The 76ers have a logjam at the center and power forward positions, and there is no denying that. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are definitely going to be around, Joel Embiid, pending injury, Dario Saric, if he comes over, and Ben Simmons, if selected at #1 overall. That makes five players fighting for two starting positions. It has become accepted by the majority of those following the NBA that the Sixers will be trading one of these players sooner or later.
I want to preface this article by saying this: I think Jahlil Okafor is an immensely talented player who has an offensive skill set that could make him a multi-year All-Star.
Is he the player I think the Sixers should build around for years to come? Absolutely not.
For the sake of this article, let’s agree that the Sixers will need to trade one of their big men in the future. The rumors have already started with Noel to the Atlanta Hawks for Jeff Teague. So the Sixers front office needs to make a decision, trade Noel or Okafor? Maybe they decide to move Embiid or Saric, but those don’t seem nearly as likely.
For Nerlens Noel to be a good player on your roster, he needs playing time, and to be around the rim. That is not the case for Jahlil Okafor. His refined post skill set is designed to be surrounded with shooters and players who can create space for him to operate. In the foreseeable future, he will not get that in Philadelphia.
Even if the Sixers draft a few good shooters, and sign a guy like Bradley Beal or Seth Curry, this roster still has too many big men for Okafor to reach his peak potential.
Some people believe that, despite the fact that Okafor needs to be the center of your team, he’s good enough for that to be an intelligent move. I do not agree with that line of thinking. In the most simple way, Okafor is too slow and doesn’t rebound nearly enough to justify making him “the guy”. He’s also very bad in pick-and-roll defense.
To give Okafor the benefit of the doubt, many young players struggle to defend the pick-and-roll. Though his post offense is very refined, it doesn’t make up for all of the deficiencies in other areas of his game. He may get more nimble and improve defensively, but I highly doubt he will ever be a rim-stopping force.
I don’t completely buy into the “the NBA is going small” narrative, but I do believe that to succeed in the modern NBA, teams need big men that are mobile and active on the perimeter and in the fast break. Nerlens Noel can be that guy. I’d argue his best offensive move is catching an alley-oop. If anything has been proven during Okafor’s injury-shortened rookie year, it is that he is not a player who excels in transition.
On a team with a lot of three point shooters, Okafor could possibly lead them deep into the playoffs. On a roster like that, teams can’t double him without risking a wide open three pointer. I simply don’t think he will ever be in that situation in Philadelphia.
His value is high right now, considering everything that transpired his rookie year. Some argue that Okafor’s value will only go up, and that may be the case, but that’s certainly not the only possibility. He could see his time diminish next year if a Simmons-Embiid-Noel lineup, or another one not including him, is very successful on the floor.
There is a definite risk to trading Okafor before Embiid even steps on an NBA court, but I think the possible rewards outweigh that risk. The Sixers correctly identified that Michael Carter-Williams was not the point guard for them, and they moved him when his value was at its highest. Who’s to say that the same thing won’t happen with Okafor in the coming weeks?
- David Hennessey, @DavidHennessey_