After what feels like an eternity of tanking and purposely fielding a subpar product, the Philadelphia 76ers believe that they finally have their franchise corner stone in Ben Simmons. They also have European enigma, Dario Saric, coming in. After two seasons of surgery, rehab and entertaining tweets, the 7-foot bag of potential that is Joel Embiid will finally make his NBA debut. Things seem to be making a turn for the better in Sixerland but here’s the hard part: they have to turn their “assets” into players that can win actual basketball games. The rebuilding process has so far left them with an overcrowded frontcourt in a league dominated by perimeter players. The most likely casualty of this problem is likely to be 2nd year center, Jahlil Okafor.
In years passed, figuring out what to do with a talent of Okafor’s caliber would be categorized as a good problem because teams would be lined up to offer all kinds of packages to acquire his services. Nowadays, that isn’t quite the case. His most potent, and dare I say dominant, attribute is his ability to score from the post. His most glaring weaknesses are his lack of an outside touch on offense and his poor defensive instincts. He struggles as a rim protector and in defending the pick and roll. This is like a worst-case scenario for the modern NBA big man. The center for the All-NBA first-team this past season was DeAndre Jordan. Jahlil Okafor is the opposite of DeAndre Jordan. With all that being said, Okafor’s ability to score from the post in an efficient manner with an arsenal of moves that we haven’t seen in a long time still does have some value. Unfortunately, that value will probably not be realized while he is still a 76er. It makes too much sense to trade him for something that fits the team scheme and fills a team need.
The problem with trading Okafor is that you will not be getting back what many would deem equal value. There are very few teams looking for a traditional post-up center and even fewer willing to give up the type of perimeter player Philadelphia so desperately needs. Trading a 20 year old for picks seems kind of redundant and no one expected to have a premium pick would be willing to trade it for Okafor. Any deal made for Okafor will likely be 75 cents to the dollar. This might be a tough pill to swallow for the Sixers organization that has created a reputation for squeezing out every last asset in a deal.
There are a few teams with situations that Okafor could thrive in. The first of these is the New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis complements Okafor’s game perfectly. He would also take some of the scoring load from Davis’ surgically repaired shoulders. Davis could cover him on the defensive end and give him enough room to be effective on offense. I’d imagine a similar result if he ends up being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They already have a budding youth movement going on there and putting Okafor in a frontcourt with Towns and Wiggins might be a “superteam” in three years.
Jahlil Okafor’s appeal as an asset is quickly fading. But his potential as a player isn’t anywhere near being reached. Just a bit over a year ago, Okafor was regarded as a potential, generational talent. He still has that talent. He just needs to be moved to a team that will commit to his development. He needs to be moved to a team that sees him as a player rather than an asset. Anyone with a working knowledge of statistical analysis and an understanding of the NBA rules can acquire assets. That’s the easy part. Turning assets in to players, and turning players into winners is the true challenge of running an NBA organization.