Sixers Fall to Spurs, Jahlil Okafor Flashes Potential in Summer League Debut


Philadelphia 76ers basketball was finally back on Monday night with the team beginning their Utah Summer League play against the San Antonio Spurs. Although the Sixers fell late to the Spurs 74-71, the main storyline coming out of the game was the debut of Philly’s third overall pick in last month’s draft, Jahlil Okafor.

Disclaimer: Before I go on to analyzing the game let me get two things cleared up. First, I realize that this is just Summer League and not to overreact one way or the other because, well, it’s Summer League. Many have dominated Summer League and gone on to have minimal careers in the NBA while others have struggled in the summer en route to very successful careers.

Secondly, you have to remember that for most of these guys are playing in their first “professional” game, which can take some getting used to. OK, back to basketball.

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Monday night was really the tale of two halves for Okafor. In the first half he made a couple nice plays, but they were overshadowed by a number of ugly misses and turnovers. He shot just 3-for-11 from the field, and struggled to get deep into the post. Just 20 minutes into his professional career and people were already referring to him as a bust, seriously.

But Okafor responded with vengeance in the second half by shooting 7-for-11 from the field, and showing a lot more control and awareness with the ball in the post. When the final buzzer rang, Jah had turned in a 20-point (10-for-22 FG), nine-rebound (five offensive) performance in his Summer League debut.

Jahlil showed a number of positives and negatives in his first professional performance. Let’s start with the negatives because there are not too many and I want to end on a good note with Jah. Unfortunately, when watching Okafor the first negative thing that jumps off the screen is his lack of speed, which affects him on both ends of the court.

Offensively he struggles to get by defenders off the dribble, which leads to a lack of separation and his shot getting blocked. Defensively he can be a liability in help defense because he is slow in rotating over in help defense and recovering in pick and rolls.

The good thing is that these deficiencies were known about Jahlil coming out of college and they are something that the Sixers will have to work with him on.

Another negative that I saw from Okafor was that he was not always getting deep post-ups. A lot of the time Okafor would receive the ball on the foul-line extended area and have to face up to see the rest of the defense before backing down his defender.

Some of these high-post catches may have been by team design, but Okafor needs to work on getting a deeper post position to make it easier on himself. Especially with the lack of spacing that he was working with, Okafor would have gotten some easier looks if he set himself up with a deeper post position.

Finally, Okafor was 0-for-4 from the free throw line and never really came close to making one. Hack-a-Jah could really be a thing this season.

Now onto the positives with Okafor and most of them have to do with his impressive skills in the post. When Jah gets the ball on offense, he looks so comfortable facing up his defender and initiating the offense himself. He knows what he wants to do with the ball and rarely puts up a bad shot. Okafor has an array of moves around the painted area to go along with a soft touch.

Just let the highlights to the rest of the talking:

Okafor made a couple of these fade-away jumpers that just looked so smooth. It is going to be fun to watch Jah become more comfortable and grow his game with the ball in the post. As I mentioned earlier, Okafor was working with minimal spacing and a couple of times it led to him turning the ball over.

Look at the clip above for example, when Okafor catches the ball there is a help defender that is cheating down too far. When Jah puts the ball on the floor the help defender goes for the steal, but Okafor is able to rip through and hold onto the ball.

Now there were times that Okafor showed off his exceptional passing ability when he was doubled in the post, but the Sixers failed to knock down the open looks and capitalize on it. The takeaway here is how important it is to surround a post presence like Okafor with shooters, so defenders can not cheat down and help like that without paying for it.

This might be breaking news to some, but there actually were a couple of actual Sixers-owned players besides Jahlil Okafor playing last night. Jordan McRae, a 2014 second-round pick, flashed his shooting ability by knocking down a trio of triples and as well as his slashing ability by getting to the rim multiple times (although he failed to convert on many of his attempts at the rim).

Jerami Grant struggled from the field (4-for-13), which was low-lighted by a few contested threes and out-of-control drives to the rim.

Richaun Holmes, a second-round pick from this year’s draft, was making plays all over the court. He started things off with a chase-down block in transition and then he cleaned up the offensive glass with a nice put-back. Holmes also showed off his shooting range by confidently knocking down a mid-range jumper as well as a three.

If Holmes can consistently knock down a jumper, he could see a lot of time at the power forward position this year for the Sixers.

As for unsigned, team invitees the biggest standout was point guard T.J. McConnell. As a transfer, McConnell played two seasons at Arizona where he lead the Wildcats offense. McConnell’s biggest strength coming out of college was his tight handle and his ability to run an offense, which he certainly showcased Monday night.

McConnell was efficient in running the pick and roll and setting up his teammates. The biggest question mark surrounding his game is his three-point shot, which dipped from 36 percent to 32 percent in his senior season. McConnell was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc and he had good, open looks.

McConnell plays hard on both ends and with the point guard position still undetermined, it would not surprise me if he received a camp invite.

Even if it’s just Summer League, it is good to have some form of Sixers basketball back. The next game is Tuesday night at 7 p.m. where the Sixers will take on the Boston Celtics.