When Jahlil Okafor was finally traded away from the Philadelphia 76ers on December 7, it appeared as though he received the fresh start he was looking for with the Brooklyn Nets.
Logging a total of 25 minutes for the Sixers, Okafor didn’t see the court for Philadelphia after November 7, as the team desperately attempted to find a trade partner.
Sitting out the first three contests for the Nets after the trade was completed, Okafor finally got on the court on December 15, scoring 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting while pulling down four rebounds over 23 minutes of work.
Since then, however, he has been held out of seven-straight games due to conditioning issues.
In an appearance on New York’s WFAN radio channel on Thursday, Nets general manager Sean Marks explained that Okafor would be held out of game action until he gets back into game shape.
“I’d hate to put an exact date on it. Depending on how he feels, we’re going day-to-day,” Marks said. “I’d assume he’s still probably a week-and-a-half or two weeks away from where he feels comfortable out there and be able to play at the pace in which coach Kenny [Atkinson] and his staff want to play at.”
When Okafor returns, he will most likely assume a major role within Brooklyn’s rotation. But, how much can we really expect from the 22 year old?
New team, similar style
Although the Nets are just 13-22 this season, they are quite difficult to keep up with on the offensive end of the court. Playing at the fourth-fastest pace in the entire NBA, head coach Kenny Atkinson has preached a run-and-gun style of play that results in fast-break opportunities and a ton of ball movement in a halfcourt setting.
During Okafor’s stellar rookie season in 2015-2016, the Sixers went just 10-72 overall, but played at the sixth-quickest pace in the league. Last season, Philadelphia ranked fifth in the league in that regard.
Therefore, due to the similarities in Sixers coach Brett Brown’s offensive philosophy, Okafor should feel comfortable pushing the tempo once he gets back into playing shape.
Favorable roster construction
If you’re wondering whether or not Okafor will find minutes within Brooklyn’s rotation, consider the following: Atkinson has been starting Tyler Zeller at the center position. Rookie Jarrett Allen and veteran Timofey Mozgov have split the remainder of the time at the five.
Therefore, predicting that Okafor and Allen eventually split the time at center as the season progresses seems logical.
Since Jeremy Lin is out for the rest of the season and D’Angelo Russell will be slowly eased back from his knee injury, there is no real go-to scorer on Brooklyn’s roster. Russell leads the team with a 34.1 percent usage rate, but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (21.8 percent), Caris LeVert (21.1), Spencer Dinwiddie (20.7), DeMarre Carroll (19.3) and Allen Crabbe (17.9) have not been consistent threats on the offensive end of the court.
Although Okafor’s defensive abilities have been a clear point of criticism throughout his young career, his low-post scoring skills have never been questioned. Therefore, he should be able to average double-digit points per night when receiving 20-to-30 minutes on the court per game.
It’s safe to say that the Sixers could have handled Okafor’s tenure with the club differently. Essentially shunning him for much of this season, it’s now clear that he was simply overlooked by the team’s coaching and training staff before getting traded. After having such a productive rookie season, it was odd to see him benched, even if the focus shifted to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
It’s important to remember that he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds over 30.0 minutes per game as a rookie just a couple years ago. Before that, he led his team to the national championship in his one-and-done season at Duke University. Plus, he’s only 22 years old with an entire career in front of him.
Given a second chance to prove himself, it’s essential that Okafor works harder than anyone else in the gym, earns his playing time and revitalizes his career. Brooklyn will eventually give him that chance, and he will have to take advantage of the opportunity.