The Boston Celtics don't absolutely need Jahlil Okafor, but he needs to be in Boston. Watching him as a 17-year-old playing for Whitney Young High School (see all three photos), I envisioned him as a possible future Celtics center. I attended the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Beach Ball Classic in December of 2012, and Jah already looked like an NBA player. He was a 6'11, 270 pound force and he already had the footwork. He was destined for the NBA. In his article for CelticsLife, Justin Quinn has this analysis on Okafor as a future Celtic:
Should Boston kick the tires here? It's not like Danny and Brad Stevens haven't turned a top pick wasted by Philly into a solid NBA player before (Hi Evan!), and the risk seems minimal. Would he take a make-good minimum contract deal, or would Boston need to use most or all of the DPE granted by the NBA in the wake of the Gordon Hayward injury? Let us know ...
It all went wrong for Okafor when he was drafted third overall by the Philadelphia 76'ers in 2015. Injury, limited playing time and off court issues have followed. And he was on the wrong team. Given the right environment (Boston?), Jahlil has the potential to achieve Al Jefferson-like status. He is young and won't be 22 until next month.
If a buyout occurs, it seems like a no-brainer to sign him for the minimum as an unrestricted free agent. As Quinn indicated, it would be a "make-good minimum contract". In other words, this is his opportunity to shine. Using all or part of the DPE is another matter. As a free agent, his asking price may be too high.
The key here is that Boston has become a preferred destination for NBA players. Even though his playing time would be somewhat limited, Okafor would have a great environment and mentoring by Al Horford and Aron Baynes. And he would have a shot at an NBA title. He certainly has to get out of the Philly environment that often hampers a player's progression.
Horford has thrived playing his natural position of power forward, and I foresee Jah sharing minutes with Baynes at center and Daniel Theis in the mix at the back-up wing position. Frankly, my feeling is that if Jahlil doesn't make it with the Celtics, his NBA career could very well flounder, even more so than it already has.
He is a natural scorer close to the hoop, and he has learned to rebound. He can block shots and he would learn to play dedicated defense. As a Celtic, you either play tough defense or you don't play. With the three-point capabilities of so many team mates, Okafor would thrive under the hoop. Unlike Philadelphia, Boston almost always produces improvement in players that come here.
The photo to the right shows Jahlil cheering on Whitney Young team mate, L. J. Peak, prior to Peak winning the slam dunk contest in Myrtle Beach. Whitney Young went on to take the Championship on New Years Eve. The New York Times' Joe Spring has this to say about Jah and his High School coach:
Whitney Young Coach Tyrone Slaughter said that Okafor had an instinctive basketball I.Q., an openness to being coached and an uncompromising work ethic, but that his focus on leading the team in a composed manner had defined his improvement this season.
Maybe that I.Q., coachability and work ethic are still in him. They have not, and won't, surface with the 76'ers. They most likely will with the Celtics. Do we absolutely need him? No, but he could end up being a real asset. A no-brainer at the minimum. Does he need Boston? Yes. He will love the environment.
Follow Tom at @TomLaneHC
Top-to-bottom photos via Logan Mock-Bunting/The New York Times