Of all the topics to divide 76ers' fans over the past few years, few have been quite as unifying as Jahlil Okafor. Everyone completely agrees about all aspects of his game, and the likelihood that he'll improve each of them.
Sorry, I was thinking about some other player. Okafor has been, next to Hinkie, perhaps the single most divisive character in the post-Doug Collins era Sixers. His selection as the 3rd pick in the 2015 Draft is, along with Joel Embiid's selection in 2014, one of the most pivotal decisions of Sam Hinkie's GM tenure.
We've certainly hashed and rehashed many of the points around Okafor's playing ability, but a new voice was added to the discussion last night. Nick Sciria, a basketball analyst who has taken deep dives on several players on Twitter, provided an in-depth video analysis of Okafor's strengths and weaknesses. Here's an edited version of his thoughts. He's a really smart, well-researched guy who has a lot of interesting basketball thoughts. If you like what he has to say, give him a follow on Twitter, at @Nick_Sciria.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Nick Sciria shared a fascinating, in-depth thread of information on Jahlil Okafor's rookie season last night that caught our attention. With Nick's permission, Marc added commentary and notes to his breakdown and will be sharing those thoughts below. We are thrilled to be able to share Nick's thoughts with our audience.
Nick went really, really long, so I'll be covering the offensive side of the ball today. Tomorrow, I'll post Nick's videos on Okafor's defense. If you can't wait that long, head over to his Twitter timeline and check them out for yourselves.
Nick began by taking a look at the big picture team effect that Okafor has. "From the on/off numbers, it's quite clear the Sixers were better with Noel ON the court and Okafor OFF of it," he began.
See below how the 76ers performed with Okafor on the court vs. Noel on the court. (@nbawowy) pic.twitter.com/NoUJxxlmPG— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Now look at the on/off splits when only one of the two was on the court. (@nbawowy) pic.twitter.com/fhg6y70k92— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Take a look at these 3-man lineups. Yep, Covington/Grant/Noel w/ Okafor off was a net positive! (@nbawowy) pic.twitter.com/t8IJPEWN0k— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick then pointed out that this isn't necessarily a new development, as Duke had actually posted better offensive and defensive efficiencies with Marshall Plumlee at center than they had with Jahlil Okafor during Okafor's lone year in Durham. This was covered in some corners of the blogosphere and referred to as the "Okafor Theory." It's not a nail in Okafor's coffin by any means, but it is additional evidence that Okafor's on court impact is considerably less than it may appear by the eye test.
Couldn’t find the completed version, but here’s most of the data from Duke’s yr w/ Okafor. (https://t.co/eGx5ewX00d) pic.twitter.com/G2n3WcDACI— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick then moved onto an analysis of Okafor's considerable offensive abilities. Importantly, he began by providing context for Okafor's performance, specifically that the lack of an incisive NBA-caliber point guard combined with a dearth of quality offensive teammates put a larger burden on him to create than was reasonable to ask of a 20 year old rookie.
Context: Okafor’s production was much better when playing w/ Ish Smith compared to when Ish was not in. (@nbawowy) pic.twitter.com/09OzqvvOe6— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick is saying that not only was Okafor incredibly efficient when actually given the opportunity to play alongside an NBA point guard, but that the Sixers can expect that to continue to be the case going forward, especially as Okafor continues to grow offensively, and as the team finds point guards better than Ish Smith, not a high bar to clear.
He also pointed out the chicken and egg conundrum that Derek Bodner has written about in detail before. Namely, Okafor doesn't pass much on the Sixers. The question is whether he doesn't pass because he has bad teammates who don't move to make themselves available, or whether his teammates don't move because he doesn't pass. As usual with these questions, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Here is Nick's analysis of the issue:
At Duke, Okafor flashed the ability to pass out of the post. @Mike_Schmitz noted that he "kicks the ball out when necessary."— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
.@Mike_Schmitz also noted that Okafor's 9.7 AST% was 6th out of 17 DX Top 100 centers. He passed on 28% of his post-ups at Duke.— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
That can all be found right here: https://t.co/dvdYAvln94 (h/t @Mike_Schmitz and @DraftExpress)— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
I'll add that it's possible Okafor's raw AST% overstated his passing ability in college. Kaiser Lindemann pointed out on Deep(ish) Thoughts that assists in part measure how often a player has the ball in his hands. By controlling the ball for more time, it stands to reason that a player will have more assists. Therefore, he posited that by using AST% as a ratio vis-a-vis a player's USG%, you can glean more about his team creation abilities. Players well below a 1:1 AST:USG ratio struggle to create for others, while those well above struggle to create for themselves. The best NBA players usually sit in the range of 0.9 to 1.2, depending on players' positions.
