Okafor Pick Brings Confusion to the Sixers


Jahlil Okafor Selected Third Overall, Headed to Philadelphia…Now What?

In what was expected to be a wild and crazy NBA draft turned out to be a tamed and quiet night. Even Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, known for being ultra-active on draft night, made no trades in the first round. Instead, the Sixers stood pat and took Duke center Jahlil Okafor with the No. 3 pick, after the Los Angeles Lakers passed on the big man in favor of Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell.

Anybody who has read my work knows I was on the Russell bandwagon and have been for some time. So it was a disappointment to see Russell snatched up by the Lakers. Especially after weeks of it looking like Okafor would be the pick for L.A, leaving Russell to be taken by the 76ers.

“As much as we all love Joel Embiid and have high hopes for him, he hasn’t played a competitive basketball game since early March of 2014.”

Let’s make one thing clear: Jahlil Okafor is a terrific prospect. I had him ranked No. 2 on my big board for a long time, and only recently moved him to No. 3 in favor of Russell. It became clear that there was a big three in the draft (Towns, Russell, and Okafor) followed by intriguing but yet somewhat unknown prospects (Porzingis, Hezonja, and Mudiay).

So the Sixers made the right pick, in my opinion. I said this on twitter, and I’ll say it here: in a vacuum, Jahlil Okafor was the second or third best prospect in the draft. He’s an odd fit with the Sixers because of Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, and from a fan’s perspective that’s a difficult pill to swallow because you just want to see the pieces to fill in so neatly. But for a team that won 18 games, you need to go with the best player available. As much as we all love Joel Embiid and have high hopes for him, he hasn’t played a competitive basketball game since early March of 2014. We also know he just had another setback with his foot injury. How serious that is for anyone to guess, but regardless of the severity, until Joel Embiid plays a majority of the season injury free, it would be extremely irresponsible for the Sixers to pass on an all-star caliber big man because of him. Just think of if news breaks (no pun intended) next week that Joel Embiid is out for the season — it’s much more reassuring knowing the Sixers took Jahlil Okafor, right?

That’s not to say it isn’t frustrating to add another big man. When Hinkie began the rebuild, I’m sure many fans thought that by the 2015-2016 season there would be more of a known core in Philadelphia but unfortunately things haven’t fallen that way. Since the 2013 draft, the Sixers have acquired five other 1st round picks. Out of those picks, Nerlens Noel is the only one to have proven himself in the NBA. Dario Saric is still in Turkey, and will be for at least another season. And none of the other three first round picks (Heat, Lakers, and Thunder) conveyed this year. By now most fans would have hoped for more tangible assets. Instead, there’s a chance only Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor will be suiting up the Sixers come the beginning of the season, if Joel Embiid’s setback proves to be serious.

My point — it’s fine to be disappointed in how the rebuild has slowly played out. I’m sure Sam Hinkie wishes the pieces would have filled in quicker too. But, believe it or not, the Sixers are getting better. At worst they’ll boast a front court of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor this upcoming season, with Joel Embiid still having a very real possibility of playing too. They should have four first round picks for next year’s draft, when we’ll really see the process sped up. The Sixers aren’t moving forward with Okafor, Embiid and Noel thinking, “Well, that’s it.” There will be more talent coming in soon. We just have to trust the process, even if it’s a longer process than Sixers’ fans had hoped for.

You can follow Patrick on twitter (@GoodDudePat) for Sixers nonsense.

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