Column: Somebody has to rescue Jahlil Okafor

All of Philadelphia Trusts the Process but the Process has left some prospects behind.

After over a year of trade rumors, Jahlil Okafor’s time with the 76ers is finally coming to an end. Last week, the Sixers announced they would not pick up the fourth-year option on Okafor’s contract, making the big man an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.  

There’s no guarantee Okafor even reaches that point. Philadelphia is still dangling his name out there, looking for a willing trade partner.  And teams should take the bait because the former No.3 overall pick still has something to offer a team.

Okafor has been glued to the Sixers’ bench as other prospects have flown past him on the depth chart. Some of this is due to the fact that Okafor has struggled with injuries, but he has always had to share a frontcourt with other young big men with unrefined games.

Last year, Philadelphia had four lottery players sharing the same frontcourt. The 76ers made it clear that Joel Embiid and Dario Saric were their chosen two, stopping just short of leaving Nerlens Noel and Okafor in a cardboard box on the side of the highway.

It’s hard for a prospect to develop when he’s fighting for scraps.

Embiid and Saric suit the 76ers, but it’s not Okafor’s fault he was drafted too high for the current state of the NBA.

Okafor likes to get the ball with his back to the basket and despises the thought of leaving the paint. Just 71 of his 457 shot attempts last year came outside of the key. In a league that values pace and space above all, it’s a wonder that Okafor was drafted as high as he was.

Even if he is a man out of time, a big man with a scoring touch will always have a place in the NBA.

Okafor is two years removed from his rookie season where he averaged 17.5 point per game and 7 rebounds. The knock on him has always been his defense, but other big men like Karl Anthony Towns are below average defensively and it’s rarely ever brought up. Okafor can score points when given touches and that should be a team’s primary concern for a big man who is barely able to legally drink.

A spot in a starting lineup is a pipe dream. There are not many quality teams in the NBA that can devote the proper amount of touches in the post to make Okafor’s minutes worth it. But he can still provide go-to offense off the bench.

The Bucks ended up using Greg Monroe in a similar role after acquiring the big man in 2015. Monroe was originally intended to be the Buck’s starting center but moved to the bench after the Bucks adopted the pace and space offense along with the rest of the NBA.

Okafor’s career path can mirror Monroe’s. Even if he’s not starting, bench players get paid too.

Atlanta and Chicago have emerged as the two favorites to land Okafor. Both the Hawks and Bulls are in the beginning stages of a heavy rebuild. The possibility of landing a 21-year old former lottery pick for minimal cost is what GM’s dream about. With no immediate pressure to win, Okafor would be given the opportunity to play his own game for the first time in his career.

Okafor is probably never to live up to the billing that he garnered as the No.3 pick. Before he ever put on NBA jersey, the pro-game had already moved on from him.

But Okafor still deserves a fresh start and the opportunity to carve out a career on his own terms.

It’s just going to come down to which team stages the rescue mission.


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.