Four years ago, Jahlil Okafor was considered one of the best basketball players coming out of high school, including being ranked No. 1 overall in ESPN and Scout’s yearly ranking of prospects. Committed to Duke, Okafor led the Blue Devils to their third title of the 21st century and won numerous awards, including Freshman of the Year. He was drafted third overall in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and made the All-Rookie team. Six games into his third season, Okafor has only played in one game.
Philadelphia 76ers Decline Jahlil Okafor’s Option
Okafor’s name has been in trade talks for most of his career. Just last week Chris Haynes of ESPN reported that the 76ers were still trying to ship him out.
To make matters worse for the center, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the 76ers have reportedly declined to pick up his $6.3 million fourth-year option which will make him a unrestricted free agent after this year.
As a result, Okafor has reportedly asked for a buyout agreement with the team, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.
No Place for Okafor in Philly
It has become clear that Brett Brown and the 76ers have decided to move on in a different direction with Okafor. Once considered the future, he has been overshadowed by Joel Embiid. The more Embiid played, the more it negatively effected Okafor’s role with the team. Embiid and Okafor only shared the floor with each other for 80 minutes last year, posting an Offensive Rating of 95.8 and a Defensive Rating of 117.3, for a net rating of -21.5. In other words, any lineups featuring the two of them are unplayable.
Okafor’s defensive struggles are no secret. Last year he posted a defensive rating of 109.5, which ranked 391 out of 472 of players that played over 49 games. For comparison, Embiid posted a defensive rating of 99.1, which was the best on the 76ers.
As the league continues to follow the Warriors blueprint for success, players like Okafor are getting pushed out. But that does not mean they are going extinct. Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas and Nikola Vucevic are just a few players who have the same style as Okafor. Kanter and Valanciunas both have logged valuable minutes for playoff teams, but the deeper you go in the playoffs, the more of a liability they became.
The 76ers see the direction the league is going and are gravitating away from scoring first centers like Okafor. But let me make one thing clear about Okafor, he can score. In the clip below, Okafor easily gets an offensive rebound and puts the moves on Valanciunas. Oh by the way, this was literally right after Okafor checked in for the first time of the 2017-18 season.
He can also rebound.
Was that the most nonchalant offensive rebound in NBA history? Even the pass back to J.J. Redick was so unenthusiastic.
While he is very skilled on the offensive end, his defense is what makes trading him so difficult. Watch him struggle to get in place as DeMar DeRozan comes running towards him.
While no one has bit yet on trading for him, and reports suggest Philly wants a hefty return, it is only November 1st, and the trade deadline is months away. Philadelphia had spent the days before the October 31 deadline trying to deal him away but to no success.
As one can imagine, hearing your name in rumors can wear thin.
“Sometimes I do think it would be great to get a fresh start, be on a new team,” Okafor said. “I think about that often and I think that’s something that could benefit me.” (via Jordan Brenner)
The Sixers were in Okafor trade talks with New Orleans and Chicago before last years trade deadline before ultimately trading away Nerlens Noel. While New Orleans added DeMarcus Cousins, Chicago could still be a top destination for Okafor. Only having one true center on the team with Robin Lopez combined with the Nikola Mirotic/Bobby Portis incident, a Okafor for Mirotic trade could make sense for both sides.
What Happens Now
For the time being, Okafor is stuck in Philly. But a potential buyout would free Okafor and allow him to sign on another NBA team. Only Nik Stauskas has played less minutes than Okafor this year with 12. Okafor has played 20. He has been a healthy scratch in five games. In the one game he played this year against the Toronto Raptors, Okafor scored 10 points on four of seven shooting with 9 rebounds. He also posted a 121 defensive rating.
Another factor contributing to Okafor’s falling out of the rotation is the signing of Amir Johnson. Johnson is a much better defender than Okafor, and with Brett Brown being a defensive minded coach, Johnson has taken his minutes.
Unless something drastic changes, this will be Okafor’s last season in Philadelphia. With Philadelphia declining his option, he cannot make more then $6.3 Million next year in free agency. The market for free agent centers has dwindled the last few years but Okafor is young and has talent. At least one NBA team will take a chance on Okafor. The jury is still out on deciding if the “process” has worked for Philadelphia, but one thing is forsure; it did not work for Jahlil Okafor.
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