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Jahlil Okafor Looking to Rebound at the NBA Level

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today

Jahil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers has a problem, and he knows it. One of the most well-known tenets in the AA 12-step program states that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Undeniably, Okafor has a defensive rebounding issue. Okafor’s difficulties on the glass were a problem even during his consensus All-American season at Duke. He recorded just an 18.2 DRB% during his time in Durham, a number you would expect to be much higher as the 6’11” starting center of an elite program. I’m sure he was sick to death of talking about that area of the game during the pre-draft evaluation process. I would imagine in the back of his mind, he thought, “I was just the best player on the team that won the National Championship. As a freshman. Maybe let’s focus on that.”

However, NBA decision-makers know that to be an elite player at the highest level, you have to be able to get the job done on both ends of the floor. In the playoffs, when the intensity ramps up and coaches have the chance to break down every particular weakness of the opposition, any area of vulnerability will be exploited.

Think about how Tony Allen, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, was borderline unplayable in the playoffs last season because he couldn’t hit an outside shot and destroyed the Grizzlies’ spacing. If a team was going to spend a top lottery pick on Jahlil Okafor, he couldn’t be the type of guy that could get you two points, but would turn around and allow two more on the other end, either through poor defense or by allowing second-chance opportunities.

So despite the fact that at 19.9 ppg, Okafor currently leads all rookies in scoring by a landslide (with Karl Anthony-Towns on the second place podium at 15.5 ppg), his rebounding difficulties carrying over to the NBA is a legitimate cause for concern. Through his first six games, Okafor’s DREB% was a lowly 12.5%, and the team’s DREB% dropped from 83.6% to 72.7% when he was on the court versus on the pine. By comparison, the team’s rate jumped from 67.5% to 79.9% when Nerlens Noel was logging minutes.

Yet, to his credit, Okafor recognizing this particular problem just one week into his NBA career, and wanting to do something about it, might be the best sign of all for his long-term prognosis as a player in this league. It’s possible the fruits of his labor are already starting to turn things around. With Noel sitting out Monday night’s contest against the Bulls due to sore wrists, Okafor assumed the burden of responsibility on the glass and collected a career-high 15 rebounds (nine of which came on the defensive end).

Could the road to recovery be that simple? Maybe simply improving his conditioning (as Brett Brown keeps reiterating) and making a concerted effort each and every night to aggressively go after the ball will transform Okafor into, at least, an average rebounder. For an 0-7 Sixers team needing every positive sign they can find, Okafor looking like a guy committed to putting in the work and becoming the best player he can be is a great place to start.

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