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Rosen’s Rookie Reports: Jahlil Okafor

Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

A month shy of his 20th birthday, Jahlil Okafor is a 6’11”, 271-pound center out of Duke. The Philadelphia 76ers made him the third selection in last June’s draft, and it was agreed by most scouts that Okafor was the most NBA-ready of all the draftees.


This was a tale of two halves. For most of the initial 24 minutes, the Raptors were sleepwalking. Their offense was listless, they had no rim protection and also poor perimeter defense. Then Toronto woke up after the intermission, tightened their defense, played energetic offense and simply out-talented Philadelphia.

As usual, here are Okafor’s game stats and what they signify:


He started the first three quarters, playing from roughly 10-to-9 minutes in each. He did look tired near the end of his third-quarter stint. Foul trouble kept him on the bench for the opening seven minutes of the fourth quarter, and the lopsided score sent him back to the bench with 1:41 left on the game clock.

Overall, a nicely balanced schedule as he’s eased into 82 48-minute games.

FGM-A = 13-22

The rookie scored on a couple of dive-cuts followed by timely drop passes from his teammates, and several rousing dunks. But more impressive was his point-making from low-post positions on both the right and left boxes. Drop steps, jump hooks, quick baseline drives, even several wrong-footed floaters. One bona fide All-Star move had him receiving the ball in the middle of the lane, making one hard left-handed dribble to his right, planting his right foot, faking a spin left, then spinning right to score a bank shot. As advertised, his footwork was excellent, and his first step (going either way) was surprisingly quick and efficient.

So was his handle — with crossovers from left-to-right and vice versa — which he used when he faced-up his opponent.

But he never forced a shot and was quick to make safe out-passes when he was (only occasionally) double-teamed.

Okafor had little trouble establishing and holding low-post position against Jonas Valanciunas (who denied entry passes only once when he fronted the rookie and once when he played three-quarter defense). However, Bismack Biyombo was able to muscle Okafor off of his favorite pivotal spots. No problem though as Okafor simply retreated until Biyombo’s defense gave him enough space to turn-face-and-go.

Okafor even ran himself into a fast-break layup.

The only flaw in Okafor’s offense was the lack of touch on his mid-range jumpers. One kicked off the back rim, one never got over the front rim and one spun sharply around the rim and fell off. The only jumper he made was a line-drive.

3PM-A = 0

This is clearly not part of his game plan.

FTM-A = 0-2

One was long, the other was short. Again, his stroke was erratic and somewhat stiff-wristed.

REB = 7

That’s a rebound every 4.7 minutes — not too bad since an NBA center should grab one every 3-4 minutes. However, Okafor was slow off the floor in the battle of the boards. And, on one sequence, even though he had inside position on Biyombo, he lost the rebound after being bumped and out-leaped.

Two of his five defensive rebounds were captured with no opponent in the vicinity.

Okafor seemed reluctant to attack the offensive glass. One retrieval of a teammate’s miss was made in a crowd. But a put-back eventuated when Biyombo left Okafor to help on a guard’s lane-penetration and the rookie was by his lonesome when the ball bounced into his hands.

In sum, not much production here.

AST = 1

He was certainly a willing passer: Okafor didn’t record assists when several kick-out and drop-passes resulted in either missed shots, no shots or (on one sequence) when a teammate was fouled in-the-act and converted his free throws.

Okafor’s lone assist was recorded on a pass out of a double-team that JaKarr Sampson turned into a layup.

ST = 0

He never attacked anybody’s dribble and seemed oblivious to passing lanes.

BLK = 4

A somewhat misleading number. He did make a legitimate block of an attempted jump hook by Valanciunas — another when he came from the weak side to stuff a driving guard. The other two blocks occurred when small lane-penetrators brought the ball to him and tried to shoot as though Okafor wasn’t there.

Okafor did make a nice play when he switched onto Corey Joseph and hounded the point guard into missing a complicated layup.

Otherwise, Okafor’s defense was sub-par. He was late helping many more times than he was on time. Except for that one block, Okafor offered little resistance when Valanciunas posted up, especially when his opponent-of-the-moment scored on three power-moves to the middle.

TO = 4

Twice he stepped out-of-bounds on baseline drives. A botched handoff resulted in a breakaway bucket for the Raptors. And, late in the game, Kyle Lowry simply ripped the ball out of Okafor’s hands.

PF = 5

Caused by late rotations, buying a fake by DeMar DeRozan in the shadow of the hoop (an unforgiveable lapse), clobbering Valanciunas as he launched a jump-hook and fouling Lowry after losing the ball to him.

Okafor generally didn’t run hard in transition defense, but he did hustle all-out to catch and foul Biyombo to prevent a breakaway score.

PTS = 26

Not a surprising total since he was the only player featured in Philly’s offense. Also, in direct man-to-man situations, Okafor was burned for a total of nine points. Still a plus-plus number for the 76ers.

NON-STATS: In sum (and also as advertised), Okafor’s defensive efforts were mostly slow, passive and confused. He set a total of four effective screens and about a dozen soft ones. His dive-cuts were sharp and forceful. Yet, aside from the two “real” blocks, Okafor was a factor only with the ball in his hands.


The rookie has incredibly good footwork, spins and change-of-direction moves. He tends to sometimes lose concentration, a normal early-season fault for a rookie.

For the here-and-now, Okafor is a big-time scorer. But can he learn to play alert, aggressive defense without fouling? And can his jump shot be retooled?

Some of the work necessary for the rookie’s evolution has to be done by Philadelphia’s coaching staff. But in the end, Jahlil Okafor (along with everybody else on the planet) is responsible for himself.

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