Are the Brooklyn Nets home to a future NBA journeyman? Jahlil Okafor has yet to find his fit with the team, through 25 games this season.
The Brooklyn Nets have done a fantastic job in recent years with developing young players in need of finding their “fit.” Guys like Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell. Big man Jahlil Okafor has become the exception, failing to earn minutes in Brooklyn since arriving via trade back in December.
Drafted with the third-overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, expectations were high for the former Duke Blue Devil. Okafor posted averages of 17.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game during his rookie year in Philadelphia.
His sophomore season wasn’t nearly as impressive as he saw a dramatic decline in minutes, from 30 to 22.7 minutes per game. Okafor’s play dipped as well and he grew “lazy” on defense.
That “lazy” label that would follow him into the 2017-18 season, where his career sits on the brink of disappearing.
The Nets are not afraid to invest in young players, despite their background. Brooklyn’s rebuilding culture provides a fresh start. Which for some means starting back at square one.
Jahlil Okafor knows square one more than most, as he’s failed to gain any ground working his way into the Nets’ rotation. Through 25 games he’s averaging 6.0 points and 2.8 rebounds on 55 percent shooting from the field.
Though he’s scoring efficiently, head coach Kenny Atkinson can’t work him into the Nets’ offense. It’s very fast-paced and Okafor often looks lost in transition. He ends up on the wing, or somewhere out of his comfort zone, and his Jordan brand sneakers turn into Grade A cinder blocks.
Most of his game time has come in the form of fourth-quarter minutes in blowouts or early in the first half where the game can’t be completely lost.
Brooklyn is 2-11 in games where he plays 12-plus minutes, a true testament to where his play is. It’s really a shame, as Okafor often shows flashes of potential.
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— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 17, 2018
Not like “This kid could really be the next Dwight Howard” flashes, but more of “Given the right coaching, Okafor could be a solid backup.” Enough to make you think he can contribute, somewhere, in the NBA.
A good situational comparison is former MVP Derrick Rose, who’s not been the same since an ACL injury back in 2012.
We’ve seen Rose occasionally play well in spurts, but it never lasts. His prime is well behind him, and defensively he’s a liability with a capital L.
He has yet to hit his prime, but Okafor is in a similar situation. His rookie season was pretty promising, but he couldn’t adjust to lineup changes and minute deductions, forcing him off the court.
Rose couldn’t adjust to playing a role in which he wasn’t the number one option, and can’t move down the lane as he once could. He also has this “I don’t care” attitude at times, which isn’t productive.
Like Rose, there are many NBA GMs and Twitter “experts” that believe there is a home and right fit for Okafor.
I admittedly foresaw a bright future for him in Brooklyn, when the trade was first announced. His defensive tendencies and one-way limitations had a say in the matter, unfortunately.
Look at Brook Lopez, who started out his career dominating the post-up game. But the game evolved, and three-pointers are the weapon of choice. It’s nearly a requirement for today’s big men to have some sort of three-point shot.
So, Brooklyn’s former franchise star adapted, and hit 134 shots from behind-the-arc in his final year with the team. I imagine Atkinson had similar hopes for Okafor, hopes that haven’t panned out.
With 12 games remaining, Okafor told Brian Lewis of the New York Post he’s been told to remain ready for anything.
“They haven’t specified anything. The message is just stay ready and continue to work, but they haven’t told me why I’m out of the lineup or what I have to do to get back in the lineup, so I’m going day by day working.”
Ironically enough, Atkinson told the New York Post just what he needs from the big man, in order to grant him playing time.
“That’s going to be the real key, defensive rebounding for him. He’s got to do that for us to get more minutes on the court.”
It’s highly unlikely Okafor sees any more time with the Brooklyn Nets, ever. Unless Atkinson is higher on this kid than he sounds.
Okafor is set to be a free agent in the summer, and won’t be at the top of General Manager Sean Marks’ to-do list by any means.
The Brooklyn Nets will host the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday in the Barclays Center. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. ET.