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.
Okafor never seems to know when/if to help. I call this one "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" pic.twitter.com/2hSv7Mr2YX— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
There are also times Okafor is in position to help but doesn’t even make the effort to jump... pic.twitter.com/z3x6l53cDW— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
There are times when Okafor does muster up enough energy to jump...but it's usually not quick enough. pic.twitter.com/ZY8BYmsq5C— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick then points out one of the biggest issues with Okafor's defense-- he simply hasn't mastered the defensive fundamental of seeing ball at all times. In the halfcourt, this is a function of having failed to grasp fundamental concepts. In transition, it's sometimes a function of his less than stellar conditioning, where he gets beaten down the court and cannot turn to see ball before it has been passed to his man.
Most of the time, Okafor misses/is late on his help responsibilities because his back is turned to the ball. pic.twitter.com/JARRouiDFy— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
There are countless examples of this. Here, he has no idea Canaan is caught in a mismatch in the post. pic.twitter.com/04BUHV7WD4— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick then demonstrates that Okafor is simply too slow to process the rotations that he needs to make in many instances, both mentally and physically.
His mind doesn't develop these defensive plays quick enough. He's late to the party once again and has to goaltend. pic.twitter.com/BXLXQ6SB3F— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Jah, you're late. pic.twitter.com/QGKqZpJb9X— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
On this clip, he fails to step up and help. Does he not trust that the W/S will help the helper? It's possible. pic.twitter.com/dw5zLYddYZ— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
You guys tell me... pic.twitter.com/8uAWSiYO5N— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Stuff like this seems to get Okafor quite a bit. Boban plays with him like a puppy. Cruel. pic.twitter.com/PRieLwc1ba— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick also decries Okafor's effort on defense. It shows up in help situations, but he is quick to point out that it is also often present even when he is directly involved in ball action, whether as the defender of the screener in a PnR or on-ball.
"Okafor's lack of awareness becomes even more apparent when he is forced to guard guys who can shoot or drive," Nick writes. When he had to guard Al Horford against the Hawks, it was clear that he made zero adjustments based on personnel, allowing Horford to hit wide open shots without any action required to set them up.
Okafor runs back to the lane in transition. Not a good idea in this league. Horford stops at the 3-pt line. Bang. pic.twitter.com/sp52nXYo1k— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Okafor is way too slow here in recovering back to Horford. Just start jogging back when Al shoots that... pic.twitter.com/EDidb0z2RR— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Nick then transitions to talk about Okafor's on-ball defense, which was, on the whole, better than his help defense. Still he suffered from lapses in effort, and often allowed inexcusable blow-bys.
Sure, Okafor's on-ball defense is much less severe. Still, there are too many drives on him that look like this: pic.twitter.com/rTFRsNSVFB— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Sometimes you wouldn't even believe the lack of effort... pic.twitter.com/ippnrHR8nZ— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
You would love for Okafor to NOT have his hands at his sides here so he could deter this pass. pic.twitter.com/uMXINxaEub— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Then he moves, again, to a different facet of defense: the pick and roll. Predictably, Okafor flounders in this defensive set as well.
Okafor's defense is magnified in the PnR. OT & one of the best pull-up shooters in the league. Jah is just chilling. pic.twitter.com/ApG5xpcyoz— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
No Jahlil, that's not your help. You're supposed to be guarding one of the best shooters from long 2... pic.twitter.com/6Tj50zANYq— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
From a watching and eye test perspective, it's important to point out that his mistakes aren't necessarily the first things you notice in each of these clips. Even when you do notice mistakes in the run of play, it is usually only one in a series of several that jumps out. Which is normal! There are ten players on the court, all moving in different and interacting ways. If every viewer noticed every single mistake from every single player on every single possession, we would be the most evolved species that has ever lived. Instead, our brains edit, and we rely on availability bias. Because we only notice an occasional mistake rather than each of them, we can say that Okafor's defense can improve; on the other end of the spectrum, we notice most of the good on offense. These two perspectives warp our perceptions of him and inhibit our analysis.
Nick then went on to talk about the likelihood that Okafor's defense would improve. As with most things with a 20-year-old rookie, it is very likely to. The real question is how much will it improve? Nick cited a Nylon Calculus article that I have also mentioned in regards to Okafor, which showed the amount that big men tend to improve in the few years following their rookie year on D.
"[The author] concluded that big men like Okafor tend to remain in the negatives in terms of defensive impact," Nick wrote. "[He] also noted that Okafor's best-case scenario is about average defensive production. The first development that needs to happen with Okafor would be an increase in effort if he is to become passable on defense."
"However, I'm a little wary about that happening," Nick continued. "Brett Brown gets his guys to play their tails off. Jah is a clear outlier in that regard."
Nick then moved to Okafor's rebounding to finish his scouting report. Okafor has deep-seated issues rebounding to, and they "revolve around poor and poor technique" according to Nick.
He cited my piece from February that concluded that Okafor's rebounding vis-a-vis his rookie peers was concerningly low. While his raw, per game rebounding totals look strong, the better statistic that determines what percentage of available rebounds he corrals sold him far short of future All-Star and All NBA players.
"Okafor ranked 48th out of 60 qualified centers in defensive rebound rate last season," Nick continued. "In terms of grabbing contested defensive rebounds, Okafor ranked 34th out of 46 qualified big men in contested rebound success percentage. It's possible that Okafor has been so big and powerful his whole life that he never had to learn techniques or give constant effort on boards."
Here's a perfect example. Jah fails to make any contact with the rebounder. Smith loops around for the OREB. pic.twitter.com/03EKGzK6bb— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
To answer whether Okafor can improve his rebounding going forward, Nick cited a study of his own that found that big men who struggled to rebound as rookies "had a career DRB% of about 2.6% better than their rookie season. [He] also found that these big men had a DRB% in their best three years that was about 4.2% higher than their rookie season."
Using these cases, here’s what we could suspect about Okafor’s chance at improving his rebounding in his career:— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
Percentile=Percentile for DRB% among qualified big men this past season (use as a reference point): pic.twitter.com/4hQr05ayaA— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
"So yes, there is hope that Okafor becomes an average rebounder. Above that? It's unlikely," he concluded.
Nick concluded, "For Okafor to overcome his lackluster defense, he will need to be an extremely efficient, high-usage offensive player." He also
Loved what @ZachLowe_NBA said about post players in today’s game. They need to be *great* passers and at least average defenders.— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
"You can’t be Al Jefferson [in today’s game]." -@ZachLowe_NBA— Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) July 28, 2016
In Nick's opinion, and mine, Okafor's current weaknesses don't preclude him from becoming the franchise player the Sixers hope he'll be. They simply limit the ways in which a championship team can be built around him. For now, the two aspects of his game that need the most shoring up are his passing as a defense. If he can become the great passer his college career suggested he might have been and at least average on defense, his outlier offensive skills will be allowed to pay their full dividends.