He was the former number one rated high school player in the country in 2014. 1st team AP All-American in college. NCAA Freshman of the year, ACC player of the year, ACC rookie of the year, All-ACC team. He won a national championship at Duke while averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds shooting 66.4% in his only year with the program. Selected 3rd overall in the 2015 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds his rookie year as well as making the 2015-2016 NBA first-team All-Rookie. After all that Jahlil Okafor has been stuck on the bench.
Okafor had to share minutes with the 6th pick of the 2013 NBA draft Nerlens Noel. But the 76ers didn’t do well managing both bigs minutes. Both were vocal in their disappointment with their playing times. Not to mention the 76ers had plans to take even more minutes away from them to make way for Joel Embiid. Okafor did have a slight drop of production his second year averaging 11 points and 4 rebounds. But he saw almost 500 fewer minutes last season than his rookie year. Production is going to drop.
Nerlens Noel got his wish and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks last year. Jahlil has been buried on the 76ers bench this season. In eight games this year, he’s only played in one. The 76ers have announced that they won’t be picking up Jahlil’s fourth-year contract making him an unrestricted free agent next year. With the emergence of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia has made it clear they have no interest in playing the 6-11 center with only two years under his belt.
So why won’t they let him go? Why not agree to a buyout? Let the young man go flourish on a new team, why let him sit and rot on the bench?
If the 76ers quit playing and buyout his contract, here are five playoff teams I feel Okafor could make better:
5. Golden State Warriors
He wouldn’t get immediate playing time because Zaza gels well with the starting lineup, and JaVale already knows the system. But the new environment will be better for Okafor, and he’d be around one of the better developmental coaching staffs of the league. Now the style Okafor plays, with his back to the basket, isn’t Warriors basketball. He needs to improve his defense and Warriors would help that. Being around that team will help modernize his game, which could help add to his shelf-life in the league. Don’t expect him to run down the floor and curl out for a three, but his offensive game is already better than JaVale and Zaza combined. It would only be a matter of time before he would see the floor.
4. Houston Rockets
I know what you’re thinking. How does this work? How can a big who wants the ball play with James Harden? If anyone knows, Mike D’Antoni does. D’Antoni was the former 76ers head coach in 2015, Jahlil’s rookie year. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and could make it work. The Rockets currently have a weird frontcourt. A young third-year player, Clint Capella, and a 14-year veteran center Nene Hilario, who comes off the bench for Capella. Nene has been around the block a few times, and he isn’t getting any younger. Capella is young, but his offensive talents are limited, and I’m being as nice as possible in that assessment. Jahlil can come in and grab some boards and get some buckets. James Harden doesn’t mind passing and Chris Paul would happily throw a lob up to the big fella.
3. Washington Wizards
The Wizards NEED frontcourt help. Jahlil could come and be a solid contribution immediately. The Wizards wouldn’t have anything to really offer if it came down to a trade because they don’t know how to manage their draft picks. But if Okafor was able to come freely? That would be a problem for the East. Okafor and Marcin Gortat could rotate during the game, so the Wizards wouldn’t have to worry about having to play Ian Mahinmi when he isn’t hurt. Which is rare. Jahlil’s gives the bench an immediate boost, but I don’t see him coming off the bench too often. Once he learns the plays and improves on his defensive efforts, I don’t see him not in the starting lineup. Wall, Beal, Porter Jr., Morris (when healthy) and Okafor? That’s a scary sight.
2. San Antonio Spurs
I feel like this would be a great fit. Jahlil can study under an NBA great, Pau Gasol, as well as playing for arguably one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, Greg Popovich. Coach Popovich would mold him into another star, i.e. Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili. The play of the Spurs is more catered to Okafor’s playing style. Learning more post moves from Pau, developing a mid-range jumper from LaMarcus Aldridge, and getting advice and guidance from Tim Duncan? That’s every big man’s dream. The Spurs aren’t taking a hit defensively with Jahlil on the court, because Gasol isn’t a great defender, and LaMarcus plays defense sometimes. Coach Pop gets guys to play. With Okafor on the court, that line up would give the Warriors some fits.
1. Boston Celtics
Okafor could start for the Celtics tomorrow. Al Horford isn’t at his best playing the 5. Aron Baynes is a G-League starter. If Boston could get Okafor, Kyrie would have a field day with
the pick and roll game. I know Al Horford can get that done too, but it’s not to the same effect. With the emergence of Jayson Tatum and proven veteran Marcus Morris, Horford might have to stay at the 5. But Okafor would have to come off the bench for now. Boston hasn’t seen post-scoring in a while, and their fans miss it.
I would put Horford in the second unit to be the main guy once Okafor gets acclimated to the system. Of course, they can rotate throughout the game, just depending on the matchup. A solid team with great a coaching staff is what Okafor needs. Boston has been looking his way for a while and could be a good spot for him.