The Sixers, for once, find themselves in a not-so-terrible-place despite finishing last season 10-72. The reason being is, for once, things worked out for them on the night of the draft lottery and they secured the #1 draft pick that they…”deserved”. Additionally, they have no real cap concerns and already have a handful of highly coveted prospects on the roster. So why do I still have elevated levels on anxiety regarding this team? Because I think they could make a big mistake and trade away Jahlil Okafor.
Last year the Sixers were 18-64 and came away with the 3rd overall pick in the draft which was almost universally considered a flop for the team since they weren’t able to take guard D’Angelo Russell out of Ohio State, which in hindsight is probably almost universally considered a blessing. Jahlil Okafor, having been apart of Duke’s championship squad as a freshman, for lack of a better phrase, fell into their laps as he was deemed too talented, too valuable to pass up despite already having two other highly touted big men on the roster. Okafor was seen coming into the NBA as a perennial 20/10 guy who’s poor stamina and free throw shooting were already well documented. He is still expected by basketball experts to be a 20/10 throughout the better part of his career and even averaged almost 18 points and 7 points during his rookie season playing with a terrible team composed of fringe NBA players. So with those averages, why would it not be shocking news if the Sixers parted with him after only a year?
Well, it was apparent there wasn’t a great deal of chemistry with fellow big man Nerlens Noel, who is expected to be a centerpiece on this young team going forward. Second, as mentioned before, the Sixers have another coveted big man on the team not named Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid. Embiid, like Okafor, basically fell into the Sixers lap when they yet again had the 3rd overall pick in the draft the year before Okafor. Embiid was also considered a can’t miss talent who many expected to go #1 that year before he got injured just before the draft which inevitably hurt his stock. Perhaps saying that Embiid was a can’t miss talent is an understatement, even with limited basketball experience people compared him to Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan. Additionally, Jahlil Okafor has had a rocky freshman campaign from an off the court standpoint. He was pulled over for going 108 miles per hour over the Ben Franklin Bridge heading into Philadelphia and was also involved in multiple drunken altercations, one where he was caught on camera punching someone and the other where he had a gun pulled on him. Finally, the last big reason why the Sixers might trade him is because he’s still considered to be one of their most valuable assets, despite all of this. He is viewed as someone who can still live up to his potential, who could benefit enormously from a change of scenery. For that reason, the Sixers could probably get a considerable offer for the 20 year old.
OK. Now that i supplied the reasoning why the Sixers could potentially swing a deal, I’m ready to defend not doing so like Johnnie Cochran in ’95.
- Yes, it is true that there was a lack of chemistry with Nerlens Noel and that they didn’t play well together. However, since when is it considered ok to give up on an elite prospect after only one season? Nerlens Noel is 22 and just learning how to play on his own, the notion that he should already be able to tailor his game to compliment another big man seamlessly is laughable. Not playing well with a guard is one thing, but this is another seven foot body, it’s not normal to have two elite big men playing alongside each other let alone them figuring the whole thing out in one year. Brett Brown has won less than 20% of his games as an NBA head coach. We all know that’s mainly because of the severe lack of talent but still he’s relatively inexperienced as a head coach. Maybe he should have some accountability? If he’s considered a coach worth keeping maybe he’s able to figure something out?
2. This is really the big one, no pun intended. JOEL EMBIID HASN’T PLAYED A SINGLE GAME IN HIS TWO YEAR NBA CAREER. Typing that in caps was such a satisfying release I want to do it over and over again. If you’re playing devils advocate you could argue that him not playing was more of a deliberate move by the team as they want to ensure he’s 100% healthy instead of a chronic inability to stay on the court. The point is, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if he’s the next Tim Duncan or Hakeem Olajuwon, there is literally 0 NBA experience to validate that. He was hurt in COLLEGE. His team got eliminated from the tournament as he sat on the sideline with a stress fracture. He hasn’t played in a meaningful game since. Who knows if he can even play? There’s always players who are projected to be the next _______ (insert Hall of Famer here) who never pan out even when they’re healthy. The fact that the Sixers seem poised to bet the farm on this kid is basically doubling down because not only is his health in serious question, there’s just no tangible evidence he can play in the NBA. He didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15. Okafor seems like a lock to be a consistent 20/10 guy for years to come. What’s Embiids projection? 25/15? 30/20? Although you probably can’t tell, I still like Embiid! That’s not sarcasm! He had two years to rest up and has a lot of potential, I just would rather see him in action and see what we have before we trade away a valuable player like Okafor. Who knows, maybe Nerlens is the odd man out? I’m just throwing out nonsense because the whole point is you don’t know what you don’t know.
3. Yes, his off the court incidents were troublesome. The footage of his altercations were embarrassing. He was 19 years old. It takes time for some players to mature and handle adversity. It’s probably tougher than you would imagine to go from the National Champion to laughingstock in less than a year. Hey, let’s not act like all the other Sixers are choir boys either. Nerlens Noel is being sued by his landlord for extensive damage and mistreatment to his property. Again, doesn’t a head coach have some influence in off court behavior? Since Brett Brown’s our guy shouldn’t he be able to show these men how to act like a professional? Just a thought. Okafor played for Mike Krzyzewski. I’m not concerned. He flipped out for being on such a lousy team and while he reacted in the wrong way, I’ll take a player with passion over a player who doesn’t give a shit any day.
4. Yes, Okafor is one of the team’s most valuable trade piece. We can probably get a top 3 pick for him and under normal circumstances that could very well be worth doing. They can get the elite guard which has been ever so elusive for years now. They can pair two young top players from this years class to go with two promising big men, but that’s all under the assumption that Joel Embiid is going to be the team’s power forward for years to come. While it’s possible that may be the case and even hopeful, it is still ultimately an assumption that’s premature nonetheless. I’ll leave you with this question: if we lose a talent like Embiid (any injury would probably be longterm at this point) do you really want to wait another 82 games trying to find his replacement?