Here’s the truth: We don’t know if Jahlil Okafor is capable of being a good NBA player. In Brooklyn, we’ll finally get to find out.
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As a rookie, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft put up an eye-popping 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 30 minutes per game on 50.8 percent shooting, but those numbers came for a talent-starved Sixers team, and all the advanced statistics pointed to a miserable defender who was so bad on that end he was actually a net negative.
With Embiid’s rise to prominence last season and Okafor nursing a variety of injuries, the newly appointed backup big saw his numbers shrivel to 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 22.7 minutes per game over 50 appearances. Considering he only played in 53 games as a rookie due to similar injury woes, yet another red flag shot up.
Combine this with his public disdain for competing with two other centers (three if you include Richaun Holmes before the Nerlens Noel trade), and the whole situation was in desperate need of a change. Unfortunately, that schism also came at the cost of his league-wide reputation taking a major hit, with Okafor’s “bad attitude” becoming the common storyline.
With the Nets, he’ll get a desperately needed fresh start. Rookie Jarrett Allen has shown early flashes in limited minutes, but Okafor should be the starter from day one over him, Timofey Mozgov and Tyler Zeller.
This gives him time to proof his worth to the Nets before unrestricted free agency this summer, but that also represents a risk for Brooklyn. If he plays well and lives up to the Nets’ highest expectations to make this move a slam dunk, will they be able to convince him to re-sign him this summer?
In any case, general manager Sean Marks deserves a ton of credit for the rebuild he’s putting together for a franchise with a completely bare cupboard of assets. Despite inheriting a roster completely lacking in draft picks and featuring only one or two players with trade value, Marks has turned his limited assets into D’Angelo Russell (the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft) and Jahlil Okafor (the No. 3 pick).
Those players both come with certain baggage and Okafor is flawed in particular, but having young talent to build around is never a bad thing for a team that doesn’t own its own first round pick in this year’s draft.
Even if Okafor proves to be a complete bust or signs elsewhere in 2018, it’s not like the Nets gave up a ton to land him. They snagged a future second round pick and added a shooter who will get an opportunity to carve out minutes and aid a Brooklyn squad that ranks 24th in 3-point percentage.
Booker was a terrific impact player off the bench, but he was going to be a free agent this summer and could hardly be considered a part of Brooklyn’s long-term plans. Cashing in on his value now was a stroke of genius, especially without having to give up anything else for a player with Okafor’s potential.
Plus, if he plays well, he might be more inclined to re-sign with a team that wanted him and helped him get his NBA career back on track.
Best-case scenario, the Nets just capitalized on another team’s ugly situation, snagging a player with a lot more to give than he was able to show in Philly and possibly even another franchise cornerstone alongside Russell. Worst-case scenario, they took a low-risk swing on a player with potential, as any rebuilding franchise must.