WE may have never seen an NBA player start their career in the peculiar way that Jahlil Okafor has. The familiar story of great start followed by slight regression is normal, but for a player to be riding the pine and failing to get ANY game time, despite having a number of teams interested in his services is unique, to say the least. That’s the position that Sixers big man Jahlil Okafor finds himself in right now as he keeps his fingers crossed for a swift resolution.
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THROUGH the first 20 games of the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have won 12 games with the City of Brotherly Love getting right behind the franchise. In the previous four seasons, the team has averaged just over 17 wins, so their early success is one of the feel-good stories of the league spearheaded by young phenom’s Ben Simmons and of course, Joel Embiid.
HOWEVER, after being squeezed out of Brett Brown’s rotation former No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor remains unused and wasted, playing a grand total of 25 minutes through the first quarter of the season. He has played in just two games and it’s clear that Philly doesn’t have Okafor in their future plans. So after 10 straight games without seeing the floor, the question has to be asked. Why is he still on the team?
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IT’S not like Okafor can’t play, we saw over his first two seasons that he has the skill to contribute to an NBA team. In the history of the league, only 20 players have averaged 17.5 points, seven rebounds and a block in their rookie campaign. There are some HOF names in that group too. David Robinson, Shaq, Hakeem and Duncan are on the list as well as Embiid (Okafor’s teammate), Karl-Anthony Towns (taken two picks ahead of him in the 2014 draft) and Jahlil Okafor himself.
INJURIES handicapped his production over his first two seasons as Okafor managed just 103 of a possible 164 matches. However, given the 76ers ‘tankapalooza’ strategy, putting their young players onice has been a popular move as they loaded up on draft picks. The two guys leading the charge for the team now, Simmons and Embiid, both sat out their entire rookie seasons and we still aren’t sure if they can play a lengthy amount of games.
IT would be unfair to say he isn’t finding minutes due to his injury concerns given the fragile nature of his teammates. Yet the organisation and coach remain adamant that Okafor is sitting out games to keep his trade value high and reduce any chance of his value decreasing.
WHAT makes Okafor’s position even more perplexing is there are teams reportedly interested in him. In fact, reports suggest that nearly half the teams in the league are intrigued by the long-term prospect Okafor presents, so surely they would trade for him right? Even if it is for a protected future second round pick or something else of little value? Well, those same teams are waiting for the Sixers and Okafor to reach a buyout so they don’t have to give up any future assets.
THE Philadelphia front office is looking at things the exact opposite way though. They believe that a buyout is futile and that they can get something in return for Okafor in the form of a trade. The Suns, Bulls and Celtics are all reportedly in the ring and have been linked to the big man at some point or another this season, with other teams I’m sure quietly interesting in getting their hands on the 21-year old too.
MEANWHILE as front offices continue to haggle over whether a trade or buyout is the way to get Okafor onto (or off of) their roster a young talented NBA player is unfairly stuck in limbo. There isn’t a lot that he can do in his position either with very little power in the negotiations.
I get that the NBA is a business, but benching Okafor and refusing to make a move on him isn’t good business. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the dude gets to see the court soon, whether that be as a Philadelphia 76er, Chicago Bull, Boston Celtic or anywhere else. He has too much potential to rot on the bench.
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