The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that they are picking up center Jahlil Okafor’s team option for the 2019-2020 NBA season.

Okafor, the 3rd overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, has had a rough first couple of seasons to begin his professional basketball career. After struggling to get minutes behind Joel Embiid, the 76ers traded Okafor to the Brooklyn Nets in 2017 after two seasons. The Nets cut Okafor after just one season and signed in free agency with the New Orleans Pelicans last summer.

After averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds per game in his rookie season, Okafor’s numbers took a sharp decline over the next two seasons. When Okafor signed with the Pelicans in 2018, many fans wondered whether or not Okafor could play in the modern NBA. Okafor’s game is perfect for the old NBA – strong post moves, tall, strong. The only problem is, modern big men in the NBA have to be able to space the floor, set screens, and be able to score from outside the post/paint.

So how did Okafor improve so much from a guy who everyone thought was on his way out of the NBA to a regular rotational piece for the Pelicans? It all started with getting in better shape off the hardwood. Okafor lost over 20 pounds last season through a mostly vegan diet that has helped him not only regain strength but also helped Okafor reduce stress on his knees. All the extra fat Okafor put on made it hard for him to deliver the same amount of effort and results from the night in and night out.

In the second year of his contract with the Pelicans, Okafor will earn $1.7 million if he remains on the Pelicans roster beyond Jan. 7. In his lone season so far with the Pelicans, Okafor put up an average of 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. With Anthony Davis now a Los Angeles Laker, the Pelicans need all the help they can in the frontcourt of their team.

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