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Jahlil Okafor’s Impressive Debut Also Shows Where He Can Improve

Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

Jahlil Okafor’s first game for the Philadelphia 76ers was certainly an eventful one. Okafor scored 26 points on 16 shots, and he was a shockingly perfect 6-6 from the free throw line. As efficient as he was at scoring, though, Okafor struggled to hold onto the ball and gave away a whopping eight turnovers. He struggled handling double-teams and more complex defensive schemes than one-on-one coverage from the Celtics, which led to his losing the ball so frequently.

Still, mixed results of high highs and low lows are better (or at least more enticing) than mediocre and middling performances from a rookie who a team wants to grow into a franchise cornerstone. Okafor’s peaks and valleys should be promising to Sixers fans, since it shows a player with the potential to do some pretty impressive things.

Let’s start with what Okafor did well. When he was covered one-on-one, he had his way with the Celtics big men. In the first quarter, Okafor shot 5-7 from the field and looked as though he could score whenever he wanted against the Celtics’ defense. The fact that in the youngster’s first game he showed the ability to beat NBA veterans, even if mostly in spurts, shows the promise of a bright future in the NBA. If he brings consistency to his game and cuts down on turnovers and bad decisions, Philadelphia might even find itself winning games again.

Obviously, eight turnovers are way too many, even for a rookie, and especially for a big man. Okafor lost the ball frequently against the Celtics’ double-team, and struggled to keep track of guards coming in from behind to pickpocket the ball from him. He had trouble making the right decision against the double-team, something he’ll have to learn to manage as the centerpiece of the Sixers’ offense.

The real concern here is that double-teaming Okafor is going to be a common occurrence throughout the year, because Philadelphia has so few players who can punish the opposition for diverting defensive attention to one player. Okafor will continue to get double-teamed until he figures out effective counters and his teammates take advantage of their open looks.

If the Sixers can put together a team that doesn’t have multiple players who can be ignored on offense, Okafor will see fewer double teams. Also, if he learns the skills to pass out of double-teams effectively, the team will have a better chance of exploiting those double-teams. Both Okafor and the Sixers have a long way to go before they become truly competitive, but if there’s one thing the Sixers have, it’s time to be patient.

The main thing we need to remember was that this was only one game, and Okafor’s first game at that. He’ll have plenty of time to learn the intricacies of playing offense in the NBA, and I’m sure the coaches in Philly are going over game tape with Okafor and showing him what he could and should’ve done differently. Starting off with a 26-point showing is far from a guarantee that Okafor will be a star, just like the eight turnovers aren’t a guarantee that he’ll be a bust. The scoring shows he has potential, and the turnovers show he has a lot to learn. It may only be one game, but it looks to me like a good place to start.

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