Sixers: Jahlil Okafor, It’s Time to Go

Feb 8, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) attempts to back up San Antonio Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon (3) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) attempts to back up San Antonio Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon (3) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

After being drafted 3rd overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, Philadelphia 76ers fans have been holding on to hope Jahlil Okafor can prove his worth in a Sixers uniform. It’s time to move on.

Jahlil Okafor‘s time with the Sixers thus far has been about as strange of a first two year-period an NBA player could go through. In his rookie year, he was the focal point on one of the worst teams in NBA history. It was always going to be tough to gauge his true worth based on his rookie season, but not many will argue with the 17 PPG and 7 RPG he produced. But entering his sophomore season, he was always going to be up against it.

In his rookie year, Okafor showed on multiple occasions that he could go toe to toe with the league’s best. There were instances where Okafor had battles against guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, Demarcus Cousins, and Brook Lopez where he looked the better player in that particular game. With 11 double-doubles in 15/16, Jahlil looked ready to take a bigger step for his second season in the NBA. After a knee injury shut him down in February of his rookie season, it’s been downhill from there for the former Duke star.

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Coming into his second season, there was always going to be obstacles for him to overcome. The long-awaited arrival of Joel Embiid was here, and Okafor knew his chances to start at Center were going to be limited. Coupled with the fact that Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric were going to be vying for minutes, and Okafor needed a strong summer and training camp to show his role wasn’t to be diminished heading into 16/17. Quite the opposite happened.

His knee rehab was slower than the organization would have liked, and he wasn’t in full game shape to start the season. With frontcourt minutes very much up for grabs at that time, Okafor’s delayed healing of the knee likely hurt his chances of grabbing minutes from the go. Still, no one in the organization wanted to give up hope that Okafor was a key cog moving forward. Brett Brown was determined to make him fit, somehow.

Many combinations were attempted to fit in Okafor into the rotation. All of the following have been experimented at some point to see if Jahlil could pair effectively with another big:

  • Jahlil paired with Nerlens Noel
  • Okafor paired with Joel Embiid
  • Okafor at backup Center when Embiid was on minutes restriction

Anyone who watched the Sixers this year can tell you those combinations were all disastrous. By the time the organization truly figured this out, Okafor’s trade value was almost nonexistent. Okafor had shown he wasn’t even an effective backup for Joel Embiid, and improved play from Nerlens Noel meant there were no minutes for Okafor in the frontcourt by the start of 2017. In waiting to find this information out, the league-wide perception was that Bryan Colangelo had eliminated any trade leverage he had with Okafor by showing the league how bad of a fit he was with this team. Jahlil’s trade value was as low as a 3rd overall pick from the season before could be.

So Nerlens Noel’s trade to Dallas opened up a new opportunity for Jah, right? Wrong. In the 15 games Okafor played after the Noel trade, he averaged just 17 minutes per game. Richaun Holmes stepped in and averaged 14 PPG and 7 RPG, effectively ending Okafor’s run in the rotation. To add insult to injury to the season, Okafor was again shut down for the second straight year to end the season with right knee soreness.

With Ben Simmons coming back next year and a faster-paced offense looking to run, is there any logical way back for the slow Okafor? With how much his valued has plummeted, a draft night trade seems most likely to recoup maximum return. The question is, what teams would be takers? A look below:

  • Memphis Grizzlies: With Zach Randolph‘s contract expiring, would Okafor be a good replacement for Randolph? The Grizzlies had the 3rd-slowest run offense in the league, something ideal for Okafor’s style.
  • San Antonio Spurs– With no guarantees regarding the returns of Pau Gasol and David Lee, the Spurs will likely be looking for another big this offseason. Gregg Popovich likes finesse big men who like back-to-the-basket games, so Okafor would fit here. Also, if there’s a coach who’s going to get the most out of Jahlil, Pop can do it.
  • Chicago Bulls– As we’ve seen the playoffs so far, the Bulls could use a scoring big man. They have just two bigs under contract for next year, so Jahlil could be looking at immediate minutes. Okafor thrives in situations where he’s the best offensive big man, which would be the case in Chicago.

Any team looking to add Okafor could live with his contract as well. He’s due $4.9 million next year, followed by $6.3 million the following year. Even if they’re just bringing him in for a two-year “tryout” in a sense, it’s not much of a financial risk. As of now, only nine teams aren’t in negative cap space, so a cheap Okafor could be enticing. The bottom line seems to be that Okafor’s time is up in Philadelphia, regardless of two cheap years left.

However, early signs pointing to Jah wanting to stay put in Philadelphia:

"“I love being here. I’ve remained close with everybody here. We have amazing teammates. It’s a bunch of young guys that are hungry and looking to get better. Great things are happening here in Philadelphia and I’d love to be a part of it.”"

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While that quote seems hard to believe, stranger things have come true. No one thought Noel would be traded over Okafor, but it happened. It’s obvious Bryan Colangelo knows that there are better fits around the league for Jah, but he’s having a hard time finding them. As the summer approaches, the situation involving the former collegiate national champion is sure to take one or two more surprising turns.