In the one-and-done era of college basketball, the top freshmen are often expected to be the top players in the country. It seems a little unfair that these players face this much pressure before playing a single game, but the success of previous top recruits mandates that pressure.
Sports fans tend to predict extremely romanticized futures for teams and players, and the few times those fantasies become reality force us to continue to hope for greatness. Not every top recruit has immediate success in college and the NBA, but sometimes you get guys like Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis who somehow exceed our lofty expectations.
Enter Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is the top recruit in his class who is already expected to be the best player at Duke. Okafor will enter the season as a favorite to be a top-five pick in the 2015 NBA draft and will likely be named to many pre-season all-conference and All-America teams.
Okafor has talent, but it is yet to be determined whether he is truly the best player in his class. A lot of factors will go into determining his level of success, and the best way to track a player's success is through his statistics.
Here are some factors that will contribute to Okafor's performance in statistical categories next season, as well as a projection of his performance.
Duke's coaching staff has gotten a lot of criticism in recent years for an inability to get maximum production from its big men. The smack talk increased this year as Miles Plumlee played better in the NBA than he ever did as a Blue Devil, and brother Mason exceeded expectations in his rookie season with the Brooklyn Nets. Despite this, Okafor will likely lead Duke in points next year.
The Blue Devils have actually had recent success in getting talented big men the rock. Just two years ago, Mason Plumlee was the focal point of the offense and averaged 17.1 points per game. Duke also does not return or bring in any other players who seem capable of carrying the scoring load for an entire season.
Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook can score, but both had extremely inconsistent seasons last year. Amile Jefferson never gets the ball. Okafor's fellow freshman Tyus Jones is known as more of a floor general than a scorer, while Justise Winslow is a defensive stud with a high basketball IQ.
With the talent to be the go-to-guy and the roster set up perfectly around him, the only person who can keep his scoring down is Okafor himself. Whether it be with poor conditioning, bad free throw shooting or getting himself in foul trouble. Duke will have a lot of contributors next year, so Okafor may not put up huge scoring games each time out. However, if Okafor is able to stay on the court, he should lead the team in scoring easily.
PREDICTION: 16.7 PPG, 54 FG %
Standing at 6'10" and weighing 265 pounds, Okafor is a beast in the paint. Players that big who play consistent minutes can get at least five boards a game just from the ball bouncing the right way (Roy Hibbert obviously excluded). Duke should be a good team on the glass next season, and while Okafor will certainly lead the way, he may not have dominant numbers in that area.
Amile Jefferson proved last season that he can bang on the boards with bigger players. He will likely start alongside Okafor. Duke also has Marshal Plumlee to back Okafor up, and Winslow and rising sophomore Semi Ojeleye could also provide big contributions.
With so many other players capable of providing help, expect Okafor to be solid, if not dominant, on the glass next season,
PREDICTION: 8.7 RPG
Okafor should contribute to Duke in ways other than scoring and rebounding next season.
He is not an elite jumper and will not be a dominant shot-blocker, but he should be able to block a decent amount of shots due to his size. He will also pick up some assists kicking the ball out to Duke's many shooters when he draws double teams.
No matter how his stats wind up, having a solid post-up presence makes everything easier for the rest of the team. Okafor should help his team do well in the most important statistic there is: wins. Whether Okafor turns out to be a superstar or simply a solid player, his ability on the court will help Duke bounce back from a down season.
PREDICTION: 1.2 BPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, a 30-win season and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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