Trade Candidate: Jahlil Okafor

As the February 23 trade deadline nears, Hoops Rumors will be taking a closer look at several players we consider trade candidates, discussing their value, speculating on potential destinations, and explaining why they are – or should be – available. These players won’t necessarily be dealt in advance of the deadline, but it won’t be surprising if they are.

"Jan

Jahlil Okafor, C
Philadelphia 76ers
2016/17 salary: $4,788,840
Team holds an option for the 2018/19 season; eligible for restricted free agency in 2020
Trade restrictions: None

Jahlil Okafor knows he’s in a unique situation. He’s heard his name in trade rumors since he was drafted by the Sixers with the No. 3 overall pick. He’s seen his role on the team fluctuate and he’s handled it all like a professional should.

“I know I’m not the type of player that’s DNP,” Okafor said earlier in the month about a game in which he was a healthy but didn’t see the court. “But that’s what it is right now. Coach Brown has been phenomenal with communicating with me. I know in the long run, I’ll be fine.”

In the long-run, Okafor will likely be playing for another team. GM Bryan Colangelo has reportedly been in contact with eight other franchises regarding an Okafor trade and the strong play of both Joel Embiid and Dario Saric have increased the likelihood that the team deals either Okafor or Nerlens Noel, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

It appears that Okafor is more likely to be dealt than Nerlens Noel, as John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote last month. Two months ago, the opposite was true. Noel wasn’t seeing regular minutes and Philadelphia was investing time in the Okafor-Embiid pairing. The team didn’t like what it saw and it stopped using the combo together. Okafor has seen his role diminished since the team split up the centers, while Embiid has thrived, which led one anonymous league executive to claim that the Cameroon native could eventually become a top-3 player in the league.

Okafor will likely never reach that pinnacle, though that doesn’t mean he can’t have a great career. Over his first season and a half, he’s shown promise on the offensive end, aggressively taking the ball to the basket either by backing defenders down or driving at them from the elbow. It’s been inconsistent, but that’s expected; he’s a 21-year-old kid who has only appeared in 88 career games. Teams looking for a young big man certainly see what’s there. He isn’t a blank canvas on the offensive end.

Okafor’s defense remains a work-in-progress. He’s the league’s second-worst center on defense, per ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus. Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s worst, according to that metric, so we should remember that it takes time and experience in this league to become a good defender in the post. Rim protectors need to learn how to properly position themselves during the offensive attack. Once a player learns that, simply being a massive near 7-footer is enough to be an adequate defender; just ask Nikola Vucevic. Magic coach Frank Vogel vowed to install his defensive principles and coach up Vucevic so that he can improve on his defense. This year, the Swiss behemoth has been defending opposing bigs at a top level. He’s the 15th most impactful defender this season, according to NBAMath, and there’s hope that Okafor can take similar strides with the right amount of experience and coaching.

That’s not to say coach Brett Brown isn’t doing a great job with Okafor and with this team. The issue is that there are only so many coaching hours available and Brown has so many young guys on the roster. Gregg Popovich was always able to get the best out of non-star players because his top players were experienced and didn’t need as much attention. Popovich could devote the time to the role players and coach them up to help them improve. Brett Brown has no such luxury. Examine the Sixers’ roster; How many players are self-sufficient and don’t need a considerable amount of coaching?

Okafor will get to an acceptable level on defense, but he’s not going to substantially improve without seeing more court time. He’s barely cracked 800 minutes so far this season (232 players have seen more minutes than Okafor this year, including Anthony Tolliver and Corey Brewer among others). He’s firmly behind Embiid on the depth chart and both Noel and Richaun Holmes have seen action ahead of him at times when everyone is healthy.

Philadelphia is being cautious with Embiid’s knee injury, which opened up an opportunity for Okafor to start (and audition for other teams) tonight against the Pistons. The game could end up being one of Okafor’s final contests with the Sixers, as the team was reportedly heavily engaged in talks with the Pelicans to send the Duke product to New Orleans. Philadelphia was set to receive a 2018 first-rounder in addition to center Alexis Ajinca and there was a 5:00 pm EST deadline today to complete a deal, presumably because Philadelphia played tonight and needed to know whether or not to have Okafor suit up. The teams didn’t consummate a deal before that cutoff, but the two sides remain engaged in talks, as Keith Smith of RealGM reports (Twitter link).

Anthony Davis would be an excellent frontcourt partner for any player in the league, but his skillset particularly suits Okafor. At this point in his career, Okafor doesn’t have much range. He can’t play outside the paint and that, coupled with his defensive issues, makes pairing him in the frontcourt a tough task. He needs to be aligned with someone who has an outside shot and is able to help cover up his defensive imperfections. The potential Davis-Okafor pairing is arguably the best-case scenario for any franchise looking to build around the 2015 ACC Player of the Year.

The Pelicans are shopping their 2018 first-round pick around the league with an eye on acquiring a center, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical (Twitter link), so they could ostensibly make another deal and miss out on acquiring Okafor.

