It may only be summer league, but Jahil Okafor is giving Philadelphia 76ers fans reason for optimism through his first couple games in Utah.
With Joel Embiid’s uncertain future with the team, the Sixers need their top pick in this year’s draft to show star potential at the center position. Summer league games are nothing more than a nice step toward stiffer competition for rookies, though, so we can’t make too much out of any one player’s performance.
Still, you can get a glimpse of what Okafor brings to the table, and you can’t help but be encouraged through two games. He was clearly the best player on the court in his first contest, totaling 20 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks on 10-for-22 shooting against the San Antonio Spurs. Ironically, he gave himself a C-minus when asked afterward how he’d grade his performance.
He wasn’t quite as active in the next game, scoring 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, but he still managed to pull down nine rebounds against the Boston Celtics. He felt much better about his second game, giving himself a C-plus.
But what matters most is what he can bring to the table, so we can set our expectations accordingly for his rookie season. Okafor is not the quickest player by any means, but his post moves have gotten he job done. He made turnaround shots while being fouled and converted jump hooks in fluid fashion.
Rebounding-wise, he doesn’t rebound the ball defensively as much as you would want from a starting center, but he sure can rebound the ball on the offensive end, grabbing six against the Spurs and five against the Celtics. He’s got great hands to control the ball, and his tip-ins are an added bonus.
Defensively, he hasn’t been horrible, but he hasn’t been great, either. Sure, he’s blocked a couple of shots, but he needs to get in better shape in order not to be beaten as much down the court.
Many of these things we already knew about him from having watched his college games, but it’s nice to see he can perform against competition that’s slightly better than the NCAA. It gives fans hope he can be the Sixers’ new cornerstone. Sure, summer league isn’t much of a sample, but seeing him perform well is much more encouraging than seeing him struggle right off the bat.
When next season rolls around, I expect he’ll have trouble adjusting his post game to be successful in the NBA, but it’ll improve as he becomes more familiar with the competition. His offensive rebounding will have an immediate impact, but not as much so if he doesn’t improve his free-throw shooting and teams start hacking him as soon as he rebounds the ball. He’s 3-for-10 at the foul line through these two games.
If we can get 12 to 13 points and seven rebounds per game from him next season, I’d be happy with that. Perhaps more importantly, if he can improve throughout the season, he’ll instill greater confidence that he’ll put up much better numbers down the road.