Spend some time perusing the prospect databases on Jahlil Okafor and you might begin to think “20 and 10 guy” is his baptismal name. With lofty expectations in tow, the Sixers are certainly hoping that consistent scoring potential comes to fruition. Not only has the team sported the least efficient offense the previous two seasons, but it’s actually been a full decade since the franchise last had a player finish a season above the 20 PPG threshold.
The most recent player to do so was the Answer in 2005-06, as Iverson fearlessly charged the lane to 33.0 points per game during his last full season in Philadelphia. (If you wanted to look exclusively at members of the frontcourt, you’d have to go all the way back to Charles Barkley’s final days in Philadelphia during the early ’90s.) Since then, the nearest any Sixer has come was Andre Iguodala‘s ever-so-close 19.9 PPG mark in 2007-08, with team scoring levels continuing to plummet heading into the recent rebuild.
So can we expect Okafor to fulfill those expectations in his rookie season? Yes and no.
Expecting 20 PPG from the former Blue Devil heading into his first year as a 19-year-old professional is probably unrealistic. First off, there were only 20 players in the entire NBA who even surpassed that threshold last season. Additionally, it’s difficult for rookies to step right in and dominate at such a high level; Blake Griffin was the last rookie to pull off the feat, averaging 22.5 PPG in 2010-11.
However, Okafor certainly finds himself in a position to maximize his opportunities, as the Sixers have made it perfectly clear they’ll be centering their offense around the third overall pick’s prodigious skills in the post. Monday on this site, Daniel O’Brien wrote about how the Sixers can maximize Okafor alongside Nerlens Noel, touching upon what the team’s base set will be this year:
“If a double-team doesn’t arrive (or arrive quickly enough), Okafor will successfully attack or draw a foul more often than not. But in many cases, they will send an extra defender at Okafor. As Noel spaces the floor to help give Okafor room, teams will be tempted to double Okafor because Noel isn’t a prolific outside shooter. The second-year rim-rocker must make them pay with well-timed, aggressive cuts.”
While Noel is looking to time his cuts around those Okafor post-ups, the three other Sixers on the floor will be spotting up outside the three-point arc. After drafting Okafor in the first round, the rest of the Sixers’ offseason focused on positioning shooting around their young center.
First, the team placed an emphasis on having other big men who can space the floor, drafting Richaun Holmes in the second round, working with Furkan Aldemir all summer on his three-point shot and recently acquiring Christian Wood. Along the perimeter, Sam Hinkie acquired sharpshooter Nik Stauskas to pair alongside Robert Covington on the wings, while sifting through a number of point-guard options to provide an upgrade over the poor shooting of Michael Carter-Williams and Ish Smith last season.
With no veterans on the roster who have to “get theirs,” Okafor will certainly get all the work he can handle. Still, that’s largely been the case at his two most recent stops as well. Big Jah averaged 16.2 points in 30.6 minutes per game across 5 Summer League contests as the Summer Sixers’ main option. That performance was preceded by his freshman season at Duke, where he recorded 17.3 points in 30.1 minutes per game as Coach K’s #1 option.
An easy way to boost those numbers would be for Okafor to improve upon his wretched numbers at the charity stripe. He made just 51.0 percent of his free throws in college, before struggling even more at 40.6 percent in Summer League. Getting that figure up to the mid-60s would be an easy way to tack on a couple extra points to his average and get to around 20 in a hurry.
When you break everything down, it’d appear Jahlil will hover around 16-17 points per game in his rookie season (which should still lead the team after Covington led qualifying Sixers last season at 13.5). Okafor will need a year or two working with head coach Brett Brown and the player development staff to (hopefully) iron out those free throw shooting deficiencies, as well as some time to adjust to the size and speed of the pro game.
So while the future of Okafor as a 20 and 10 guy is certainly on track, it may take a bit of waiting before it becomes to reality. Fortunately, when it comes to waiting, Sixers fans have become experts.