Admit it, Sixers fans: You were pretty happy when your team used the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft to select 6’11” center Jahlil Okafor.
And why not? He was a 2014-15 All-American at Duke, where he averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds in his lone season playing for legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, helping the Blue Devils win the national championship. Plus, unlike the centers the 76ers grabbed the previous two seasons on draft night – Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid – he was healthy.
Well, Okafor had a solid rookie season for a dreadful 10-win 76ers team, averaging 17.5 points, but in 2016-17 – with Embiid finally getting onto the court (for 31 games, anyway) and the emergence of Richaun Holmes – Okafor’s playing time diminished, and his scoring average dipped to 11.8 points. Plus, as had happened a year earlier, he spent the last two months of the season on the sidelines due to a right-knee injury.
(Is this a good time to mention that the 76ers could have drafted power forward Kristaps Porzingas with that third pick in 2015? He’s that 7-foot-3 guy on the Knicks who’s currently fourth in the NBA in scoring at 27.9 points per game.)
Here we are in November 2017, and Okafor is pretty much a forgotten man. He has played in just one of the 76ers’ first eight contests, and on Tuesday the team announced that it would not pick up his fourth-year option, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent when the season ends unless he is sent packing before then. Not surprisingly, Jah on Wednesday asked 76ers management to pursue a trade or buy out his contract so he can get a fresh start elsewhere.
You can’t help but feel badly for Jahlil Okafor. He never complained about the decreased playing time or getting shifted back and forth from center to power forward, and he worked hard to shed 20 pounds this past offseason. Coach Brett Brown, however, seems to feel that Okafor – despite his ability to score – is a defensive liability.
So, barring a huge upset, Okafor – who doesn’t turn 22 until next month, by the way – will never again play any significant minutes for the 76ers — if he plays again at all for the team. He has almost no trade value, and is just biding his time until he’s either dealt away for a rack of basketballs or becomes a free agent. Jah, we hardly knew ya! –Jim “Chet” Chesko