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NBA Rookie Week: How Jahlil Okafor and the Sixers Can Help Improve His Game

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Both the Sixers and Jahlil Okafor himself could learn a thing or two about improving his game.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being the number three overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Jahlil Okafor seems to be overlooked amongst some of his peers. Karl-Anthony Towns has had a remarkable season, Kristaps Porzingis has been much more effective than initially anticipated and Myles Turner's skill set led one prominent writer to wonder whether the Sixers should have taken him instead.

What rookies do in their first NBA season is far from indicative as to how their careers will turn out, but it's good to stack Okafor up against some of the same position players from his draft class to see what he's doing well and what needs to be improved.

Post Scoring

Player Points Per Possession Frequency
Towns 0.95 17.6%
Turner 0.94 21.2%
Okafor 0.85 32.1%
Porzingis 0.82 14.6%
Kaminsky 0.77 10.8%

Seeing as how Okafor spends a significant more time in post up situations than guys like Towns and Turner, it's not too much of a surprise that he's not nearly as efficient as they are. He was considered far and away the best post scorer in his draft class, and he still should be, but there are certain adjustments that need to be made to his game to improve his efficiency.

This is where I find Okafor to be most effective on the offensive end. Coming up the floor as a trailer, the Sixers do a good job of opening up the lane for him in an isolation situation against the not so fleet of foot Nik Vucevic. When he works quickly and knows exactly how he wants to attack, Okafor is extremely dangerous. Here, he gets Vucevic leaning to the left, then spins back masterfully and finishes with his right hand.

Philadelphia has seen a lot of success with quick hitting isolation plays from Okafor, especially in their last couple match ups with Orlando.

If Okafor is playing like that, it's hard not to love him. But the one thing that absolutely destroys his efficiency is when he tries to do way too much in half court sets. His penchant for holding onto the ball for a long period completely freezes the offense, and he also has a knack for forcing up incredibly tough shots.

This is the epitome of a bad Okafor possession. He's basically triple teamed as soon as he catches the ball, and then takes a tough fall away shot with a seven footer right in his face.

On this possession, Okafor has a mismatch against Chandler Parsons, but he certainly doesn't have good starting position for a post up. As Raymond Felton comes over to double Okafor has the option of resetting things by kicking out to Ish Smith, but he decides to fight through it instead. The baseline acts like a third defender, and Okafor is basically trapped before he turns the ball over.

Learning good shot selection, as well as when to fall back on the help of his teammates, will be key for Okafor's development as a more efficient offensive player.

Passing

Coming out of Duke, one of the biggest facets of Jahlil Okafor's game was his ability to pass out of the post. He hasn't showcased that skill nearly as often as anticipated, and amongst rookie big men he ranks third in assist percentage.

Player AST%
Towns 10.6%
Kaminsky 10.0%
Okafor 8.2%
Porzingis 7.5%
Turner 3.9%

Okafor's aforementioned tunnel vision definitely plays a role in the lower assists number, but there's more to it than just that. The current roster of guys surrounding him simply have no idea how to play with a post scorer like him. There is zero off ball movement. Nobody is slashing to the rim or moving around the perimeter to help relieve Okafor if he gets double teamed. Instead, they all load one side of the floor and just try to stay out of the way, which only increases the odds that Okafor will try and put up tightly contested shots.

There's a couple issues on the above play. For starters, Okafor doesn't have good post up position to begin with, and backing down Andre Drummond is far from an easy task. But Jerami Grant, Ish Smith, Nik Stauskas and Robert Covington (who is standing on the Pistons logo on half court) are so far away and useless on this play that they might as well be sitting in the stands. Philadelphia's inability to move off ball also makes it easy for teams to double on Okafor, as the Pistons did above with Marcus Morris. This has been a trend throughout the season.

Philadelphia has seen the benefits of Okafor's passing skills out of the post on occasion, but it's all dependent on off ball movement.

Similar to the play in Detroit, Philadelphia loads the far side of the floor again and Okafor is doubled again. But instead of being a spectator, Smith sees the open lane and slashes to the rim. Okafor finds Smith with a good pass, who then feeds Nerlens Noel under the basket. It doesn't result in a bucket, but it's one of the few times the Sixers have been able to spread the ball around out of an Okafor post up. A play like that is also good utilization of Nerlens Noel when he and Okafor share the floor, because he's much better off roaming around the rim than the perimeter.

Philadelphia can also utilize Okafor as a facilitator from the top of the key.

In one of the more intricate plays I've seen the Sixers run, Smith sets a nice back screen to free Nik Stauskas, and Okafor finds him for the easy dunk.

If the Sixers can learn to move off ball when Okafor has the ball in his hands, then he'll show he's capable of doing more than just scoring. Once Philadelphia can do that, defenders will no longer be able to double team Okafor without paying the price, allowing him to be able to dominate in one-on-one situations.

Jahlil Okafor's game certainly needs some growth in order for him to be a positive contributor, but he'll certainly benefit from the influx of more talented players coming this summer. Hopefully next season will show the signs of a much more complete player.