Among big man prospects in my own database from 2011-2016, the average AST:USG ratio sat around 0.41. Frank Kaminsky was on the high end at 0.64 during his senior year. Robert Upshaw, who was a rim-running dunker, was on the low end, at 0.19. Okafor's ratio of 0.34 placed him below average, at about the 40th percentile. This suggests that he was a capable passer in school, but that it was less of a strength than it was often made out to be. Back to Nick:
However, in his rookie season, Okafor was 51st out of 60 in assist ratio among qualified centers. (@ESPN)— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
For players whose USG% exceeded 25%, Okafor logged the lowest number of assists per 36 mins (MP>1000). (@bball_ref) pic.twitter.com/WTNnaK0Rvr— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
You can see here that a lack of player movement (I'm looking at you, Ish Smith) causes an unnecessary turnover. pic.twitter.com/vlSkXmQc5a— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick points out the off-ball issues with this possession. "On Fournier's post dig, Ish should relocate to the strong side wing for an easy kick out. [Instead], he stands there and Okafor doesn't really have an outlet. Notice how Okafor demonstrates with his hands that he wanted Ish to give him a better angle. [Okafor]'s right."
In his rookie season, Okafor was a black hole. This was an odd and disappointing development given his scouting report from college.— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying he *lost* the ability to make the right passes, I am just commenting on what happened in his rookie season.— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
See here: Okafor CAN still make assertive passing decisions from the post that lead to good shots. pic.twitter.com/A7I1rvn5NE— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick then points out that a second issue with Okafor's passing during his rookie campaign-- he had a worrying tendency to jump before making passes, leading to unnecessary turnovers in live ball situations. Again, though, NIck points out that his teammates don't do much to help bail him out of tight situations, which can lead to more reckless behavior when pressured.
His tendency to jump pass is a bit concerning, but once again, the chicken and the egg... pic.twitter.com/LhuKpZd3wP— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Here's another example of a jump pass gone wrong: pic.twitter.com/u4PJBxBhmn— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick concludes his passing section by saying, "Considering the situation, one can probably assume Okafor's lack of passing was due to a lack of trust in hist teammates last season. Will this trust improve as better teammates come along? Most likely. Are those trust issues still concerning? Probably."
Next, Nick points out the extreme extent to which the Sixers relied upon Okafor to create offense, It was a historical outlier for players of any position, but especially for rookie big men.
Only six rookies since 2000 logged a higher USG% than Jahlil Okafor last season. (@bball_ref) pic.twitter.com/3MyxJwS9fI— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
"According to ESPN, he logged the sixth-highest USG% among qualified centers. 58.7% of Okafor's made field goals were unassisted, the highest mark in the league among players who played more than 40 games," Nick continues. These are important points, because they contextualize how extreme his situation was on offense. Okafor may have struggled to be the most efficient player in the league, but given the burden he was asked to shoulder, that he achieved an efficiency as strong as he did is quite the accomplishment in and of itself.
Take a look at how Okafor fared in various play types last season (>50 possessions. (@nbastats) pic.twitter.com/GoZ7KCAzAg— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
"These numbers will have to improve, and they will. Still, there was a whole lot of good on this end of the floor in his rookie season," Nick concluded.
There’s no doubt that Okafor’s touch around the basket is unparalleled for a guy his age.— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
See here: Even when Okafor bricks it, it still goes in. Impressive. pic.twitter.com/XixEhFrBAI— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
He makes this shot from eight feet away over LRMAM look easy. pic.twitter.com/eh9Pe1gBUm— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Even more encouragingly, Nick showed that Okafor is beginning to extend his range out to the mid-range, which will make him an even tougher cover as he matures. In line with that improvement, Okafor's free throw percentage also improved from 51.0% at Duke to 68.6% last year with the Sixers.
Okafor has shown the ability to knock down this type of stepback bank shot. pic.twitter.com/A001kFxNGR— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
When Jordan doesn't respect his ability to hit this elbow jumper, he nails it. pic.twitter.com/9hb4ssU4ds— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Once again, Jordan chooses not to put a hand up. Okafor buries the FT line jumper off the dribble. pic.twitter.com/OPHajZLN0z— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
In addition to his improving mid-range touch, Okafor's face-up ability off the dribble was probably the biggest surprise most Sixers had while watching him last year. This was a decided strength of his last year, and Nick points out that it will only improve as his shot improves and defenders need to respect his ability from mid-range.
