The name with the most traction in trade rumors has been that of the much maligned center for the Philadelphia 76ers, Jahlil Okafor. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans as he’s stewed on the trade block for close to a year now. However, with Joel Embiid asserting himself atop the food chain during the 2016-17 season, Okafor has become more expendable than ever.
Should the Pelicans consider giving up a valuable asset to acquire the former third pick of the 2015 NBA Draft?
David: In broad strokes I like the idea of this trade. A future pick for a pick closer to now that will have sufficient time to develop before the clock strikes midnight on AD’s contract. However, when we dig down into the details, specifically that the player targeted is Jahlil Okafor, I sour significantly. It is not that Okafor is useless: there is certainly a possibility he becomes a second unit anchor offensively as Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe have done in Oklahoma City and Milwaukee respectively. And, truth be told, getting that kind of value with the Pelicans 2018 pick is unlikely.
However, Jahlil Okafor does not fit what the Pelicans are trying to be, the style of offense that Alvin Gentry would prefer to run, or the weaknesses of this team. Okafor is a scorer, but not particularly efficient. He’s a big man, yet ranks 102nd out of 119 big men (6’10” or taller) in defensive rebound rate. He ranks dead last in offensive rating and 109th in defensive rating. Among 33 big men defending at least six shots per game at the rim he ranks 26th in DFG%. He actively makes the Sixers worse. No big man drags a team down more. None. In the entire NBA.
Oleh: There is no denying Okafor’s performance this season. His individual numbers have slipped significantly during his sophomore campaign, and the Sixers have proven to be a stronger unit without him on the floor. Yet, despite all the incriminating evidence, it’s hard to blame Dell Demps for fishing precariously in murky trade waters.
Anthony Davis has repeatedly stated he would prefer to spend most of his time at power forward, and it’s hard to ignore the nicks and bruises that have relegated him to a spectator too many times. Moreover, the Pelicans are multiple pieces away from fielding a legitimately competitive everyday lineup.
Could Jahlil Okafor represent a step forward?
To even contemplate such a scenario, we must first ignore all prior analysis and be hopeful that either he could fit alongside AD in Alvin Gentry’s system, or more likely, expect a revisionist trend whereby the Pelicans acknowledge a pure Golden State Warriors style was a mistake. Just as the Spurs have proven time and again that a team can build a winner around two big men, or as you mention, style an offense featuring a central big off the bench, maybe the addition of another dominant offensive presence in the post is a direction the Pelicans should venture.
However, let’s be honest for a moment: it’s difficult to dismiss the idea that trading for a center, one with so many questions, would represent another moment where the front office decides to zig while the rest of the NBA is zagging by scouring the ends of the Earth for small ball participants.
How confident are you, David, that the Pelicans could make this work -- that the front office could be trend setters instead of just settling for the present opportunity before them and hoping things work out for the best?
David: That this front office and coaching staff could make it work? Very little. Maybe if there are wholesale changes this off-season, a new GM and a new coach could maximize Okafor’s talents by slowing the pace some, but I have very little confidence that Alvin Gentry would relent on his philosophy.
But, should the Pelicans ownership allow this front office to make such a substantial move if the new direction will be plotted by a different crew? No. Why hamstring a new GM with additional future pick debts and a big man that does not appear to fit the modern NBA landscape? This front office should be on thin ice, but that fact must limit their ability to ruin the future, not embolden them to risk it all.
Allowing a trade like this would tell me that Dell Demps is coming back, likely with Alvin Gentry still on the bench. It isn't particularly a “win-now” move. Jahlil Okafor has yet to be a positive factor on the floor and fitting him into the rotation would mean a step back for either Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas. Plus it requires wholesale style changes when Okafor is on the court.
That's the most disappointing part in all of this. The proposed trade doesn't signal a new direction (Demps has traded picks for young talent before), and it doesn't improve the immediate situation much if at all. Maybe at some point Okafor develops into a force, largely on offense. To get from here to there requires time. Allowing this trade is limiting the flexibility of a potential new front office and signals in some way that the current regime still has far too long a leash. As I wrote some time ago, Dell Demps built this mess, he shouldn't be afforded the opportunity to tear it down.
Oleh: Yeah, I hear you loud and clear. The current regime deserves very little trust from the fan base because they intentionally tore apart the team after Anthony Davis’ lone postseason appearance and in its wake have left a disheveled mess that can’t win ballgames even at a 40% clip.
