The Philadelphia 76ers will see the return of second-year center Jahlil Okafor Friday night in their preseason finale against the Miami Heat, coach Brett Brown told reporters Friday morning. Okafor has missed all of the team’s games this preseason with a knee injury. According to Brown, Okafor is expected to play eight-to-10 minutes in his preseason debut, though he indicated that minutes total could be flexible.
The Sixers selected Okafor with the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft after Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell were taken off the board prior to their pick. He played in 53 games as a rookie and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds per game while struggling on the defensive end. His season ended prematurely in March with a small meniscus tear in his right knee, and it’s taken a bit longer than expected for him to get healthy.
Okafor infamously dealt with a variety of off-court issues in his rookie season, including a speeding violation and involvement in a street fight following the team’s early-season loss to the Boston Celtics.
The Sixers face an interesting situation in distributing minutes to three promising young centers in Okafor, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. They’ve also added Dario Saric, who is entering the NBA from Europe for his rookie season, and are internally high on Richaun Holmes. With the potentially season-ending injury of first overall pick Ben Simmons, that logjam got a bit less crowded, but it will still be difficult to find minutes for five young players to develop.
Trade rumors surrounded Okafor and Noel throughout the offseason as first-year general manager Brian Colangelo sought to balance the team’s front-court heavy roster somewhat entering the next phase of the team’s aggressive rebuild.