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Evaluating Jahlil Okafor’s Summer League Performance

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

We all know that being a star in Summer League directly correlates to being a star in the real NBA. Well actually that’s not entirely accurate, but it’s what all Sixers fans are hoping for from Jahlil Okafor. The one thing Okafor had coming out of Duke was his pedigree and stellar offensive game that was eons ahead of his collegiate counterparts.

So far Okafor has continued to extend his dominance and flash those silky post moves, while mesmerizing defenders and fans in Utah as well as Las Vegas. Obviously Okafor will be playing against better competition during the regular season, but the Summer League is a way to get familiar with the NBA style of play and Jahlil at least gets to play against fringe NBA big men who are of similar size and ilk.

Jahlil’s game is extremely more complex than just being a savvy low post scorer. Here are a few of my observations after watching him in the Summer League so far, and how parts of his game will translate once he suits up in a Sixers uniform.

The Positives

Ball handling

He’s not going to be playing point guard anytime soon, but his ability to handle the ball gives him the opportunity to size up defenders and get the slower footed big men off balance when he takes them in the post.

Exhibit A: 

Exhibit B:

Passing

Because Okafor has the hands of a Yeti or Sasquatch (depending on where on the globe you are), he’s able to palm the ball with ease and extend it far way from his body and his defenders. He has great court vision and has proven during his Summer League games that he can pass out of the double team and find open shooters. Not surprisingly the Summer League Sixers team is pretty awful, so not a lot of those kick-out passes have been put to good use. But once Jahlil is on the floor with guys like Nik Stauskas and Robert Covington, teams will have to choose whether to double Okafor every time he touches the ball or let Stauskas and Covington rain threes the whole game.

Array of Post Moves

Won’t go into too much depth because we all know how talented and technical he is around the hoop. But for every one go-to move a player his age has, Okafor has seven more just like it. He isn’t just going to back defenders down and throw in a pump fake every now and again. He has an array or moves which keeps defenders uncomfortable and guessing every time he has the ball on the block.

He’s a Bully

Okafor is 6’11, 270 pounds and has shown so far in Summer League he isn’t afraid to use that size and punish smaller or leaner defenders. Jahlil knows how to use his leverage and beat up on guys when he has a physical edge. In the Sixers-Knicks game the other night, Kristaps Porzingis started out the game defending Okafor. That lasted about four minutes until he was relegated to the bench by Derek Fisher. Okafor punished the Zinger underneath and bowled his way through him a few times before the Latvian surrendered. Although Porzingis came back later and blocked Okafor a few times, there aren’t many with Porzingis’s length who will bother Jahlil, so that didn’t concern me as much.

Footwork

Although Okafor is 6’11, 270, he has the footwork of a graceful ballerina. This is a gift not many big men share, and he uses it to his advantage against other slower footed defenders. He’s able to keep his pivot and always find a clear shot it seems.

Exhibit A:

Help defense/verticality

Okafor is by no means a finished product on the defensive end, and he was slighted leading up to the draft when it came to his defensive ability. But from what I’ve noticed during the several games I’ve watched is that his help defense is improving, and he still is a smart defender and knows how to defend using his verticality. When he’s up in the air contesting a shot he isn’t flailing and fouling guys uncontrollably, he goes straight up and forces his opponents to make tough shots. His defense has a long way to go and he isn’t a rim protector, but he has the basketball IQ to be efficient on that end.

The Negatives

Free Throws

This was an issue that really surfaced in the second half of his college season at Duke, and it again is rearing its ugly head. He’s struggled from the charity stripe in Summer League, and this is probably priority #1 for Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie. Okafor will be forced into becoming the Sixers’ first offensive option, and he’ll likely see his fair share of free throws this season. For him to shoot above 60 percent would be a success story for the Sixers, and I’m actually confident that he’ll accomplish this at some point. Okafor has solid form and rotation on his shots, but the shots just aren’t falling. His humongous hands are likely the cause of this struggle, but Jahlil now has the rest of the offseason to shoot as many free throws as he wants. Brett Brown got Nerlens Noel to shoot almost at a 60 percent clip and Noel literally hadn’t taken a jump shot in a game since junior high school, so I’m confident in Okafor fixing this.

Rebounding effort

Okafor’s rebounding isn’t necessarily a weakness as he always puts up solid numbers on the boards, but what I’d like to see out of him heading into his rookie season is for him to be more aggressive on the glass. He doesn’t always fight his hardest to grab the rebound, and that’s not a great quality. The only way to fix this is to just give more effort. I know it’s hard to ask Okafor to be more like Tristan Thompson or DeAndre Jordan, on top of being an elite scorer. But it’ll be pretty evident seeing guys outwork him and end with offensive boards and second chance points. Its not a huge issue and I’m being a bit critical, but this is something I personally would like to see him improve on.

Jump shot

He has struggled to find his range outside the paint thus far and has bricked his fair share of shots in Summer League. He isn’t incapable of hitting a 12-14 foot jumper, he just doesn’t show any consistency. With time he should be able to improve this. But Okafor has shown on occasion he can knock a few jumpers.

Exhibit A:

1 v 1 defense

Even though I lauded his solid defensive effort so far in Summer League, he really has a long way to go, especially when he’s 1-on-1 against other talented bigs. Even at Duke he had trouble defending guys like Frank Kaminsky who were skilled underneath. In Summer League he hasn’t gone against anyone great, but is still allowing too many baskets when he’s the last line of defense. This will ultimately change when he has Noel patrolling the paint for him, but he can’t always rely on a rim protector to clean up his dirty work. Okafor just simply needs more time in the NBA to get used to this level of opponents. He’ll likely never be a defensive stalwart, but with his size, skill and IQ he should eventually turn into a somewhat reliable presence underneath:

The Bottom line

Jahlil Okafor, in my opinion, will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with from Day 1 in the NBA, but patience is also a virtue and I think time will heal a lot of the deficiencies in his game. Trust the process, y’all. But don’t just take it from me, take it from the big guy…

TTP

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