Star power. The Philadelphia 76ers have arguably lacked it since Allen Iverson had a stranglehold on the league during the early millennium. After years of searching for an anchor to build the franchise around, Philly may have finally found a successor to AI’s throne.
Rookie Jahlil Okafor is already making a name for himself as one of the top young players in the league and the most consistent pivot on Philly’s roster.
Sure, most top-5 picks (Okafor was drafted #3 overall this past June) are expected to play at a high level, especially on a team absent many consistent threats on both sides of the ball. But it’s not Okafor’s impressive numbers (avg. 20 & 5 on 51% shooting) that tell the story, it’s the way he imposes his will upon other, similarly talented bigs and never backs down.
Coming into the NBA: Okafor’s translatable skill set was his creativity on the offensive end. He has the most polished offensive arsenal (hook shots over either shoulder, turnaround J’s, push floaters, shots off the dribble) of any 19-year old big man to enter the NBA in quite some time. On the left block, Okafor is nearly unstoppable – savvy enough to blow by slower defenders, strong enough to overpower smaller defenders & skilled enough to initiate counters after his first attack fails:
Though Philly ultimately lost to Cleveland after getting off to a hot start, Okafor’s strong performance was another prime example of tough he is to deal with from all across the floor. On one sequence, Big Jah scored after driving all the way to the cup from the 3-point line and on another, he hit Timofey Mozgov with a crossover in the lane and cashed a jumper.
His footwork is insane and he already possesses a “multiple effort” mentality…you just don’t see that very often from anyone, let alone a 19-year old rook.
Imagine how scary the Sixers could become if they EVER get a true point guard (sorry TJ McConnell and Isaiah Canaan) to feed him the ball in the right spots or more shooting to open up the floor!
It will be interesting to see how Brett Brown is able to utilize Okafor even better next to Nerlens Noel. Noel has the capability of covering up Okafor’s defensive mistakes and subpar glass eating but does not put fear into opposing teams from outside. Continuing to push the pace is the best strategy, regardless of Philly’s inevitable carelessness with the ball.
With Noel, Okafor should thrive playing a more uptempo brand of basketball. But when plays break down, Philly finally has a go-to guy to stop the bleeding. And for a young team investing the future in a teen-aged big man, there’s not much more you can ask for.