By: Ethan Giles
The second Jahlil Okafor was selected with the third pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, it was clear he was only going to be in Philadelphia temporarily, as his skill set did not mesh with hopeful franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid.
That temporary stay will max out at three years. He will not return to the team next year thanks to his declined rookie option. He’s currently on the trade block as the team refuses to buy him out, and many people are wondering which team will give up the assets to attain him. To try to find an answer to this question I examined his latest three minutes of game film on Tuesday, November 6 against the Utah Jazz, with the hopes of finding a perfect NBA landing spot for the former Duke big man.
Okafor entered the game with 3:09 left in the first quarter, as the Sixers lead 26-10. He has a tough matchup with the offensive juggernaut Ekpe Udoh, and shows veteran know-how on this first possession, very obviously pulling Udoh’s jersey while Udoh tries to set a screen, thereby avoiding the inevitable Ekpe Udoh stepback three.
On the ensuing offensive possession, Okafor runs a DHO flawlessly, handing the ball to J.J. Redick who hits a long-two. That’s not only an assist, it’s also two points.
Next defensive possession, we see the famed two-man tandem of Thabo Sefolosha and Udoh put Jah in a pick and roll. Jah does a good job containing the action, allowing Thabo to take a contested long two (heyyyyyy), and clank it off the rim.
The next offensive possession, we see Jah do what he does best: play offense. He sets up just next to the free throw line, gets in Ben Simmons’ way, receives the pass, looks to pass for a millisecond, realizes he’s open, and shoots the ball. The ball doesn’t go in, but he’s clearly willing to shoot.
25 seconds later is when we see Okafor’s biggest weakness: defense. Unfortunately no player is perfect, folks. The offense resets after a failed pick and roll, and Okafor gets lost between a driving Ricky Rubio and that talented Udoh. Udoh gets in position, Rubio hits him, and Okafor fouls him to prevent a basket. That’s Okafor’s second foul in under a minute.
The next offensive possession we see Jah execute yet another DHO with Redick, but this time Redick looks to pass. Okafor doesn’t see the pass coming this way, and who can blame him? Have you tried playing basketball? Looking at the ball can be tough. He’s then a little slow getting back on defense (but is quicker than before thanks to his vegan diet), and doesn’t see that Dario picked up his man, Udoh, leading to an open three for Jonas Jerebko.
A few possessions later, Ben Simmons hits Okafor in the perfect spot, which allows Okafor to put the ball on the floor once, go up strong, and finish over Ekpe Udoh. Oh wait, sorry, he dribbles twice and turns it over.
The next defensive possession, we see Jah rotate a little too slowly, and therefore have to foul the offensive wizard that is Sefolosha to prevent a layup. This is Okafor’s third foul in about two minutes.
So this next clip is so horrible that I have to drop the sarcastic bullshit that masks my feelings. A few defensive possessions later, Okafor is a late getting down the floor in transition, and can’t quite spot his man, making Robert Covington point him in the right direction before finding him. Rubio makes a looping drive into the paint, making Jah turn around completely and lose sight of Udoh, who cuts to the paint for what would be an easy lay up. Fortunately for Jah, Simmons got back cut on the play, so Rubio was able to find Sefolosha instead of Udoh. Regardless, the clip made Okafor look like he was driving in a Massachusetts roundabout for the first time.
Okay, back to the sarcastic bullshit. On the next offensive possession, we see Ben Simmons drive into the lane and draw basically the entire Utah Jazz defense. He looks to shoot, realizes Okafor is wide open under the basket, and hits him in-stride. Okafor doesn’t catch the ball cleanly, but eventually gets in under control, and goes up for the layup. Unfortunately he does not see the 6’3 Donavan Mitchell, who manages to block Okafor’s shot from behind, resulting in a jump ball.
This play is where we see Okafor’s grace on a basketball floor. Watch as he effortlessly defeats Mitchell in the jump ball.
Mitchell has a 6’10 wingspan and a no step vertical of 36.5. Suffice it to say, he has ups. Look at this putback dunk! Okafor defeats Mitchell effortlessly in the jump ball, securing the ball for his team. This is the type of play that cannot be quantified.
So, after watching the film, it’s clear what type of system Okafor needs to be in. He created the most value for his team off of the DHO, as the Sixers scored two points on two total DHOs with Okafor. He should also be on a team that could use a guy to win jump balls, as he was 100% on those. There is only one team that is an obvious fit for Jahlil Okafor: the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are starting Kevin Love at center, who is only 6’10. Okafor is taller than him, and with his penchant for jump balls, it’s clear that he could help the Cavaliers get the first possession in the game. Plus, winning the opening jump secures the ball for the opening possession of the fourth quarter, where the king in the fourth, Isaiah Thomas, can lead the team to victory. Hopefully, Koby Altman sees this market inefficiency and takes advantage of it before someone else does.