After Sam Hinkie and the 76ers acquired a center with a top lottery pick in the NBA draft for the third time in as many years on Thursday, the timer went off on the basketball community's oven, as the hot takes were finally cooked and ready to be served. The can of competitiveness had been kicked down Broad Street once again, relegating the Sixers to another year of irrelevancy.
All of that and the thought that the franchise made a lateral move at the draft is a bit premature and I'm partially to blame as well. I hadn't been too high on Jahlil Okafor in the pre-draft process, ranking him fifth on my big board, a decision the Sixers hope looks hilariously awful in just a few short seasons, playing up his defensive limitations and woes from the charity stripe and overlooking his deft footwork around the rim.
I preferred the Sixers come out of the draft with a guard with the potential of D'Angelo Russell or even Mario Hezonja to mesh with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid last week. Chalk it up to a likely case of post-purchase rationalization, but obsessing over fit with a supremely talented defensive player who's limited offensively and a guy who may never suit up for an NBA game with a pick of this magnitude seems short-sighted and foolish after just a few days.
I didn't have the same exact issues about Karl-Anthony Towns, my choice for and the consensus top player in the 2015 draft. Other than Anthony Davis, Towns might be the player that most fits the prototype of what a big man should be in today's NBA. He can block shots, he can stretch the floor, he has something of a perimeter game and even can work down in the posts when he wants to, though he's not as talented in that final aspect as Okafor. I still, however, think I undervalued just how special Big Jah's inside game might be.
Every contending team going forward isn't going to play with the same small-ball ferocity as this year's Warriors, but their progression into a positionless, post-D'Antonian system does illustrate how the league is trending. This is the pace-and-space era.
Only eight teams this season ran post-up plays in at least 10% of their offensive possession, per NBA stats. No team averaged even one point per possession with that play type. Only two players, Al Jefferson and Nikola Pekovic, posted up in at least 40% of their offensive possessions. This results in a chicken or the egg scenario: is the post-up play dead or are there no great post players left?
It's likely a bit of both. There hasn't been a big man to enter the NBA with Okafor's this array of post moves, counter-moves and footwork down low since Tim Duncan, though his defense is in a different galaxy compared to Duncan's at this point.
A post-up behemoth like Jefferson, however, is more of a black hole when gets the ball on the block, stalling an offensive as he pounds the ball towards the rim with brute force. Okafor's post-game doesn't need to be so lifeless, as his one-handed passing with his giant meat cleaver hands should allow him to quickly pass out of double teams and find open shooters without sacrificing too much in terms of tempo, as he does below:
Did I overlook Okafor's offensive game because I don't find that style of basketball as aesthetically pleasing as the Warriors or pre-Rajon Rondo Mavericks? Probably. Does that mean an offense centered around a post player of Okafor's caliber, the first collegiate freshman in likely two decades to score as efficiently as he did at such high volume, can't work in 2015? Hell no.
While he's not the bumbling oaf that he's been likened to in comparison to Towns this year or even Noel and Embiid, it's fair to say Okafor was a little doughy during his time in Durham. Brett Brown has put an emphasis on conditioning as part of the team's player development process, a move that's helped the team the last two seasons with their ability to play in an uptempo, though not necessarily successful, offensive attack. While I don't expect him to be as cut or as athletic as, say, David Robinson at any point in his Sixers career, there are improvements that can be made in terms of his mobility under Brown and his sports science training.
He did display some finesse moves as a Blue Devil though, illustrating that there's untapped potential there in offensive arsenal besides his killer game on the low block and fantastic post passing. More plays like the one and less where he's simply overpowering the backup center from Wofford are needed as he transitions to the modern NBA, where speed AND strength have become a requirement, not a suggestion:
Okafor likely won't be making many plays like that as a rookie; it's not as if he'll be 1967 Wilt Chamberlain out there, but working towards having a more well-rounded game on both sides of the ball is the key ingredient that can change his career trajectory from "skilled offensive center" to "superstar." He's already been putting in the work to make that shift too, as he spent the early hours of today training at PCOM:
How Okafor's skills work next to either Noel or Embiid remains to be seen, but a work ethic like that should keep Brown from pulling out his now graying hair, looking at his trifecta of centers as a blessing, as the odds of the Sixers having a homegrown superstar on the team's roster has increased, which is the end game for the organization in the early stages of the Sixers' rise back to respectability.