Jahlil Okafor Ready to Start Rookie Season
The 76ers’ top prospect is healthy, and able to contribute at the start of training camp.
Those two facts, in and of themselves, represent arguably the most substantial difference between the state of the Sixers now, and what it has been at this same time the past two years.
The history has been more than well-documented. Nerlens Noel - selected sixth overall in 2013 - was held out his entire rookie season because of the ACL tear he suffered as a freshman at Kentucky. Joel Embiid - picked third overall in 2014 - missed all of last year while rehabbing the right foot he injured leading up to the draft.
Jahlil Okafor, however, presents a different story.
Playing in 38 out of 38 possible games during an NCAA championship run at Duke, only to then log five summer league appearances with the Sixers a few months later, Okafor withstood the challenge of a “hectic” stretch. He made the most field goals of anyone in the country at the Division I level, earned National Freshman of the Year honors, and stood out in two separate summer leagues, which marked his first dose of professional basketball action. After giving himself some down time at the end of July and beginning of August, Okafor returned to the Philadelphia area to workout with his new teammates.
“I’m more excited now,” Okafor said Monday at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, where the Sixers held their annual media day. “I knew summer league wasn’t going to be me playing against the guys I grew up watching. Now I know that [in] the next week or so, I’m playing against the guys I grew up watching, playing with the video games, so I’m definitely excited to play against the best of the best every night.”
Okafor is right, that summer league basketball and regular season NBA basketball are not the same. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Okafor had a greater dual impact - both offensively and defensively - than virtually all of his peers in both the Utah Jazz and Samsung Summer Leagues, where he combined to average 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in five games. In Salt Lake City, he was the sixth-best scorer and third-leading rebounder (San Antonio’s Kyle Anderson was the only other player to post top-six scoring and top-six rebounding averages there).
On top of scoring and rebounding this summer, Okafor demonstrated in spurts another valuable skill, one that wasn’t lost on his new frontcourt partner
“The passing abilities is one of the greatest underrated things that will help us succeed,” said Nerlens Noel, who saw Okafor first-hand in July. Noel will start at power forward this season in order to make room for Okafor. As his head coach Brett Brown did last week, Noel cited low-post tandems like Tim Duncan / David Robinson and Marc Gasol / Zach Randolph as model pairings whose example Noel and Okafor will attempt to follow. Noel was realistic, though, about the importance of the pre-season for him and Okafor.
“Me and Jahlil haven’t even been on the court together yet. It’s starting now.”
From the night the Sixers drafted him third overall this past June, Okafor made it clear he holds himself to a winning standard, exhibiting a strong sense of authentic self-belief that he can be part of the nucleus capable of turning around the organization’s fortunes.
“I want to assert myself right away as one of the better guys in the league,” Okafor said matter-of-factly. “Don’t want to wait and try to take a backseat to anybody. Don’t play the rookie card or anything like that. Just try to assert myself right away.”
In terms of team goals, Okafor said he and other members of the roster think they can turn the Sixers into a post-season contender by as early as this April.
“I think it’s very realistic,” said Noel, agreeing with Okafor. “I think we have the core group of guys. Still adding to this team, still building, but I do think we have a solid core right now where we can start to make some noise and really make a push to the playoffs.”
The Sixers will conduct their first full day of training at Stockton University tomorrow.
Tony Wroten Rehab “Going Great”
Tony Wroten seemed to be at peace with the pace of his rehab. He partially tore the ACL in his right knee on January 13th, 2015 during a home game against the Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s going great,” Worten said on Monday. “It’s a process, and we’re taking it one day at a time.”
Wroten spent a portion of the summer rehabbing at the University of Washington, where he played in college.
“My personal timeline is when I’m not thinking about [the injury] no more,” Wroten said, adding that when he returns to play, he wants to do so on a full-fledged, full-time basis. “I want to be able to play how I want to play. When the time’s right, and I feel 100%, I want to be able to dominate.”
Last Wednesday, Brett Brown projected that Wroten will miss all of the team’s training camp at Stockton University, and that Wroten might not be available until the end of October.
The Sixers’ other injured guard, Kendall Marshall, who is also recovering from an ACL tear, said he’s been given clearance to resume playing; however, Marshall indicated he doesn’t expect to take part in live 5-on-5 basketball drills this week.