With the exception of last night's surprisingly competitive game, the Sixers have been an absolute atrocity to watch since returning from the All Star break. They're hemorrhaging points like crazy, and have barely been competitive after the first quarter in most of their games. It's been a tough time to be a Sixers' fan, reminiscent of the doldrums of December and November, when it became so painful to watch the team that even cheerleader extraordinaire Mike Levin took a break from them.
But amidst the despondency, a glimmer of hope has shimmered occasionally, as Okafor has continued to put on an absolute clinic on the offensive side of the ball. The big man set a career high for points against the helpless Mavericks with 31, and then followed that up with 21 and 26 point outings in the last week. Even better, each of these performances has been efficient, as he has shot 60% or better from the field in each of his last 6 games. In the process, he has pulled his overall season field goal percentage north of 50% and seen his true shooting percentage climb all the way to 53.8%. In fact, since the calendar flipped to 2016, Okafor has an incredible true shooting percentage of 59.9%, which would be in the Top 5 of any rookie campaign ever.
These are lofty numbers for any rookie to reach. Since the merger, only 20 players have managed a TS% of greater than 50% while simultaneously sporting a usage rate above 25%. Of those, Okafor has the 6th best TS% ever.
Michael Jordan sets the pace with an incredible 59% TS on almost 30% usage, but Jah still stands out as wildly impressive. The only big men of the last 25 five years to outstrip Okafor's pace are two of the top ten players of all time and Blake Griffin. That's some pretty outstanding company to be sharing.
When the parameters are changed to require a FG% of 50% or greater, the list shrinks even more, and Okafor joins a group of only 6 players.
The most impressive part of Okafor's production is in the way that he has manufactured his points, too. He has had to shoulder the weight of almost unrealistic offensive expectations in Philadelphia, where no one else has shown the ability to effectively create shots for himself or his teammates. Even after the addition of Ish Smith lessened Okafor's load a little, he has scored an astounding 60% of his baskets on unassisted shots.
Unassisted shots are considerably more difficult to convert than assisted shots. It's the reason coaches emphasize ball movement so much. Assisted shots are far more likely to be open and to come with a shooter's feet set and in rhythm. Kirk Goldsberry wrote a great piece for Grantland (RIP) about the discrepancy in expected efficiency between assisted and unassisted shots last year. In short, it's incredibly impressive for a player to score efficiently on unassisted shots due to their increased difficulty. This exact relationship is what caused the death of the isolation-heavy, wing-centric offenses from the end of the 90's -- they just couldn't score efficiently enough to earn championship success.
Since basketball-reference started tracking shooting statistics in 2000, only 7 players have reached the 50-25 true shooting/usage club that Okafor is in during their rookie years. Of those players, 6 have enjoyed more assisted opportunities than Okafor, as his 41.3% ranks second to last. Only Tyreke Evans, who has shown himself unable to contribute without the ball in his hands, averaged fewer assisted shot attempts.
All of this portends good things for Okafor's future. He is scoring efficiently and on high volume, the hardest thing to do in the NBA. Even more impressive, he has been creating his own shots, serving as the focal point for an offense in a way the league hasn't seen from a big man in the 21st Century.
Amidst much of the criticism that Okafor has seen this season - much of it from me - it's important to remember that he has actually overachieved what expectations were for him before the season. Many of us expected him to struggle adjusting to the increased length and physicality of the league, and that his efficiency would see a drop-off. The consensus among LB staff prior to the season saw him averaging around 14 points a game on 45% shooting or so, and he's outstripped both of those numbers by a fair amount. If Karl-Anthony Towns weren't having a historic rookie season in his own right, it's fair to think that Jah would be getting not only Rookie of the Year buzz, but also receiving many of the accolades reserved for his peer. Expect Okafor to continue scoring easily for a long time.