As I began to write this post, the Sixers trailed the Miami Heat by 20 points at halftime (they ended up losing by 27, 125-98). The team announced earlier in the day that Joel Embiid would miss the rest of the season after inflammation in his knee subsided and showed a more serious meniscus issue than previously reported. This was announced five days after the team announced that Ben Simmons would miss the entire season recovering from foot surgery. Everything kind of sucks right now for Sixers fans, and everyone still watching the team is anxious and frustrated.
That being the case, the story of tonight’s game is this Jahlil Okafor defensive possession in the first quarter:
The defense in the video clip doesn’t require in-depth analysis. It’s an embarrassing display of effort.
Minutes after that tweet was sent, it went viral. Already, there are articles on SB Nation’s main site, Deadspin, and countless other websites pointing and laughing at how boldly lazy Okafor dared to be. Like James Harden last year, Jahlil Okafor is about to make defensive highlights for all the wrong reasons.
This play, and the coverage surrounding it already, is a culmination of the last two years of the team dragging Okafor through the proverbial ringer and Okafor responding in turn by shutting down his effort.
At times, it’s hard to blame Okafor for the lack of effort. He was drafted as the consolation prize for a franchise that already had two franchise centers. He was literally left behind in Philadelphia on a road trup because the team wanted to trade him, only to find out that they couldn’t get a deal better than a top-20 protected first round pick and an albatross contract in the potential trade. He was then asked to be the good soldier and play out the season given the acknowledgment that he has no long term future with the team. He’s only playing because, I guess, someone has to.
At the same time, he is never being held accountable for a lack of effort, for numerous reasons. Whether it’s because he needs numbers to pad his trade value, or because he needs minutes to get into better game shape, or because he has pictures of important people, or a father who threatens detractors with physical violence, his effort level is never punished..
Okafor hasn’t improved his conditioning measurably over his college conditioning level, and like he’s showing above, he hasn’t exactly worked hard. He is not blameless and has made no effort to make this situation work for him other than through playing selfishly on offense.
As a result of all of the above, Okafor is one of the worst players in the NBA on both ends of the floor by almost any advanced measure. His one-on-one moves on offense have been underwhelming, and he doesn’t look to pass ever from the post, which is the best and only good use of a dominant post player in the NBA nowadays. He is not efficient enough alone, and he does not play well with others. He does not have great defensive skills, and he isn’t inclined to use them all the time.
He finished tonight’s game with 6 points on 11 shot attempts and 5 turnovers in 22 minutes, which is one of the more pathetic performances you’ll find. And he did it all with an expression of indifference. As many will rush to tell you, he makes millions of dollars to give an effort. He steadfastly refuses to do that right now.
At this point, everyone - fans, team, and Okafor - would benefit by ending this toxic relationship as soon as possible, even if he returns nothing of value in a trade. If we can do that for Nerlens Noel, we can certainly do it for a worse player like Okafor.