High expectations exist for Jahlil Okafor’s rookie season. He was labeled by many to be the most ‘NBA-ready’ player in the 2015 Draft, and his peers voted him most likely to be the League’s Rookie of the Year this season.
Okafor is a dominant low post player, who has found success at every level. Equipped with an extremely advanced offensive arsenal, a soft touch that projects well professionally, and an innate feel for the game, Okafor is expected to find success (individual), at least offensively, almost immediately. With a dearth of potentially dominant post-oriented players, Okafor could really develop into a nightmare matchup for defenses across the Association.
While the offense may not be an issue, it is in the other areas of the game where there is some concern about Okafor. Throughout his single season at Duke, Okafor was a mediocre defender, at best. He is not extremely agile, and this was evident time and again. He was regularly beat by quicker, more nimble offensive players, who were simply able to get past him. He was flat-footed and unable to adapt well to drives. He often looked lost on paint penetration, and despite his size, he did not provide Duke with any sort of elite rim protection. In addition, he often struggled to get back in transition; a taboo in the world of NBA basketball. He would at times be the last man down the court.
So, while there is a lot of justified excitement about what Okafor can bring to the Sixers on the offensive end, there is also some equally-justified concern about his ability to develop into a complete package.
While Okafor doesn’t seem overly concerned about the concerns, he is very even-keel, he has already taken steps to help himself succeed, on all areas of the floor, at the next level, including embracing Brett Brown’s defense-first approach.
“We’re a defensive-minded team first,” Okafor explained at practice last week. “That’s something Coach stressed to us from day one. He feels that we have a lot of offensive weapons, so he knows that we’re going to score, so his main focus is for us to play defense. That’s what I’ve been working on.”
Okafor and his teammates focused almost entirely on defense at training camp, and Coach Brett Brown was pleased with the progress he saw in Okafor.
“It’s a process,” he stated, emphasizing patience.
Pairing Okafor with defensive dynamo Nerlens Noel in the Sixers frontcourt should help to alleviate some of the inevitable growing pains.
Developing defensively wasn’t the only area of focal point for Okafor over the summer however, as improving his physical shape and stamina was also a priority. Okafor shed close to ten pounds in an attempt to be more mobile both defensively and in transition. The difference in his physique is noticeable. He currently clocks in at 268 pounds, down from over 275 on draft day, and he said he feels great physically entering his rookie season:
“I feel fine, I feel really good. I’m healthy and ready to go.”
Okafor’s conditioning commitment will continue throughout the season, both on the court and in the kitchen. The former Blue Devil already understands the positive impact that eating right can have on an athlete. Thus, even though Philadelphia is known for cheesesteaks and other enticing options, Okafor will be avoiding nightly temptation with his own personal chef.
“I had a chef in last night on a trail run. I have another one coming in on Wednesday. It’s try out season.”
Michael Kaskey-Blomain is a scribe for Philadunkia. You can follow him on Twitter @therealmikeKB.
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