Okafor uses a combination of dribble moves to take Vuc to the rack on this iso drive. pic.twitter.com/Ig8YAtLmAJ— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Jordan does a decent job of staying in front of Okafor here, but Jah still makes the tough shot. pic.twitter.com/v8MyHrAYdZ— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
On many of his drives, Okafor utilizes a sick spin move in particularly small spaces. pic.twitter.com/o1P3LhwbG7— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
"Even with four defenders around him on that previous play, he performs the spin move with ease," Nick points out.
Okafor shakes Gasol on this play and then drives baseline for the difficult finish on the other side of the rim. pic.twitter.com/ZLCRw4k13R— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Contrarily, while most Sixers' fans were pleasantly surprised by Okafor's face-up ability, we were often frustrated by his passivity when fighting for post position. So many entry passes were received closer to the 3-point line than the paint, as he provided too little resistance against his strong defenders.
Nick pointed out the same, saying, "Okafor is content with catching the ball about 18 feet away from the basket on many of his post-ups. Before the draft, DraftExpress noted that Okafor didn't always fight for deep post position. Same thing in his rookie season."
Jah can get pushed out to the perimeter on his post-ups. B/c of it, he is sometimes forced to take shots like this: pic.twitter.com/FXDIjVwE9V— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Another prevailing issue with Okafor's post-ups and offense generally, has been his slow decision making. As we've all noticed, when he receives a pass, Okafor acts slowly, often stepping back, surveying the landscape for a second or two, and only then reacting to what he reads. This has been problematic because it allows the defense to reset and eats away valuable seconds from the shot clock. Mike Schmitz first pointed this out in college, and it has persisted in the NBA.
Okafor wants to take his time on this post-up, but Chris Paul has other plans. pic.twitter.com/o3ucN2YIxX— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
In addition, Okafor had some scoring issues inside, which had not been present in college. Nick pointed out that Okafor had 1.3 FGAs blocked per game, the second highest mark among players who appeared in more than 50 games. In addition, his 53.6% True Shooting percentage "ranked him 42nd out of 60 qualified centers." As usual, the context of Okafor's creation burden and the Sixers' horrendous offensive spacing should lessen the harshness of these numbers, but they need to improved upon. Nick concludes that, "He can start by fighting for deeper post position and settling for jumpers a bit less."
Next, Nick covers Okafor's screening deficiencies, writing, "Okafor's effort issues are on full display when he is involved in any type of screening action offensively. Okafor's screening ability was a concern in college and that also didn't change much this year."
Vantage Sports showed that Okafor's "Solid Screen%" in college placed him only 17th among NCAA big men prospects during his lone year in school.
Some of his "screens" don't even make contact with the defender. pic.twitter.com/bKRvVgnJaD— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Screening air is definitely one of my basketball pet peeves. I understand it’s sometimes the ball handlers fault, but…yikes.— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
It looks like he is deathly afraid of being called for an illegal screen, no? pic.twitter.com/eQ83UMWPI9— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
I don't really even know what to say for some of these. His chest isn't even facing the defender on this one... pic.twitter.com/4HG5SmNpLm— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Another basketball pet peeve of mine: Dribble handoffs that look like this. pic.twitter.com/UdmQR0jUKA— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
"The goal [of a DHO] is to dribble at the defender and make contact with him as you hand the ball off. Okafor dribbles at his teammate. For someone with a solid frame like that, [Okafor] has to improve this part of his game," Nick writes.
Nick closes his thoughts on Okafor's offensive game with a quick clip of his rebounding.
I'll mention Okafor's offensive rebounding, which should continue to improve given his hands/size/frame. pic.twitter.com/0UoB2DUHbl— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
That will wrap up the offensive portion of Nick's video analysis. Okafor is certainly a unique, and at times, destructive, offensive talent in the NBA. But as Nick points out, there are many areas of his game that could use his improvement. Tomorrow, I'll sum up NIck's analysis of Okafor's defensive game, as there is far more to cover on that side of the ball than there is on O.
In the meantime, give Nick a follow on Twitter (@Nick_Sciria). He's a good guy and a great basketball brain who was really excited to provide earnest analysis about a fascinating player, and to contribute to our community at Liberty Ballers.