A Trade Would be Mutually Beneficial for Sixers, Jahlil Okafor
The Sixers experienced their best month yet under Head Coach Brett Brown in January, as they finished with a 10-5 mark.
While they were led largely by Joel Embiid’s increasingly impressive play during this stretch, the Sixers also benefitted from solid, consistent contributions from a plethora of other players throughout their recent escalator ride to respectability.
Robert Covington – once thought of solely as a shooter – has emerged into an indispensable two-way player. T.J. McConnell continues to defy expectations, as the scrappy guard from Pittsburgh has excelled as a legitimate starting-caliber point guard in the face of increased opportunity. Nerlens Noel has settled into the reserve rim protector role. Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric have complemented Embiid well by providing hard-nosed, floor-spacing presences.
The rotation roles have become much more defined than in recent seasons, or even this season’s start, and this consistency has been beneficial to the on-court product, and probably to Brett Brown’s sanity as well.
One player who has been noticeably absent from consistent on-court action during the Sixers’ recent string of success however is second-year center Jahlil Okafor, who has been on the receiving end of a couple weeks’ worth of DNP’s (some injury-related, some coach’s decision).
Once a starter this season – albeit in an experimental role next to Embiid – then relegated to a reserve, and now a cheerleader, outside of [what feels like] forced spot starts in Embiid’s absence, it has become increasingly clear that Okafor may not fit the preferred style of the Sixers as currently constructed, and moving forward.
The team has demonstrated that they don’t need Okafor to win. On the contrary, the eye-test – and some advanced metrics – tells you that the team plays better with Noel – or even the bouncy Richaun Holmes – backing up Embiid. In these situations, the team’s preferred up-and-down, rim-protecting style can continue.
Thus, it seems as though the time has come for the Sixers and their top selection in the 2015 NBA Draft to part ways. Having Okafor bolted to the bench isn’t beneficial to anyone; not the team trying to build a balanced contender, and not to the young player looking to establish himself in the league. With a trade, Okafor could find a fresh start – and support – in a new city, and the Sixers could recoup what they can and continue to build out their roster.
Okafor’s fit in Philadelphia was always a questionable one, given that he was added directly after two other high level centers in Noel and Embiid, respectively. This made his presence on the roster feel like a bit of a redundancy from the beginning. The fact that his skillset doesn’t mesh well with the Sixers’ emerging preferred style of play only adds to the incompatibility. That skillset could be very valuable elsewhere however, especially considering the fact Okafor is still just 21 years old, and a year removed from being a top-three pick.
The eventual swap of one of the big men selected under Sam Hinkie was an accounted-for aspect of his rebuild. The duty now falls to Bryan Colangelo to maximize what he was left to work with (which was quite a lot). Jahlil Okafor is not getting any better as a player by spending the entirety of game nights with his warm-ups on, and his trade value isn’t increasing either. At this point, it seems as though both sides would be best served by a separation.