Post Scorer, Shot Creator

Jahlil Okafor Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

POST-FIRST YEAR ASSESSMENT

  • 1,591 minutes
  • -15.3 pace-adjusted plus-minus
  • 17.1 PER

Okafor’s first year as a pro was mostly hurt by optics and context.

The 20-year-old was caught on video having a fight with a Celtics fan on a night out in Boston, news of his fine for driving over the speed limit went viral in a way these things don’t tend to go viral with many other guys in that profession and then the 76ers lost 72 out of 82 games.

But with the exception of the off court incidents, Okafor’s rookie season turned out to go exactly as it was expected to.

Philadelphia made a jaw-dropping decision to invest in Okafor. It did go in line with Sam Hinkie’s process that, at that stage in their development, the 76ers should be drafting the best player in a vacuum available and then figure out the fit later, regardless of whether that player was injured or if there was a position overlap with a previous investment.

So Hinkie took Okafor, ignoring the fact that his style of play (slower, post-up oriented) went exactly against what they were attempting to implement the previous two seasons (faster, pick-and-roll heavy).

Having a diverse set of options can be important but it has to make sense under a cohesive identity. Fitting Okafor into the direction they planned on pursuing before his arrival was always going to be challenging, especially considering that what they had built prior to him getting there wasn’t that solid to begin with because they never invested on a lead ball-handler long enough for things to stick.

So when you look at it that way, having the privilege of hindsight on your side too, it’s easy to understand how Okafor not only made no positive impact on this team[1], the team actually regressed after his addition.

Okafor looked like a dominant one-on-one scorer on most nights. He can set deep position against bigger behemoths like Robin Lopez and Timofey Mozgov, create separation to get his hooks off over either shoulder, take any center in the league off the dribble from above the foul line all the way to the rim or stop on a dime and hit short pull-up jump-shots.

His averages of 0.87 point per possession in isolation and 0.85 on post-ups don’t scream dominant but are solidly above average and are decent enough when you consider the ecosystem he was a part of. Philadelphia had a lot of shot takers but not a lot of shot makers around him, so Okafor didn’t often have free paths to the basket or a ton of space to work with.

Nik Stauskas and Robert Covington started the season injured and spent the entire year playing catch up with regards to their percentages. Isaiah Canaan and Hollis Thompson are fine open-shot shooters but neither has acquired any gravity yet. Jerami Grant regressed.

There is also the fact that Okafor shared the court with Nerlens Noel for 694 minutes. Brett Brown tried arguing that the two are so young and still in a developmental stage that he couldn’t just close the door on the small chance they could fit together. That’s a valid point.

But it became fairly obvious fairly quick that it wasn’t working, at least not with these many other question marks around them, especially considering the man signed to organize everyone, Kendall Marshall, took far longer to recover than anticipated. And as imagined, Philadelphia’s offense died when the two centers were in together, averaging just 0.925 points per possession – according to nbawowy.com.

That’s not to say Okafor was not directly responsible for any of the problems that caused Philadelphia’s regression. All the concerns raised with regards to his defense one year ago materialized in his first year as a pro.

Okafor remains either an inattentive, an unintuitive or an irresponsible help defender. According to nyloncalculus.com, he cost the team -0.15 points per 36 minutes as a defender closer to the rim. That’s while far more limited guys from an athletic-standpoint like Dirk Nowitzki, Frank Kaminsky and Josh McRoberts managed to rate positively.

Okafor was also a negative as a defensive rebounder. Despite his combination of length[2] and athleticism, he collected just 17.8% of opponents’ misses – a below average mark for someone his size.

Brown actually tried having Okafor defend perimeter-oriented big men some midway through the season, maybe to see if more of a demand would incentivize to work harder, but that didn’t work either. As an indirect result, Noel had to guard away from the basket for most of last year and the team had no carryover from the 11th-ranked standing in defensive efficiency the year before.

Now Hinkie is gone but his process does not appear to have been cut short. Maybe Philadelphia had a problem having people accept their money (which is entirely possible) but for the most part, they appear to have made a conscious decision to sit out most of the free agency frenzy. Jerry Bayless, Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez were signed but they all project to play bit roles.

The team is expected to look completely different than the previous year once again, though. All that losing earned the 76ers the top pick in the draft. They invested it on Ben Simmons, who is one of the most ball-dominant players ever seen. And the cornerstone of the entire process, Joel Embiid, is now expected to be ready to go on opening night too.

Okafor didn’t fit this team last season and now he is somehow even more of a fish out of water. No real substantial improvement in shooting has been made, the team actually added worst perimeter defenders and more guys that need the ball to maximize their impact and diminish the blow of their weaknesses.

Brian Colangelo is probably having a really hard time finding a fair deal to send Okafor away and he should be more reluctant to take a loss on a trade than the average decision maker because his reputation was damaged by his tenure in Toronto[3] and most people presume he only got his current job because of nepotism. But the logical conclusion here seems clear: Okafor won’t be a part of this franchise much longer. There’s just not much sense in it.

[1] Despite the fact he averaged 23.3 points per 40 minutes as every bit of the post-up scorer he was touted to be from day one.

[2] Seven-foot-five wingspan.

[3] Even if he did built the foundation of what has become this current winning team.

Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara

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