We are in the heart of summer league play, and all eyes have been on the top picks ready to make an immediate impact on their teams. It’s just Summer League, and the competition is nowhere as daunting, however, it’s exciting to see the potential of many of these young prospects and what they may be capable of doing in just a matter of years when they are fully adjusted to the NBA.
The Philadelphia 76ers drafted center Jahlil Okafor out of Duke with the third overall pick. Widely considered the best prospect in the country for most of the college season, the Sixers saw him fall to three with the Lakers taking a chance on D’Angelo Russell. Possibly the best footwork and post skills from a big man since Tim Duncan, Philadelphia could not be more excited for an offensive centerpiece of this caliber.
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Okafor is showcasing just what we all expected in terms of his offensive arsenal in Summer League play. His ballet-esque grace with his feet coupled with insane body control have him beating his opponents not with speed, but with fundamental technique. His drop-step spin going both ways is deadly, and he uses his formidable lower body to bully defenders down on the low block. He has enormous hands that give him soft touch around the basket and complete control of what he wants to do in terms of playing in the post or whipping the ball around to open shooters.
Okafor’s offensive game is not without its flaws, however. In the Utah Summer League, Okafor averaged 4.7 turnovers per game. It’s his first NBA competition so I won't hold that against him too much because he could easily fix these issues with proper coaching and increased chemistry with the team. He also shot an alarming 46 percent from the free throw line in Utah, a deficiency that causes concern considering how much the NBA has trended toward sending terrible free throw shooters to the charity stripe.
He also needs to work on his rebounding technique as well. He’s averaged 8.4 rebounds per game during the Utah Summer League, but Okafor must establish himself as a formidable force down low when fighting for position. It seems like at times he fights harder to get an advantageous position in the post than when he’s rebounding. The most athletic guys may be able to jump higher than him, but rebounding is about technique, using the lower body to box out and constant effort. Players like Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Nikola Vucevic and even Tim Duncan aren’t the best athletes in the world. However, they’ve mastered the art of rebounding by figuring out which position is most favorable and using their lower bodies to box out and get to that position.
The effort and fight on every play is a characteristic that will be acquired as he fights the NBA rigors night after night. Okafor has shown that he is man of few words, but Philadelphia needs him to have that inner killer instinct to want to absolutely take over a game.
He’s only 19 and has plenty of time to develop his overall skill set. He will be the offensive centerpiece and will most certainly demand his share of attention down low. This means that rebounding, getting sent to the free throw line and constantly boxing out are just as much of priorities as the smooth post game that he possesses.
With the devastating news that Joel Embiid will be sidelined for another season, Okafor’s value spikes as he will become the face and future of the franchise moving forward. Embiid was the face of the “Trust the Process” slogan, but now it seems like Okafor may have the responsibilities of carrying the load for a couple of more seasons.
This Okafor pick starts to make even more sense considering just how long it might take for another big man prospect with this type of talent to show up in future drafts. The Tim Duncan comparisons may be premature, but they're encouraging nonetheless, especially with the offensive arsenal we’ve all seen in Summer League so far.