The Case for Jahlil Okafor
Three weeks into the NBA season and there are numerous headlines and hot takes already: are the Cavs as good as we thought they were? How good can the Celtics be with Kyrie and without Gordon Hayward? What is going on with Jahlil Okafor and the 76ers? That last question really got me thinking and I wanted to see what is going on with Okafor and why he has completely fallen out of the rotation for the Sixers.
Jahlil Okafor was the #1 rated high school prospect coming out of Chicago in 2014, he was ranked ahead of guys like Karl Anthony Towns, Emmanuel Mudiay, D'Angelo Russell, and Devin Booker. He ended up choosing Duke for college and during his one season with the Blue Devils he put up solid stats while winning the 2015 National Championship. While at Duke he put his offensive skills to work, averaging 17.3 points per game, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and shot 66.7% from the floor. His player efficiency ranking was 30.7 which is top 60 all time in the NCAA and he won the ACC Player of the Year award. For a 6' 11" center his footwork and acumen around the basket was phenomenal. These are just 2 examples of his excellent footwork and play making ability
Duke ran numerous offensive sets for and through Okafor which speaks to his offensive awareness. He was never a defensive stalwart but playing with Amile Jefferson, Duke was able to overcome those issues.
Okafor was drafted 3rd overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2015 NBA draft right in the middle of the Sam Hinkie "Process" years. During his first year, he saw 30 minutes per game and rewarded the Sixers, averaging 17.5 points, 7 rebounds, and a 17.1 PER rating and finished 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting. However, year two saw Joel Embiid return and Dario Saric come over from Europe. Both of these moves really diminished Okafor's role on the team. In year two Okafor saw his minutes per game drop to 22.7 and he averaged 11.8 points and 4.8 points. His PER rating fell to 14.8 as well. This is his third year in the league and through 9 games Okafor has only appeared in one game. So what caused this drastic change in his playing time and effectiveness?
The explosion of Embiid really hurt Okafor's role with the Sixers and the signing of Saric didn't help either. I also think the Sam Hinkie "Process" mentality is not great for players and Okafor is a prime example. The "Process" was all about losing (tanking) to acquire as many good drafts picks as possible and then turning those draft picks into top prospects in the draft. A downfall of this thinking in my opinion is you acquire as these picks and if one does not turn out or is not as good as you hope you just replace that player with the next guy. I understand the NBA is a business and there is no such thing as loyalty in sports (Kevin Durant...LeBron...Kyrie) but Okafor put up solid numbers when he got the chance. Is he a good defender? Absolutely not as you can see in this matchup against the Heat.
But he still has the offensive moves to play in the NBA; this is a great move against a really good post defender.
Okafor can still be a good NBA player whether he is starting or coming off the bench as a 6th man type. He is not a good defender or rebounder but pair him up with a good post defender and in today's NBA it will not make much of a difference. I mean Kevin Love is playing center for the Cavs and he is a horrendous defender (still love you K-Love).
So what happens next for Jahlil and the Sixers? He is wasting away on the bench and it is not helping the organization or Okafor's progression. He turns 22 in December...let me say that again HE TURNS 22 IN DECEMBER!!!!!! And this is his 3rd year in the league, he has proven that he can be an asset to a team. The Sixers cannot afford to let him rot on the bench and then have him walk away at the end of the year, in my opinion they have to trade him. The Sixers are one of the most mysterious franchises in the NBA when it comes to player management. Look at how they handled the Embiid situation or even worse how they have handled the Fultz debacle. Okafor is just another mystery when it comes to this franchise. The only problem now is what is his value? There are two types of teams I think the Sixers could move him to, a team looking to build and a contender looking for an offensive minded center. Teams like the Bulls and Hawks are rebuilding and have no hope for a playoff spot this season so why not trade for Okafor and start your rebuilding process around a young offensive center. Also remember Okafor is from Chicago so this could be another selling point for the Bulls. Contending teams that I think could use him are Boston, Miami, Detroit, Minnesota, and Oklahoma City. Boston, Minnesota, and Oklahoma City could use Okafor off the bench as a scoring center. Miami could pair him with Whiteside and Detroit could pair him with Drummond, the problem there is the spacing as none of those guys can spread the defense but they are both great rebounders and defensive centers.
I think Jahlil Okafor is a nice prospect for a team that is willing to make a move for him. He is not helping the Sixers at all and with a change of scenery, a new coach, and new game plan I think he could really flourish.