It also doesn’t help matters that I went on record last May to say I’m staunchly against a trade for Jahlil Okafor, or any traditional center for that matter, because one, the Pelicans had proven to be more dangerous on offense with Anthony Davis at center, and two, the league was noticeably trending away from fives, especially during the playoffs. If Gentry remains, I don’t want to see another traditional center touch this roster; however, let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment.
The Sixers, accepting of the fact that Okafor’s return is going to be a lot less than what it once promised, could agree to a protected first round pick that never winds up a high lottery pick. In addition, it’s helpful the deadweight formerly known as Alexis Ajinca is removed from New Orleans.
From the Pelicans perspective, the front office may no longer be able to ignore the pressure of needing to move Davis back to power forward. The trade deadline is just about two weeks away so if Demps doesn’t make a move now, the Pelicans would have to wait until the offseason to defuse the situation.
Also, taking a flier on a 21-year-old whose best days should still be ahead are arguably better and cheaper than gambling on Brook Lopez avoiding another dehibilitating injury or Dwight Howard blowing up one more locker room.
Hey, if Okafor was good enough for Mike Kryzewski and his Duke program, who are we to complain?
David: I don't see how Okafor makes life better for Anthony Davis. He cannot shoot and will clog the lane. Additionally he sets notoriously lazy screens so he won't be freeing up ball handlers. Defensively he's terrible. Bad in every respect; one-on-one defense, pick and roll defense, rim protection, and general effort (especially when he's not getting the ball).
Let's not discount that adding Okafor means completely overhauling the defense as well. Right now the rotation allows liberal switching along the perimeter as even Motiejunas and Jones can hack a switch for a moment or two. Pairing Okafor with Davis means the Pelicans must fundamentally redefine their defensive approach. Is that wise when they've finally landed on something that resembles competence?
Oleh: I’m guilty of having the same mindset, too. I can’t help but picture a miniature version of Sam Hinkie standing on my shoulder yelling, “Give Okafor a chance!” but I can’t, nor do I want to, hear him.
It’s obvious we’re not the best sources of providing support for this deal, but looking around, we’re hardly alone. Writers like Kevin Pelton and Bobby Marks have echoed respectively that Okafor lacks for good comparable outcomes and New Orleans should keep all of their future first round picks.
So, I want to leave you all with a link to this nicely edited compilation breaking down Okafor’s rookie season on Twitter. It was created by Nicholas Sciria over the summer and the entire thread is worth a read because it mentions a vast assortment of positives and negatives.
Here we go. I’m taking a DEEP dive into Jahlil Okafor’s rookie season. Check out the thread below:— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Below are some of the highlights.
It’s easy to find evidence the Sixers were a better team with Nerlens Noel than Jahlil Okafor.
Playing alongside a solid distributor offers hope of greater efficiency.
The Sixers relied heavily on Okafor for initiating the offense (58.7% of his rookie made field goal were unassisted — tops in the league), and the team didn’t put him in the best positions to succeed.
You can see here that a lack of player movement (I'm looking at you, Ish Smith) causes an unnecessary turnover. pic.twitter.com/vlSkXmQc5a— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Okafor has posted terrible assist numbers in the NBA, but he was a much stronger passer while at Duke and this play shows some ability.
See here: Okafor CAN still make assertive passing decisions from the post that lead to good shots. pic.twitter.com/A7I1rvn5NE— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
As a rookie, Okafor showed promise in a number of facets.
Okafor exhibits solid touch.
See here: Even when Okafor bricks it, it still goes in. Impressive. pic.twitter.com/XixEhFrBAI— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Okafor’s midrange jumper has some potential.
When Jordan doesn't respect his ability to hit this elbow jumper, he nails it. pic.twitter.com/9hb4ssU4ds— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Alvin Gentry preaches quick ball movement and shots, but Okafor is not built from this cloth.
Okafor has never been regarded as showing good effort on setting screens.
Some of his "screens" don't even make contact with the defender. pic.twitter.com/bKRvVgnJaD— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Okafor is a poor, poor defender and has much to learn.
Okafor never seems to know when/if to help. I call this one "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" pic.twitter.com/2hSv7Mr2YX— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
There are also times Okafor is in position to help but doesn’t even make the effort to jump... pic.twitter.com/z3x6l53cDW— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
There are countless examples of this. Here, he has no idea Canaan is caught in a mismatch in the post. pic.twitter.com/04BUHV7WD4— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Okafor does not project to ever become an above average defensive rebounder.
Percentile=Percentile for DRB% among qualified big men this past season (use as a reference point): pic.twitter.com/4hQr05ayaA— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Would you guys give the Pelicans a thumbs up or down signal on a Jahlil Okafor trade?