The Philadelphia 76ers must make a decision on their big men. But with Nerlens Noel out with an injury and Jahlil Okafor‘s poor play, the problem is being compounded.
Jahlil Okafor’s weaknesses have been magnified through his short career. Being the third straight center taken by the Philadelphia 76ers with their top pick in the draft, it was destined for the situation to spiral towards controversy.
And the controversy is certainly heating up. Nerlens Noel has yet to be step on the court for the Sixers this season, as a self-reported groin injury led to a minor surgery. He has since been rehabbing in Alabama, and has not been seen with the team since preseason. This, of course, is following the damning Keith Pompey interview where Noel expressed his frustration with the situation.
With Okafor on minutes restriction, all he had to do was be decent at worst for him to save face in the infamous Okafor-Noel debates. But through 172 minutes this season, he’s been less than consumable to watch.
Okafor’s 3.8 rebounds and 46.0% field goal percentage show what has been a lack of effort on the boards and poor decision making with the ball. His dragged out knee injury has seemingly taken a toll on his game, but is showing more tunnel vision with the ball.
Okafor’s 33% frequency in shot attempts where the closest defender is 0-2 feet away is the highest on the Philadelphia 76ers. Although he has made 14 of 29 of those attempts, it shows his unwillingness to pass. Okafor’s average seconds per touch (2.52) is the highest on the team for a player that isn’t a primary point guard.
Okafor’s also near the bottom of the team stat sheet in every single passing metric. Although not his game, Okafor can open up the offense for himself and his teammates with passing out of the post. He’d also prove to be more valuable if he could set decent screens, but most of the time he just lazily stands at the top of the arc.
His roughest night came against Houston on Monday, where he shot 2 for 11 and accumulated a +/- of -21. Veteran Nene was able to bully him offensively, and Okafor struggled to score against premier defender Clint Capela. Not that these types of nights are common for the talented offensive prospect, but it is the example of the poor season he’s been battling.
It will be interesting to see whether or not his play improves when minute restrictions are lifted and he’s considered fully healthy. But the improvements that many were hoping for have not shown up thus far.
Okafor’s passing out of the post has not improved, his quickness in starting his post moves have not improved, his defense has been marginally better, and he’s still ineffective with screens.
Okafor is still a project, but the hope was that through Noel’s frustration, Okafor would shine as the second center behind Joel Embiid. There’s still a long season ahead of the young center, but as of now it seems like he’s letting this opportunity to prove his worth over Noel slip away.