Tuesday night had such excitement for a preseason game.
The Philadelphia 76ers began exhibition play with a 129-95 loss to the Washington Wizards, but we all know the final scores of these games should be ignored. (Do I need to bring up the Philadelphia Eagles here?)
What matters most is the progression of the young individuals who we expect to be a part of the team’s long-term rebuilding plan, and for the first time, we saw first-round pick Jahlil Okafor go up against legitimate NBA competition.
And you know what? He didn’t disappoint. Similar to his Summer League play, he gave us reason for optimism.
In 17 minutes of play, Okafor scored 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting, while also collecting two rebounds and two blocks. His rebounding numbers may have been lackluster, but his offensive game was on point. For a vast majority of those 17 minutes, the 6-foot-11, 275-pounder went up against Wizards center Marcin Gortat, who, at 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, is one of the NBA’s more physical centers.
Meaning, it was a nice way to welcome Okafor to the first day of the rest of his life as a basketball player.
Okafor struggled to get deep position in the post against Gortat, often catching the ball 10 to 15 feet from the basket. But he made up for it by sinking contested mid-range jumpers. Seeing him still find ways to score despite his opponent’s physicality was impressive, and his soft touch from mid-range was such a welcome sight considering how long it has been since the Sixers had a big man with that skill.
Okafor even ran the floor better than expected, resulting in a fast-break layup at one point.
Going forward, though, it’ll be important for Okafor to establish himself closer to the basket. Not only will he attempt easier shots, but the floor spacing will be better for his teammates’ perimeter shooting. Also, all big-time scorers in the NBA find ways to get to the foul line, and deeper post position will greatly increase Okafor’s chances at making that happen.
Clearly, Okafor is showing good signs offensively. How dominant he’ll be will depend on how the little things progress.