Sixers vs. Timberwolves Player of the Game: Jahlil Okafor (in the 1st Half)


I really wish I could give the Player of the Game to Andrew Wiggins because he was simply unbelievable down the stretch in this game. Also, if I could do that, it would mean that he was a Philadelphia 76er and we’d probably have a freaking win. Alas, luck is a fickle lady and the Sixers missed out on the 1st pick in the 2014 NBA draft, landing Joel Embiid instead. We all know how that has worked out so far.

History repeated itself for the 2015 NBA draft, as Sixers hopeful prayed for the 1st pick and a shot at Kentucky phenom Karl-Anthony Towns, only to again land at the 3rd pick, where Hinkie selected Duke standout Jahlil Okafor. Last night the #1 pick and #3 pick faced off for the first time as the Sixers faced the Timberwolves in Minnesota, and safe to say that 76ers fans can, at least for now, feel pretty good about how that draft worked out.

Just like he’s done to almost every center he has faced this year, Jah dominated Towns on the offensive end. We’re getting spoiled at this point, right? It was your standard bevy of spin moves, drop steps, cross-the-lane floaters, and even a few jumpers mixed it. Jah had 19 points before halftime and without question was not phased by Towns presence. Even when the Wolves threw some double-teams at Jah, he effortlessly spun through them right to the basket.

At this point, no one is doubting Okafor’s offensive prowess. He has fantastic footwork, three or four great go to moves, and a big frame that he knows how to use. What has been more distressing through has been his rebounding and defense. Clearly out to prove a point tonight with the #1 overall pick on the floor, Okafor was just as impressive on the opposite end of the court. He consistently bodied up Towns, using his huge frame to keep Towns out of position. Look at him fend of Town with one arm here while pulling down a board with his giant mitt.

The best part of that play was it led to Towns’ 3rd foul, forcing him to the bench for the remainder of the 1st half. Okafor’s physical play kept Towns in foul trouble all night, ensuring that he had no rhythm when he was on the court, which was only for 19 minutes. Jah was super aggressive on the glass as well, grabbing 9 boards in the 1st half and finishing with 12 on the night, well above his season average of 7 per game.

The only downside to Jah’s night was really that most of his damage came in the 1st half. After going into the break with 19 points and 9 rebounds, he only managed 6 points and 3 boards afterwards. I’m not sure much of that was Okafor’s fault – it felt like the focus of the offense for the Sixers in the second half switched to outside shooting, in part because the Wolves were also more aggressively double-teaming Okafor. He also got yanked in and out of the lineup a little down the stretch, as Brett Brown seemed to be struggling to find a lineup he liked (seemed like he had found a lineup that worked). Don’t know if Brett just wasn’t calling his number, or maybe the team was simply struggling to get him the ball, but it was a real missed opportunity.

Jah was juiced up and rolling, ready to go at the only big man taken ahead of him in the draft. He dominated the 1st half and should’ve been more involved down the stretch. So continues the “learning to win” that Coach Brown keeps talking about.

Other Player of the Game Contenders: Robert Covington (18 points and 3 steals), Hollis Thompson (15 points on 3-7 shooting from downtown).