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Why the Sixers should have traded Jahlil Okafor

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As the NBA’s February 18th trade deadline passed, you could hear the collective sigh of relief among players and basketball fans alike. Who stays? Who goes? It’s all pretty nerve wracking for both sides.

This year, the trade buzz surrounded Philadelphia 76ers rookie center Jahlil Okafor.  And from local pundit, to casual observer, the mere thought of sending away the 3rd overall pick in last year’s draft, is pure sacrilege.  

But before you drive your car straight into the Schuylkill River, let’s take a calculated, unemotional look at what “Big Jah” does well, and why trading him actually would have made sense.  Assuming of course, Sixers management gets a deal they like.  

If you fancy yourself an Okafor fan (and considering the dearth of talent forced on you by general manager Sam Hinkie, you likely are), you cannot wrap your head around moving what seems like a promising 20-year old big man.   

But at this stage, Okafor has one useful skill and even that has its limitations in the NBA’s uber-athletic world. Simply put, the young man can score, as his 20.3 points per 36 mins suggests.  

However, Okafor is not a scorer.  

There is a difference. While good NBA scorers get baskets many ways, Okafor doesn’t.  For him to score effectively, the Sixers must give him the basketball once they cross half-court, extended on the left.  Then, give him as much room as possible so he can use one of his crafty spin moves to get close to the hoop.  Photo: McCall.com

That’s it. That is Okafor’s scoring prowess after just over 50 professional games.  

He doesn’t get many baskets in transition because he is a lumbering, plodding type, who isn’t in the best shape.  He an average offensive rebounder, so that basically eliminates easy put backs.  And he isn’t uber-athletic, so those highlight reel alley-oops, or coast-to-coast flurries are almost non-existent.  

Another reason Sixers fans fear trading Okafor is the fact he is so young. And at 20-years old, you might think his age and early production equal a very high ceiling.  

Not so fast.  

What if the things he cannot control like average athleticism and low basketball IQ prevent him from ever dominating foes night after night?  

Okafor’s upside is debatable, but there is no question the Sixers have to decide how they want to play because of how he scores.  

If you look around the league, one thing is clear; of the 16 teams currently qualifying for the playoffs, none of them play offense with a player like Okafor dominating the ball on most possessions.  

In other words, good teams rarely stand around watching their big man take 12 seconds to make a move.

And for all of Okafor’s productivity, the truth is, he is rather ordinary outside of three feet from the basket converting on 43% of his shots from 3-10 feet.  It gets worse from there where he only makes 36% of his 10-16 footers, and is nearly useless beyond 16 feet, where he knocks in a paltry 26% of his shots.  As for beyond the 3-point arc?  Don’t bother.  

By comparison, last year’s first pick, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, is an NBA prototype.  He is active, athletic, and rangy, and based on the following table, is playing an entirely different sport.  

Field Goal Percentage By Distance

0-3 feet

3-10 feet

10-16 feet

16 < 3pt line

3-pointers

Okafor

.657

.435

.356

.255

.000

Towns

.704

.457

.446

.487

.375

                                http://www.basketball-reference.com

Another reason to consider trading Okafor is the fact he is a bad defensive rebounder. That could be the result of his below average conditioning or mediocre athleticism. Or, it is simply a product of an internal motor he leaves idling far too often. Either way, chairman of basketball operations, Jerry Colangelo and his trusted ally, associate head coach Mike D’Antoni, already have an inkling why their big rookie center fails to gather more misses.

Naturally, Okafor could become more effective away from the basket, and he could ultimately decide basketball means everything to him. That despite success coming relatively easy, he wants to become a great player. Though, it isn’t often players fall in love with the game after they reach the NBA.

But again, even if those things happen, who is he on a good team, and how are they playing offense?  Because if you want to play with movement, passing and pace, you don’t want a player like Okafor.  

The fact is, Jahlil Okafor is a dinosaur.  He certainly has a place in the league, and barring injury, and boredom, will collect NBA checks for 15 years.  

But can he be one of the three best players on a 50-win team?  In my view, not a chance.  He wasn’t even one of the three best players on the floor for Duke the night they won the National Championship.  

Trading Okafor sooner rather than later makes more sense than you think.

 

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area. He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention. His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

 

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Photo: McCall.com