He’s a great basketball player, so we just try to make it optimal for him and us,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s always a little bit of a challenge, but if you had asked me the same question (last year) about James and Chris I would have said the same thing: ‘Well, it looks good. I’m excited.’ So same thing with him.”

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

Western Notes: Suns, McCollum, Jazz, Middleton

The Suns used a portion of their room exception to sign De’Anthony Melton to his first NBA contract, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). Without using that exception, Phoenix would only have been able to offer Melton a first-year salary of $838K. Instead, the Suns were able to bump that figure to $949K. They still have $3.5MM of their room exception available.

Meanwhile, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders indicates (via Twitter) that while Devin Booker‘s new extension with the Suns is projected to start at 25% of the cap in 2019/20, there are triggers in the deal that could push that figure higher. Pincus isn’t sure of the specific details, but reports that Booker could get 27.5%, 28.5%, or 30% of the cap if he meets certain criteria. I’d guess that those criteria are related to whether he earns spots on the first, second, or third All-NBA teams.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • C.J. McCollum is often the subject of trade speculation, but the Trail Blazers guard tells Michael Scotto of The Athletic that he’d welcome a long-term stay in Portland. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me and would love to be a Blazer for life,” McCollum said.
  • While it may be a little early to start speculating about 2019’s free agent period, Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune suggests (via Twitter) that Bucks wing Khris Middleton is a player the Jazz like a lot. With Ricky Rubio, Alec Burks, and others on expiring deals this season, Utah could have plenty of cap flexibility next summer.
  • As Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com details, Jahlil Okafor said there were a “multitude of reasons” for him to sign with the Pelicans, calling the decision a “no-brainer.” Keith Smith of RealGM.com (Twitter link) hears that New Orleans was comfortable with waiving Emeka Okafor in part due to how good Jahlil has looked. “He’s in amazing shape, and he’s going hard on both ends too,” Smith’s source said. “Seems like he really gets it now.”
  • The Timberwolves recently announced some additions and promotions on their coaching staff, including Pat Zipfel as an advance scout and Malik Allen and Larry Greer as assistant coaches (link via Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune).

Jahlil Okafor Talks Joining Pelicans, Improving Defense

Jahlil Okafor‘s latest NBA opportunity with be with the Pelicans. He signed a two-year deal with New Orleans early in August after a frustrating season in which he saw limited playing time for two organizations with the Sixers and Nets.

Speaking to C.J. McCollum on his Pull Up with CJ McCollum podcast, Okafor expressed excitement for his new opportunity with the franchise. The former third overall pick addressed the weaknesses in his game and what he has done to address them (via The Bird Writes).

“The knock on me has always been my defense and my rebounding,” Okafor said. “I let the coaches know that I’m aware of that, and obviously they’re aware of that. They know that I’m 150% bought into doing whatever it takes to win. I think I’ve taken the necessary steps this summer just to become a better defender, a better rebounder — just because I’m moving better and I’m doing all of the right stuff. I’m really excited about it.”

In just 28 games last season, Okafor averaged just 6.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG with Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Okafor showed an improved physique this offseason as he prepares to join his third team in two seasons. Given the Pelicans’ strong core of talent, led by fellow Chicago native and superstar Anthony Davis, Okafor is excited for what the team can accomplish.

“With the Pelicans in particular, I’m going to a team with aspirations of winning a championship, and that the whole organization and atmosphere is all about winning,” he said. “That’s not something I’ve been accustomed to since I’ve been in the NBA; it’s sort of been the opposite.”

Southwest Notes: Poeltl, Okafor, Matthews, Batum

Jakob Poeltl is hoping an offseason trade to the Spurs will give him a better shot at playing time, relays Tom Orsborne of The San Antonio Express-News. Poeltl was an overlooked part of the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio, but the former first-round pick may find a greater opportunity to show off his skills with his new team. Poeltl describes himself as willing to do the “dirty work” and is thrilled about the opportunity with the Spurs.

“That is one of the things I am most excited about, just the fact that this program has such a big history of developing players,” Poeltl said. “Players that stay here or players that then go somewhere else and become really good players. So, I am really excited for the process. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I am looking forward to it.”

There’s more news from the Southwest Division:

  • In an Instagram post, Pelicans center Jahlil Okafor thanks Kevin Love for bringing mental health issues into the open last season. Okafor, who signed a partially guaranteed two-year deal earlier this month, displays a more toned body in the post, but states that he underwent a greater change on the inside. “I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety,” Okafor wrote. “Learning how to identify certain stressors has also allowed me to over come them. Often times because of my size and profession people may view me in a certain way, but in reality I deal with the same struggles as countless others.”
  • Trade speculation will continue to follow Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews in the upcoming season, according to a Dallas Morning News profile. At age 31 and entering the final year of his contract after opting in over the summer, Matthews could be expendable after the team assembled its backcourt of the future in the past two drafts.
  • The Rockets should consider gambling on Hornets forward Nicolas Batum, writes Rahat Huq of Forbes. Houston could use another strong wing defender after losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency, and Charlotte may be willing to take Ryan Anderson in return because Batum’s contract is even larger. Batum is owed more than $49.5MM over the next two seasons and has a $27.1MM player option for 2020/21.

