Jahlil Okafor’s Problem is Actually Offense

Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Many have pointed to Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor‘s defense as his main issue, but perhaps it’s the offense.

Yes, you read that title right. Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor is a guy known solely for his offensive game, and more specifically for his sweet face-up and post up moves. But what if I were to tell you that the thing holding him back from being a productive player was actually his offense and not his defense? Yes I’m talking about the same guy who averaged over 20 points per 36 minutes in his rookie season.

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Lets start off with some facts and with some comparisons. There are two big men from the same draft class as Okafor who many Philadelphia 76ers fans would do anything to get their hands on. Those two guys are Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.

There is no denying that these guys have much higher value and stock than Okafor right now but it’s not for the reasons you’d think. You’d think it’s because in theory, they can guard a variety of different players and block shots, but that’s not it.

When you see guys like Towns and Porzingis run the floor like guards and swat shots into the crowd, your mind would lead you to believe that there is no way they’d be bad defenders right? Wrong. Here are some stats for you from a few respected websites (As of December 1st 2016):

Jahlil OkaforDefensive Rating: 108.9/ Defensive Box Plus Minus: -0.7/ Defensive Real Plus Minus: -0.20

Karl-Anthony TownsDefensive Rating: 110.5/ Defensive Box Plus Minus: -0.1/Defensive Real Plus Minus: -0.93 (Worst among Centers)

Kristaps PorzingisDefensive Rating: 109.2/ Defensive Box Plus Minus: -1.2/ Defensive Real Plus Minus: -0.18

As you can see, Okafor is right there with Porzingis as far as effectiveness on defense while Towns is arguably worse than both on that end of the floor right now. Towns currently ranks as the worst center in the league in defensive real plus minus. So what really makes Okafor a liability on the court? His offense.

Even though Towns is the worst center in defensive real plus minus, he still has the sixth highest Real Plus Minus (RPM) out of all centers due to his Offensive Real Plus Minus (ORPM) being so high at 2.91 which is good for second best among centers.

Porzingis has an ORPM of 2.52 which is good for second amongst power forwards. Even though Okafor has Towns beat by almost a point in defensive RPM, Okafor still managed to be the second to worst center in overall RPM because his effectiveness on offense is simply terrible. Okafor is sixth worst (-2.70) in Offensive Real Plus Minus (ORPM) right next to his comparison who is the seventh worst in Al Jefferson (-2.60).

While Towns and Porzingis have an offensive rating of 108 and 105.9 respectively, Okafor’s offensive rating sits at 92.1 according to NBA.com.

Now Okafor’s offensive problems stem from many different things. Lack of stretching the floor, lack of transition baskets, bad pick setting, virtually no pick and roll scoring or easy baskets, and holding on to the ball too long which stagnates the offense.

The interesting thing about his ball stopping and lack of passing out is that we can’t blame it on the guards or outside shooters anymore. The 76ers are surprisingly seventh in 3-point field goal percentage while also being seventh in 3-point attempts per game.

Yes, he plays with a third string point guard in T.J McConnell most of the time and yes, the 76ers guards tend to ball watch and not cut or move around but a lot of the fault still needs to be given to Okafor. I’d also be lying though if I said the coaching staff didn’t need a fair share of the blame as well though.

There’s no way a squad with two low post talents like Okafor and Embiid on the seventh best 3-point shooting team should have the second worst offensive efficiency (95.9 point per 100 possessions) in the league. This coaching staff needs to take a page out of the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors playbooks and learn how to actually get shooters open to pass to in the half court. Setting offball screens is so crucial yet so overlooked when talking about an NBA offense. Okafor and Embiid need to set much better screens and again, that comes from coaching.

When you create your own baskets almost 70 percent of the time like Okafor does, it sets your efficiency up for failure. According to Basketball Reference, Okafor gets assisted on only 31.3 percent of his 2-point field goals. Towns gets assisted on 55.4 percent of his, and Porzingis on 62% percent of his 2 point field goals.

While it’s clear Okafor is still working his way back from injury and trying to get his legs back, there are plenty of things during a game he should be doing that have nothing to do with injury.

I’m sort of blasting Okafor in this post because I want him to succeed, and I know he can be a much better player than what he is right now.

To improve his offense, he needs to be much more decisive in the post and play more bully ball. When Jah is engaged, angry, or gets into one of those rhythms, he is unstoppable when he want to get right at the rim and finish. He needs to use his strength more instead of all of the dribble moves he uses which are unnecessary.

He also needs to set a lot more screens on and off ball, and the screens to have actual physical contact. He needs to get his jump-shot back from last season and extend it even more to provide some spacing and provide some pick & pop opportunities. Okafor also needs to learn when something is not there and kick it out to the right player. He also needs to run a lot more in transition and try to get easy buckets like this one:

This has been said a million times, but the fact is, he still is just 20 years old. Just because he has fancy moves and handles for his size does not mean he is anywhere close to a finished product. He doesn’t have the look of a typical raw/project type player but he is a raw player who still has a lot to learn on how to play “team” offense and “team” defense. Hopefully he learns quickly these next few years. There’s one last stat I want to share to prove Okafor’s problem is offense and not defense:

According to 82games.com, the 76ers give up 2.4 more points per 100 possessions when Okafor is off the floor compared to when he’s on the floor this season. Also, opposing teams effective field goal percentage go up 6.9 percent when Okafor is off the floor.

On offense, the team scores 6.7 less points per 100 possessions when Okafor is on the floor compared to off. When Okafor is on the floor, only 45 percent of the team’s field goals are assisted. With him off that number jumps to 65 percent which shows the lack of ball movement when he’s on the floor.

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The reason I am optimistic is because none of these things have to do with athleticism. By practicing, watching game tape, and good coaching he can improve all of these little things to become a much better offensive player for the team. With a passer like Ben Simmons coming back soon, I’m even more confident that Okafor and even Embiid for that matter will both get better, cleaner, and easier looks at the basket in the future.