Last night was far from Jahlil Okafor’s first DNP-Coach’s Decision. Just last season, Okafor was essentially made inactive, asked to stay home while the team went on a road trip, and by all accounts figured he’d be traded. That didn’t happen. Jordan Brenner’s great profile of Jah looked at this from his angle:
“I'm unsure if I'm still on the team,” Okafor says now. “Am I really a part of this process? Am I really a part of this culture? That's why the guys have been out there on social media, but I've just kind of been in the dark. I'll go to a Sixers event, smile, take pictures with the kids and stuff like that, but I’m still thinking, ‘am I a part of this team?’”
But last night felt different. Okafor adopted a vegan diet in the off-season, dropped 20+ pounds, and came in to the preseason leaner and ready to play. Gone with the weight loss was the “chronic knee swelling” that caused discomfort and missed games. Yet still, with Joel Embiid on a supposed minute limit (and looking gassed at times), Richaun Holmes injured, and Amir Johnson fouling out (while also looking totally over matched), Okafor never removed his warm-ups*.
You can use the matchup argument. In five career games (all starts) against the Wizards, Okafor averaged 17.2 points but only 5.2 boards (along with two total blocks, one steal, and ten turnovers). He may have done little to cut into Marcin Gortat’s 17 rebound feast last night, and it’s hard to imagine he could have stopped him from finishing off of John Wall’s gimme assists. But Amir Johnson only grabbed five boards anyway. And he shot under 30% from the floor. And his plus-minus was ass (-7). Johnson’s performance did nothing to stop a bunch of “Free Jahlil Okafor” tweets last night. It seems what we have here is a concrete, hard-line decision.
We say this every year, but last night was definitely the start of something. Whether it’s “This Starts Now” or “Welcome to the Moment” or whatever, it actually feels like something is happening. There are only so many minutes to go around, and on the New Sixers, even with an injured Richaun Holmes, none of those are going to Jah.
He’s not being showcased for a trade and he’s not being put out there to fail. He’s just not being put out at all. It’s only one game so far (and Embiid is likely going to sit out Saturday’s game), but I would be shocked if it wasn’t indicative of the new trend. Okafor told Brenner that during the time he was healthy but watching the Sixers from home, he couldn’t “really put into words how difficult it was.” It’s not getting any easier.
*Not that there is any correlation, but the two other DNPs last night were part of the most lauded trade of the last few years (Stauskas) and the most contentious (Anderson).