Western Notes: Nunnally, Booker, Brooks, Powell, Okafor

Euroleague sharpshooter James Nunnally has no doubt he can make an impact with the Timberwolves, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic reports. Nunnally, who made 55.4% of his threes while playing for Fenerbahçe of Turkey last season, signed a two-year deal with Minnesota. “I’m ready to get out there and play and take advantage of every opportunity that comes,” the 6’7” Nunnally said. “I know this team needs three-point shooting and wants to pick up the pace of play this year. I know that I can bring that and help in that aspect.” Nunnally’s minimum deal has a $350K guarantee, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders tweets.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Devin Booker may be just 21 years old but he needs to assume a leadership role with the Suns, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic opines. Booker must set a standard for players such as top pick Deandre Ayton and 2017 lottery pick Josh Jackson to follow after signing a max contract extension, Somers adds.
  • Grizzlies’ second-year guard Dillon Brooks sees himself growing into a leadership role and plans to start laying those seeds during the upcoming season, as he told Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal“For me, as a future leader, I need to connect with every single player somehow, someway, so you can get the best out of them,” Brooks said.
  • Dwight Powell needs to continue to grab rebounds in bunches, as he did toward the end of last season, in order to solidify his spot in the Mavericks’ rotation, according to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News. It’s unlikely he’ll start, so he needs to be tough around the boards to stand out among a frontcourt reserve corps that includes Salah Mejri, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith, Sefko adds.
  • Only $50K of Jahlil Okafor‘s two-year contract with the Pelicans is guaranteed, Pincus reveals in another tweet. The second year is a team option but just a little over $54K is guaranteed even if it’s exercised, Pincus adds. The signing became official on Thursday.

Western Notes: Okafor, White, Canaan, Curry

The signing of big man Jahlil Okafor is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the PelicansScott Kushner of The New Orleans Advocate opines. The former No. 3 overall pick was signed this week to a partially guaranteed two-year, $3.27MM contract, which includes a team option for the second year. That means Okafor can easily be cut loose if he doesn’t impress in training camp, Kushner notes. If he sticks, Okafor’s scoring ability could allow him to carve out a niche role off the bench behind starters Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic, Kushner adds.

We have more from around the Western Division:

  • The losses of Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green and Tony Parker should expand Derrick White‘s role with the Spurs next season, according to Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio News Express. The 6’4” guard appeared in just 17 games last season but the 2017 first-rounder is poised to be a rotation player after a strong showing in summer-league play. “It’s nice to know they have faith in me, that they are confident in me,” White told Orsborn. “It’s tough to see all those guys go. They did so much for the organization. But I’ve got to make the most of my opportunities.”
  • Point guard Isaiah Canaan wants to repay the Suns organization for helping him recover from a fractured left ankle, Clevis Murray of the Arizona Republic reports. Canaan re-signed with Phoenix this summer after rehabbing the injury with the team’s medical staff. Canaan was waived in February after playing 19 games with the Suns but they committed to helping him with his recovery. “The Suns organization helped me get back on my feet and back to doing what I love to do,” Canaan said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else but an opportunity and I told them they won’t regret it and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
  • Warriors guard Stephen Curry was both surprised and delighted that DeMarcus Cousins signed with the club in free agency, according to an Associated Press report“It’s interesting because nobody going into free agency thought about DeMarcus as an option then all of a sudden he found his way onto our team,” Curry said. “So for us to have a new dynamic, a new look, whenever he’s fully healthy it should be amazing. I think we got better.”
  • The addition of LeBron James has made the Lakers national TV darlings once again, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register notes. The team will have 43 nationally-televised games, three more than the two-time defending champion Warriors.

Pelicans Sign Jahlil Okafor

AUGUST 9: The Pelicans have officially signed Okafor, according to the NBA’s official transactions log.Jahlil Okafor of the Brooklyn Nets vertical

AUGUST 8: The Pelicans have agreed to sign free agent center Jahlil Okafor, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links). A source tells Wojnarowski that Okafor will sign a two-year contract with a partial guarantee in the first year and a team option for year two.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate first reported on Tuesday that the Pelicans and Okafor were engaged in discussions about a possible deal. As we noted at the time, the 22-year-old could be a good fit on a Pelicans roster that is short on traditional centers. Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and Julius Randle are expected to see the majority of the frontcourt minutes for the club, but none of those players is a natural five.

While Emeka Okafor, Alexis Ajinca, and Cheick Diallo are also options at center for the Pelicans, Okafor’s salary is still non-guaranteed, Ajinca missed the entire 2017/18 season with a knee injury, and Diallo has played primarily at the four since arriving in New Orleans.

The Pelicans currently have 12 players on fully guaranteed salaries for 2018/19, with Emeka Okafor, DeAndre Liggins, Troy Williams, and now Jahlil Okafor among the players with non-guaranteed deals or partial guarantees. That should open the door for the former Sixer to potentially earn a spot on New Orleans’ 15-man regular season roster.

Okafor, drafted by the 76ers with the third overall pick in 2015, averaged 17.5 PPG and 7.0 RPG during his rookie year, but has seen his playing time and production decline since then. After being traded to Brooklyn this past season, he posted 6.4 PPG and 2.9 RPG in 26 contests (12.6 MPG) with the Nets.

Because Okafor isn’t a strong rim protector or outside shooter, he has had trouble carving out a consistent role over the course of his NBA career. However, there shouldn’t be much pressure on him to make an impact in New Orleans — the team has already used its mid-level exception on Randle and its bi-annual exception on Elfrid Payton, meaning Okafor’s new partially guaranteed contract will only be worth the minimum.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.