Few feelings can top the feeling a young player has when they are drafted to their first NBA home. At the time, waves of happiness are followed by waves of excitement for accomplishing what would look to be a lifelong goal of playing in their sport’s highest league.
But for some, that honeymoon feeling can come to an abrupt end and the search for greener pastures replaces the once-new feelings of excitement.
For Jahlil Okafor, the latter has become the present.
Just two years ago, Okafor was selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Draft only a few months after winning a national championship with Duke during his lone collegiate season.
Okafor’s start with the Sixers was immediately met with turmoil. During his introductory press conference, a chopped video hit Twitter and displayed what had looked like a displeased Okafor dropping his new Sixers jersey on the table with no love. More or less just a result of good editing, it still left a bad taste in the mouths of Philly fans to start the big man’s stay in his new city.
While on the court during his rookie year, Okafor did his best to shine. Throughout the 53 games Okafor played during his first season, he averaged 17.5 points, seven rebounds, and shot over 50 percent from the field per game. Poor defense aside, Okafor was the first real scoring threat Philadelphia possessed since Allen Iverson was on the court.
Since then, however, things haven’t been so sunny in Philadelphia for the Chicago native.
As he enters his third season, Okafor finds himself sitting behind Joel Embiid — the franchise cornerstone — and his lack of versatility athletically limits his ability to the play power forward role (which is crowded in its own right between Dario Saric and potentially Ben Simmons).
Along with the fact that his place in the rotation in question, Okafor’s name has been involved in trade talks for nearly a year. During last season’s trade deadline, Okafor was informed by the team that they were looking for suitable trade partners. The process got so far along that Okafor even left the club during a road trip. The trade deadline ultimately saw Philadelphia move Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks, leaving Okafor stuck with the Sixers for the duration.
Although the Sixers have looked to move Okafor in the past, and will presumably keep their eyes open for any deals in the future, there has been talk of optimism around the team in regards to seeing what Okafor can do on the court when surrounded by actual playmakers like Simmons and 2017 first overall pick, Markelle Fultz.
Regardless of what impact Okafor may have with elevated talent around him, the traditional back-to-the-basket center doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of a Sixers team that will look to push the pace next season. Okafor’s ball stopping offensive game and defensive limitations make him a forced fit at best with Philadelphia’s current roster construct.
The writing’s on the wall for Okafor in Philadelphia, and while his future with the Sixers seems bleak he still does possess some attractive qualities to his game; most notably his ability to score at will in the post.
At this point, Okafor would best be suited in another uniform with a fresh start. Hopefully there he can restart his still very young NBA career.
– Dennis Chambers