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Sixers Mailbag Season 2 Vol. 5 - Does Okafor Not Care On Defense?

This week I take your question on future roster moves, Hollis Thompson, and Jahlil Okafor's defensive effort.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We're back again this week, and although the Sixers may not have a win, the Liberty Ballers mailbag is undefeated on Tuesday's. You can read past installments here. Let's get started.

@ChalieLawIII: Can you explain the picks we got from SAC? I know the Bulls are involved to an extent, just need some clarification.

Philadelphia got two things from Sacramento in the trade this summer: a pick swap option for 2016 and 2017, and a first-round pick for 2018. Chicago is involved because the Sacramento Kings owe them a first-round pick in 2016 that is protected 1-10. Therefore, Philadelphia can only choose to swap their picks with the Sacramento Kings if the Kings selection falls somewhere in the top 10. If Sacramento's pick ends up outside the top 10, then it automatically goes to Chicago, and Philadelphia does not have the option to switch. However, if Sacramento doesn't convey a first-round pick by 2017, they will instead send a second round pick. Therefore, Philadelphia could choose to swap picks with Sacramento in the 2017 draft anywhere on the board without having to worry about the Kings obligations to other teams.

The first-round pick the Kings are sending to Philadelphia in 2018 is protected 1-10, then unprotected in 2019.

@eqloprtntyhtr: What moves do you see being made once Kendall Marshall/Tony Wroten are healthy, other than Pressey released?

Pressey is definitely out. He's a decent passer and an annoying defender, but he's certainly not worth keeping around. There's certainly no justification for cutting T.J. McConnell. Outside of a couple high turnover games, he's been everything the Sixers could have possibly asked for in a guard. He should fit very comfortably in a reserve role when Marshall and Wroten return to action.

I think the other cut has to be Isaiah Canaan, based on his play and depth at the position. He's certainly looked more comfortable playing off ball than running the point, but positional versatility isn't enough to keep him on the team. Canaan is an undersized guard with awful shot selection and an inability to play man defense, and I'm not sure those are attributes to his game that he'll be able to correct. He seems like a guy who has maxed out potential wise, while I think Marshall's shooting and Wroten's ball handling/passing still has room for improvement.

Another option could be Carl Landry, who has yet to play while he recovers from wrist surgery, but I can't see the team keeping four point guards on the roster. The best case scenario for me would be for Canaan to spend some time in the D-League (although his rights are owned by Rio Grande Valley, so he would not go to Delaware) and then return to Philadelphia only in the case of another injury.

@Alan_Kedrierski: If the Sixers miss out on Ben Simmons and the top prospects left are bigs, what do they do?

First off, I want to refrain from referring to Ben Simmons as the top guy before he actually plays any meaningful NCAA games. He very well may be, but Jahlil Okafor was put on a similar pedestal, and ended up as the third overall pick. Other guys are certainly capable of making the jump. For every Okafor, there's a D'Angelo Russell flying under the radar.

With that said, I feel as though the Sixers are past the point of drafting best player available, and need to start filling out the rest of the roster. While Kentucky's Skal Labissiere (often mentioned as the top prospect next to Simmons) may end up being a really good NBA player, Philadelphia has two front court players in Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor that you can easily build a team around, and a third in Joel Embiid if he ever steps on the court. At this point, you've got to look at areas of need outside of the low post, even if there's a slight talent drop off.

Small forward Brandon Ingram (Duke) is probably a top five pick who is built like Jerami Grant but can shoot the ball from just about anywhere on the floor. Jamal Murray (Kentucky) is a combo guard who dominated the international scene with the Canadian national team, averaging 16.0 points while shooting 45.9% from the field and 40.7% from beyond the arc. Point guard Kris Dunn (Providence) is a bit of a high lottery sleeper pick, but he's got good handles and a solid frame for the NBA game. This draft has a lot of talent at positions where the Sixers could use some real help, and I imagine they find their point guard or wing scorer of the future with their top pick.

@upper90shot: How much does Hollis Thompson factor into the future?

There's a chance he could be a contributor down the road, but Thompson's season has really gotten off to an inauspicious start. He's shooting a measly 34.4% from three-point range, and just 30.0% over the past five games. I had hoped he would improve his ability to finish around the rim, but he's shooting just 20% on drives to the basket. His defense has always been poor, but Thompson's now forced to guard bigger small forwards in Robert Covington's absence, something Brett Brown's been trying to avoid for the better part of a year.

I think he'll return to form because you don't shoot over 40% from beyond the arc two seasons in a row by accident, so this may just be a weird shooting funk. It's just hard for a player with a low usage rate and an inability to create for himself offensively to find any consistency in his shot when things aren't going well early. If he can turn his game around, there's always a role on NBA teams for a three-point shooting specialist, and Thompson is the closest thing the Sixers have had to one over the past few years. But what I think we're seeing this year is that Thompson can't provide instant offense off the bench; he needs consistent touches to get himself going. Carving out a role like that for Hollis on a good team -- assuming the Sixers will be good at some point -- isn't really easy to do. Based off his limitations on both ends of the floor, Thompson is probably looking at a reserve role once the Sixers add some legitimate wing scoring talent.

@soveryverytired: Could [Jahlil Okafor] be any less interested in playing consistent defense?

I think a small percentage of his issues on the defensive end are effort based. There are a handful of times where he's slow to get back on defense, but he's still working on getting into NBA shape and keeping up with the demands of the game. When you play a big guy like him 30-35 minutes every other night, there's going to be times where he just looks exhausted. I don't think that they necessarily need to cut back on his minutes, especially considering the team's front court depth, but it's inevitable that he's going to look really tired for stretches.

Also, what I think we're seeing is that for the first time in Jahlil's life, people are beginning to put an emphasis on him playing solid defense, and there's a real learning curve for him there. I touched on a lot of the issues he had at Duke in my post back in February when I compared him to Karl-Anthony Towns, and a lot of them hold true, even though it may be an experience issue.

He's a novice at guarding the pick and roll. At Duke he was allowed to just sit in the paint and defend the rim, and now NBA teams are forcing Okafor into open space, where he looks like a deer in headlights. Okafor is either too slow closing out, or is giving players too much room to shoot because he's worried about a blow by. Most of those problems are based on experience, not effort. As he becomes more familiar with opposing personnel (and gets his legs underneath him), he'll have a better idea of how to play opponents out of the pick and roll, because he's mostly guessing right now.

There's one area where I think he's been suitable, and that's defending in the paint. He does a pretty good job of staying straight up and down defending one-on-one, and unlike Noel, can't really be jostled around the paint by opponents. Okafor is also averaging 1.3 blocks per game, which I don't think should be overlooked.

The talent is clearly there, and it sounds like getting better on defense is a focal point that he's identified. With more experience against NBA talent, I think he'll be able to find his way. We're just seven games into a 19-year-old's first NBA season.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can send me your questions on Twitter @JakePavorsky, or email me at

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