The Sixers Missing Link

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The High Road

Invariably, if you are a fan of Philadelphia sports team and you are preparing for an annual draft, you pretty much can settle in that if there is a consensus for the team, that player will be gone by the time we select. So it was that the 2015 NBA draft.  The Philadelphia 76ers selected third in a draft with three highly touted prospects.  With a roster already boasting first rounders Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, and the anticipation of Embiid from injury, the team was the least interested in a big man in the middle.

The first selection of the Minnesota Timberwolves for Karl Anthony Towns went as expected.   But the LA Lakers ignored the script, and instead of leaning towards the middle, select Sixer favorite D’Angelo Russell.   The third pick of the draft now fell to the Sixers, who selected the best player available in choosing center Jahlil Okafor.  While that was not the way everything had been sketched out originally, many things deviated from the original plan.

Joel Embiid had not recovered.  His return to the active roster is likely delayed until next year.  Using Okafor as a trading chip was taken off the table instantly.   Hinkie loves to trade, but he wanted to see just how this new jewel of the NBA draft sparkled in a 76er jersey before putting him up for the highest bidder.   Lastly, but not least, Okafor came to play.

So it falls on the man who almost wasn’t to deliver the miracle of success to the team this season. Can he do it?

Well he’s preparing to do just that.

"“I am ready. I was the No. 1 player out of high school, so I always had a lot of attention and then I went to Duke University, one of the bigger schools in the country, won a national championship. So I’m used to it. I think I’ll handle it pretty fine. People get a little excited because of what Steph Curry and those guys did was great and it worked. Their formula was fantastic. For as long as I can remember, big men have been dominant and the result has been championships. I like to play in the post, that’s where I’m most comfortable. That’s where I’ve always been. I’ve never wavered off to shoot jump shots and things like that. I’ve always known that my bread and butter is in the post.” – Jahlil Okafor when asked if he’s prepared to be key player for 76ers"

Okafor showed his dedication right away, showing up for 6:30 a.m. workouts at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where the 76ers practice, shortly after the draft.  Despite plenty of double teams, Okafor scored 18 or more points right out of the gate in the summer league in three of the five games.  His Achilles heel?  Tall men.   He struggled against New York rookie Kristaps Porzingis.

But his play reminds me of one of the best Sixers I have ever seen.  Moses Malone was that big physical guy in the middle.  In fact, Jahlil Okafor was described as having some of the best low post footwork seen in college ball in the last 15 years. Malone was a 6’10” center who was a standout player for the Houston Rockets before joining Dr. J and the 76ers.   His arrival heralded some of the best basketball seen on the team.

Much like Malone, Okafor has that potential to score well into the 20 points per game average.   Neither Malone nor Okafor have strong blocks near the basket, instead focusing on the offensive output that happens when you place a wrecking ball near an abandoned building.   It’s going down, folks.

So you choose the road.   But they all lead to the same place.  The team does not need all three to succeed to change this team into a winner.  Only one scenario truly needs to happen.  And even if you are one of the staunchest critics of Sam Hinkie, and consider his a blind man trying to find a light switch, keep this in mind:  even a blind squirrel eventually finds an acorn.  What it comes down to is the Sixer’s missing link is a scorer.   We only need one, we may have found three.

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