In this week's mailbag, I respond to Jonathan Tjarks's piece on Jahlil Okafor, who the Sixers should sign to replace JaKarr Sampson, what shooters they could find in the draft and more. You can catch up on previous mailbag installments here.
@jamesregan1: Can you comment on the Jonathan Tjarks piece with regards to Okafor?
I thought the article touched on a lot of the issues we've brought up throughout the season, and the Mavericks game was a peak Okafor performance: incredible solo play on offense and some really shoddy defense. The part in Tjarks's story about asset acquisition vs. building an actual roster in the case of the Sixers was spot on and is a large part of the reason they're having these problems with Okafor. When Philadelphia brought in Brett Brown to coach this team, the plan for their system was to play up tempo, get quality looks from beyond the arc or around the rim, then haul ass back and play quality defense. So far, they've drafted one guy that fits that mold, and that's Nerlens Noel. Philadelphia drafting for talent instead of fit makes sense because, well, they had no talent, but it should be no surprise they now have a conundrum where their most talented player can't fit what they're trying to do.
Now, we are still in year one of Okafor's pro career, and a good portion of the players who are seeing big minutes right now either won't be here next year or will be playing in a much more limited capacity. Regardless, what I'm seeing from him right now offensively makes me think that the team is going to struggle as a whole no matter who they put on the floor. Okafor was pretty close to an elite passer at Duke. Now when he touches the ball, he's got such bad tunnel vision for the rim that he barely even looks to find open teammates. Even if he's double teamed, his first instinct seems to be to fight through them as opposed to moving the ball around. When the Sixers give him the ball to score, he commands the entire floor, rendering his teammates basically helpless in most situations. I know that he's only 20-years-old and I agree that there are aspects of his game that are likely to improve over time. He'll (hopefully) cut down on his weight and he'll adjust to defending pick-and-rolls. But getting him to be effective offensively requires so much time, space and solo creation that I'm not sure he will ever be able to adjust his game to fit into what the Sixers want to run.
Tying that into the discussion about asset acquisition and team building, Philadelphia is going to be at a serious crossroads this summer. Do they focus on building this team around Okafor to best suit his skill set? Or do they look to bring in pieces that better suit an up tempo, defensively minded team? I think the latter makes the most sense. If they were to build a team around Okafor, I think it would have to mirror what Stan Van Gundy did with the Orlando Magic. Philadelphia would have to trot out four shooters to spread the floor enough so he has enough room to comfortably work the low post. But that scenario would also entail that he be the rim protector on defense, and that would not be in the Sixers best interest.
Ironically, if they went for fit by drafting Kristaps Porzingis instead of taking the best player available in Jahlil Okafor, a lot of these issues and question marks would've never popped up, but this is how the Sixers have opted to build their roster. They certainly can't continue to draft like that. We've seen in spurts how well this team can run when they run the floor and move the ball around. If Okafor can find a way to gear his game more towards what Philadelphia has preached systematically, then they can make this thing work. I just have my doubts that how Okafor plays will ever intertwine with what the Sixers want to do.
@oh_sohilarious: How should the Sixers utilize their 15th roster spot? Any names to look out for?
Philadelphia could always bring back Christian Wood (who's playing really well in the D-League), or if the team still doesn't have enough veterans for its liking they could sign Jason Thompson (who just got cut by Golden State), but I hope they wouldn't sign a front court player. They have enough of those as is, and I would prefer that the Sixers actually find a way to get someone like Richaun Holmes minutes. I had planned on writing a decently large quantity of words about how the Sixers should pick up John Jenkins, but he ended up in Phoenix, as Philadelphia seemingly never made a waiver claim on him. Shaun Kilpatrick has been a guy I've clamored for the Sixers to sign, but I've been told there's not too much interest in him.
Seeing as how slim the pickings are, I wouldn't be opposed to throwing a ten-day contract at Russ Smith. The former Louisville point guard is currently averaging almost 26 points a game while shooting 45.5% from the field and dishing out 6.3 assists. Point guard is not really a need for the Sixers right now, but I see little harm in throwing him a ten-day contract while T.J. McConnell rests his sprained ankle. Maybe there will be some better options on the market by then, and the Sixers can adjust their roster plans accordingly.
@KorverAintMe: If the Sixers get Simmons (who isn't a known scorer) who else should they draft to score the ball?
Simmons can definitely score, but they're gonna need some perimeter shooting help for sure. I think this draft, for as much as I dislike it, has some quality shooters whose game should translate fairly well to the next level. Three guys I like are Jamal Murray, Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield. I watched the Kentucky-Texas A&M game on Saturday and was just blown away by how much Jamal Murray has off ball so he can try and get open looks on the perimeter. He finished that game with 21 points, including 4-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Seeing as how Devin Booker is lighting it up in the NBA, and Murray's game is much more well rounded than Booker's, I think the Canadian international could have a prosperous NBA career. Like Booker, he'll benefit immensely from more spacing at the NBA level. Oh, and he just turned 19 yesterday. There's still a lot of room for growth in his game. Philly's issue is that Murray certainly won't be attainable with the Miami or Oklahoma City pick. Would certainly have to make some moves up (or down for that matter) to get him, provided the Lakers pick doesn't convey.
I never really think high volume college shooters like Hield tend to become really good pros, but I'm optimistic about him. He's got the physical tools to be successful and all indications are he works tirelessly to improve his game. Hield's driving abilities have improved since last season, so he's more than just a catch-and-shoot threat. He could never survive playing the way he currently is at an NBA level, but with limited, quality touches he can be effective. The same goes for Valentine, who is putting up similar numbers. I do like Valentine in more of a facilitator role, however.
Cory Ward (via email): If the Sixers end up with the 2nd and 4th picks, would they bundle them in a trade for #1?
This year is still a two man draft, so as long as the Sixers are somewhere in the top two, I'd be pretty happy. This is sort of a cop out, but sitting at number two is a pretty nice place to be this year. You're going to come away with a really good player no matter what, without making the difficult choice of deciding between Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. For a guy like Sam Hinkie whose seat seems to be getting lukewarm, being able to chose from what's left of the two standout freshmen sounds almost like a luxury. I imagine he certainly wouldn't see things that way, but it would certainly save him from some potential backlash down the line.
I'm not sure what I would offer if I had to make a bid on the top pick, but giving up the second and fourth overall pick to move up one spot seems steep, especially when I hold the top two players in the same regard. Getting Brandon Ingram (or Simmons) and a guy like Jamal Murray sounds a whole lot better than coming away with just Ben Simmons.
Thanks for reading. As always, you can send me your questions on Twitter @JakePavorsky, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org