Let’s Be Realistic About Jahlil Okafor


No draft pick is ever created equal. In the same way, no draft pick is ever perfect. Not even a lottery pick, not even a top five pick, and to make this incredibly clear, not even a top three pick.

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Now, I don’t think any Philadelphia 76ers fan has claimed this year’s lottery pick Jahlil Okafor to be perfect, but maybe he’s been praised a little too highly. After all, like any draft pick, we have yet to see him take the floor yet, an important factor of being an NBA player (duh).

I like to be an informed consumer. When I make a big purchase, I am usually taking weeks or even months to research the product and know exactly what I’m buying, and what purchasing that product is going to entail. I’m not a direct consumer of Okafor — I didn’t make the call to tell him he was going to be a 76er or make the choice to draft him — but I am a consumer of the Sixers, and I’d like to be informed about the roster.

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I feel like over the past few weeks, we’ve had an infatuation stage with Okafor. We’ve been in the first few weeks of a new relationship. But now, the infatuation is wearing off, and we’re starting to see “The other side” of Jerry, er, Jahlil, I mean.

Again, Okafor is not perfect. I don’t even think Okafor is as good as we have made him out to be, not yet, anyway. He had plenty of flaws in college that have to be addressed at some point. His defense is noticeably lazy, hardly leaving his feet to block shots despite the extremely athletic build the center has. Lazy defending is something that is dangerous in the NBA, because players that come in with lazy defending often get chronically worse years down the road.

For some, this is fine. Defenders primarily of the three point line and even down to ten feet from the hoop can get away with this a lot of the time. But not defending a layup? Not getting off your feet to contest a dunk? That will be just plain unacceptable, and Okafor is (hopefully) realizing that.

At the same time, his offense was his best part of being at Duke, scoring 17.3 points per game. Even if he was able to replicate this in the NBA, it still wouldn’t be enough to completely save the Sixers, by any means. That being said, replicating that number alone would be difficult without a ton of minutes, and some truly great basketball right out of the gate.

As SBNation put it, Okafor was exposed finally once March Madness came around. Forget the grueling anticipation of an entire nation watching you, the high-pressure games and stressful must-win situations, Okafor was shut down in an extremely basic manner, which is alarming.

If he was double teamed, he was pretty much a useless direct contributor, and his only upside was the fact that he got someone else open. Essentially, he became a glorified decoy, much like Jimmy Graham was to the New Orleans Saints of the NFL last season.

He was finally matched up as far as size, and his best attribute was taken away from him. As soon as this was taken away, he was finding himself unable to score, averaging less than 8 points per game in the second two games.

Okafor was unable to grab offensive rebounds, unable to score, all because his size was finally matched. In college, he was able to get away with having a size advantage on most teams, but in the NBA, this won’t be as common. More teams will be able to match him, which is a scary thought if everyone his own size is able to shut him down.

To me, Okafor is still learning. I like it when guys spend two or three years in college to learn about life, and the game. He only spent a freshman year with Duke and is now on his way, starting a career in the NBA. Sure, he can handle it, but who knows, maybe he’s going to need two or three years to completely develop and grow into the full player he can be.

I’ve been glorifying Okafor myself since the Sixers drafted him, and am just trying to bring things back down to earth. I don’t want to expect Okafor to get 20 points per game and be disappointed when he gets 13. I don’t want to expect him to get rookie of the year and be disappointed when someone has a better year than him. Sure, he’s a great player, but just like any draft pick, he has his flaws that will need to be developed out.

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