With Joel Embid scheduled to sit out his second straight season and his long-term future in doubt, it has become imperative that this year’s draft pick, Jahlil Okafor, ends up being a productive one for the Philadelphia 76ers. As the team’s scheduled starting center, he’s the next player I’ll profile to examine his long-term potential for the franchise.
Okafor’s offensive skill-set is the only one on the 76ers with franchise-player potential. He has a series of post moves, goes up strong when near the basket, and passes well whenever he attracts an extra defender. He’s also an excellent offensive rebounder, leading to easy second-chance points. If he can translate his 66-percent field-goal percentage in college to a mid-50s shooting percentage in the NBA, he’ll have a great opportunity to become the Sixers’ first legitimate go-to scorer since they traded Allen Iverson in 2007.
As good as he is offensively, though, he’s an awful free-throw shooter, hitting only 51 percent in his only season at Duke. Productive post scorers in the NBA have still thrived despite shooting low percentages at the free-throw line, but because coaches have been intentionally fouling bad free-throw shooters at an increasing rate the last few years, this is an aspect of Okafor’s game that can cost him precious minutes. Considering 76ers coach Brett Brown is one of those coaches who supports intentionally fouling players to limit the opposition’s productivity, the team’s coaching staff will be sure to make Okafor’s free-throw shooting a priority during practices.
Okafor’s overall defense has also come into question, especially considering he’s not the most athletic player in the world. This may be more of a question of how well the Sixers’ training staff can get him into top shape. They want to play an up-tempo style, so Okafor will need to get into the right shape in order to avoid becoming a square peg in a round hole.
In the end, it’ll be Okafor’s talent and how well he fits into the NBA that’ll determine his effectiveness. He has the skills to succeed; he just needs to put them together in order to make the most of his career. He may also need to evolve his game now that he’ll be playing with a player in Nerlens Noel who mostly plays close to the basket. But if Noel or Okafor can add a consistent mid-range jumpshot to their arsenal – Noel is reportedly focused on developing one this offeseason – it’ll become that much easier for Okafor to succeed.
Which is important, considering his success may dictate the team’s success over the next several years.