Center Jahlil Okafor has been a focus of trade rumors, social media debates, and proof of Sam Hinkie’s recklessness. In reality, he is an integral component of the Philadelphia 76ers rebuild
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Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor has brought controversy to the Philadelphia 76ers. Or rather, from the moment he was drafted to the Philadelphia 76ers third in the 2015 NBA Draft, controversy has dogged him like a shadow on a bright sunny day.
The narrative about the who, the where, the when, the why, and the how Jahlil Okafor arrived onto the roster of the Philadelphia 76ers is a complex narrative that could be a novel unto itself. This article is not that.
But in the advance of time to a trade deadline, one that will sure claim the play of center Jahlil Okafor to another NBA team, I cannot rise and applaud the event. Jahlil Okafor has been a key player for the Philadelphia 76ers for the past two season. Key. An object inserted into a lock to open it. Or of paramount or crucial importance. Either meaning applies.
But I can rise and applaud the player. All Philadelphia 76ers fans should do so. Here are the top five reasons why:
Reason I: He validated the Philadelphia 76ers “Trust The Process”.
Before his selection, the draft results of the Philadelphia 76ers looked more akin to the admission desk of a physical rehab clinic. It was a pattern of dealing for players who were… delayed in their healthy appearance on the roster. Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric were all delayed for one reason or another.
Until the Philadelphia 76ers selected Jahlil Okafor with the third pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, NBA fans and pundits pointed to Sam Hinkie’s “delayed gratification” as an unabashed attempt to blatantly tank the team.
In reality, the team’s strategy was to maximize the value of each pick. However, it was not until the team had the opportunity to select Okafor that the value of his play was the obvious choice. Obvious, because the team had just witnessed both Karl Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell come off the board.
Yes, some felt that Kristaps Porzingis was a better choice in hindsight. But the reactions to Porzingis on draft night was anything but positive. Meanwhile, the team had already learned that Joel Embiid would not be healthy enough to suit up. Porzingis was not a “stand-in” for Joel Embiid. Jahlil Okafor was.
Okafor arrived as an insurance policy. Nerlens Noel, as strong as he can play defensively, will never lead the team’s offense. In the grand scheme of things, the Philadelphia 76ers planned to play Okafor and optimize his value. When Joel Embiid returned to health, the team could simply trade a high-scoring center to a playoff bound team that needed front-court help. Jahlil Okafor proved that the process could self-correct.
Jahlil Okafor may not be as strong defensively as Moses Malone, but he has some strong similarities on the offense. Both players were physically dominating near the basket. With a back to the basket start, each could drive to the hoop, dunk, drive for the layup, and pivot to open up the lane or the shot.
Neither demonstrated any interest in finessing the ball, or shooting from the perimeter. It’s purely in-the-paint physicality when either of these two centers play. But what they lack for in diversity, they more than make up for in accuracy and perfection.
You can check out the statistical comparison of these two players by clickingHERE.
Jahlil Okafor is NOT Moses Malone. But he is similar enough to the former NBA great when the ball is in his hands to cause comparisons.
Dec 23, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) and center Joel Embiid (21) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the 76ers 123-116. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Reason III: He arrived to the team that truly never schemed for him.
Jahlil Okafor spent one year playing for Duke University. Following the NBA Draft, he was immediately thrust onto a roster with no true point guard. Beyond that, the Philadelphia 76ers started the 2015-2016 season with multiple players too injured to suit up. Even the normally calm and cheery head coach Brett Brown was too busy trying to patch together a starting line up, that scheming for Jahlil Okafor was tossed out the window.
In it’s place, Jahlil Okafor was given the reigns of an NBA team and told to score. Just…. score.
Not only did he do so as a rookie, but he played well enough to be noticed by the NBA. In two seasons, the young man has played just 90 games. That is just slightly more than one full season in the NBA. But he earned a place on the 2016 USA Men’s Select Team, despite playing just 53 games in his rookie season.
He tore his meniscus in February 2016, and that injury hindered his return through the beginning of the 2016-2017 basketball season. Since the team had Joel Embiid, that delay pushed Jahlil Okafor to the back of the line in terms of playing minutes.
But despite coming in at ninth in team minutes per game, he remains in the top three in terms of team scoring. And while he is noticeably not a fit in the team’s Space-Pace-Pass scheming, the team has been fairly weak in compensating for his slower tempo.
Mar 1, 2016; Villanova, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Jahlil Okafor watches game between Villanova Wildcats and DePaul Blue Demons during the second half at The Pavilion. Villanova defeated DePaul, 83-62. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Reason IV: He proved that any team rebuilding with rookies needs locktight veteran leadership.
Jahlil Okafor was given the unfair responsibility of carrying the offense of an NBA team from his first game in the league. Unfair, and unwise.
Born on December 15, 1995, Jahlil Okafor arrived to the NBA at the ripe old age of 19. 19 years old and the weight of the Philadelphia 76ers offense was placed upon his shoulders. His reaction to the pressure was not unexpected. He revolted, somewhat.
His actions were headlines. He engaged in an altercation with Boston Celtic fans late one night. As news broke, more news percolated to the public forum. Fighting, speeding, and more rumors were woven into the delicate fabric of this young man’s career thread.
It was perhaps a result of his transgressions that persuaded the team’s ownership to seek out changes to the status quo. It’s was soon afterwards that the NBA executives and Jerry Colangelo became more directly involved with the team. That let to the team’s trading for point guard Ish Smith, and to signing just retired free agent Elton Brand.
In the midst of all of the planning of player development, casting a wider net, and taking the furthest look in the room, Jahlil Okafor shone a spotlight on the one blind spot to the Process.
Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) congratulate each other after a score against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Reason V: He paved the way for Joel Embiid.
Finally, Jahlil Okafor was the harbinger of good things yet to come. Despite being drafted a year previously, Joel Embiid as unable to take the floor for the 2015-2016 Philadelphia 76ers. But in a similar fashion, the team was gearing up for an offense and defense to focus through the center position.
And that was about as against the grain as anything the Philadelphia 76ers have done in the past ten years.
The NBA is a league of mimicry, imitation, copy what works, follow the leader mentality. In recent years, the Golden State Warriors have taken the league by storm by running a small ball offense that plays quick and long-range shooters to score. It’s been an unqualified success.
But the Philadelphia 76ers were going big. Big all the time. In three years, the team landed three centers with their first overall pick. Nerlens Noel arrived and delivered defense at the rim. But could the NBA run an offense through the center?
The Show Must Go On
From the moment he arrived on the scene, Jahlil Okafor proved an NBA team could do so. He opened the 2015-2016 season with a 26 point, 7 rebound, 2 block performance against the Boston Celtics.
The lack of a strong supporting cast allowed NBA defenses to collapse on Okafor, double and triple teaming him. Still, he found a way to score. He continued to score at a 50.0 percent or better clip his entire time in Philadelphia.
Some say Jahlil Okafor was a mistake. Others say he doesn’t fit. I say otherwise. I say Jahlil Okafor is as integral to “The Process” as the first stage of a rocket ship is to landing a spacecraft on the moon.
Wherever Jahlil Okafor goes, mark this down. He will be a dominant center in the NBA for many years to come. How can I say this? Simple. He led the Philadelphia 76ers at the ripe old age of 19 despite playing among an injured and inexperienced roster. Imagine the upside when he lands on a healthy veteran roster and he hits his prime.