“Obviously at this time of the year all the GMs are talking,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said earlier tonight. “In that situation right there it’s best that you guys ask [GM Dell Demps]. I don’t want to get misquoted or anything. Like I said, all the GMs are talking back and forth.

I speculate that a deal will get done with New Orleans and the franchise is just looking to gain leverage during trade talks. However, if Demps decides to trade the team’s pick elsewhere, the Bulls could get back in the mix for Okafor, as they reached out to the Sixers late last week regarding the big man.

Philadelphia is reportedly looking for at least one future first-round pick in exchange for Okafor. He’s under team control for at least two more seasons after this one, so Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily have to deal him before the deadline. Still, regardless of whether it happens this season, this offseason or a year from now, an Okafor trade remains likely. Sam Hinkie’s final first-round selection has the potential to be a solid NBA player and he could even develop into an All-Star-caliber player down the road; it’s just not going to happen while he’s a member of the Sixers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

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14 thoughts on “Trade Candidate: Jahlil Okafor

  1. Very confused about the problems surrounding Okafor. 2 years ago this kind of player would demand multiple picks, now he’s treated as if he’s some sort of liability. Okafor will excel om a different team if he’s surrounded by the right players. Last year he was 18 and 8 a game. He’s not a bad player by any means and I consider him a building block for teams.

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    • rgreen

      To me,his value is only hurt because of the 6ers situation.just think about that 17,18/8 he averaged last year,coupled with the fact that his time was split with Noel at both of their natural position,then add the players he had at the other positions.if he was the clear c,with a legit pg who was a threat to shoot,he couldve been 20/10 as a rookie.

      N.o.,Pheonix,Lakers,amongst others,i think theres plenty of places he can go and play to his potential.people can talk about his defensive deficiencies all they want.its not as if the league is loaded with defensive stud bigs.and in a league where the 3 point shot is becoming more and more popular,that shouldnt be a big deal breaker.but the 6ers situation is what it is though.

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      • Makes a lot more sense. If he gets to another team like N.O, Phoenix or LA I feel as if he will reach his potential because they have players around him that are already established on the perimeter. I don’t think he deserves the hate he gets.

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  2. rgreen

    I dont understand why there isnt anything going on between the 6ers and Suns.they have Knight on the bench,the 6ers have a clear need for guards who can shoot,and the Suns could use Ok as a upgrade over Len to split time with Chandler.with Bledsoe running the point,Booker on the wing,and Okafors ability to score downlow,i think those 3 could be a legit trio to worry about.

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    • GuruGray

      Brandon Knight can’t shoot and no one wants him on that contract. They’d have to give the Sixers their 2017 first round pick for them to take him off of their hands.

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      • rgreen

        I was thinking more of a pick swap this year,along with a future protected 1st threw in.

        My comment on the Suns was more about the Suns being a good fit for Okafor than what would come back to Philly.

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  3. smittybanton

    Great write-up, especially with respect to Okafor’s defense. Very fair. He’s not good there. But most young players aren’t.

    Jahlil would be a junior in college right now, and clearly the best big in this year’s draft. By far.

    Everyone knew Okafor was defensively challenged coming out of Duke. So he’s actually been better than expected considering his mid-range game is actually superior to what many thought it would be.

    All that’s to say, I don’t think the Pelicans deal gets done. Colangelo would be wise to wait until the last minute before the deadline.

    NO: NO18 for Okafor?
    PHI: Nah, Okafor for NO17 is more like it.
    NO: Nah. If you want NO17, you have to take Asik?
    PHI: Nah. If you only giving up NO18, we’re gonna need Jrue Holiday’s expiring contract. You’re gonna lose him anyway, right?
    NO: Nah. But let us get back to you on that.

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    • rgreen

      And then n.o. follows that “let me get back to you” up with a call to Milwaukee for Monroe,and they dont hesitate to take the 2018 pick,and then Philly is down a bargaining chip.

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      • smittybanton

        As a Sixers fan, that’d be fine by me. Pay Monroe all that money. LMAO.

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        • rgreen

          But as a 6er fan,the only difference in the whole scenario is we lose a team to bargain with.Anthony Davis wants Jrue there,and Jrue being 26 and making 11mil,he’s not a salary dump type of player.he has value.the only reason they’ll trade him is to avoid losing him for nothing.you think Jrue wouldnt have enough value to net something from a playoff team in need of guard help?

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          • smittybanton

            you want the sixers to take less than okafor is worth. brandon knight, i guess. i disagree with that. plain and simple. bryan colangelo also disagrees with you as well, apparently.

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            • rgreen

              I never said id take Knight straight up.i just think Jrue has more value the Jah.i might overvalue Jrue,since hes 1 of my favorite players.

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  4. Connorsoxfan

    If Vuc is now a top 15 defender in the league, is on a reasonable contract, and has always been good offensively, why does he hold almost no value?

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  5. KARL TOWNS HAS A LOW DRPM BECAUSE HE’S PLAYING OUT OF POSITION AT PF. It’s clear the writers of these articles don’t watch games ffs.

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