BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Everything the Philadelphia 76ers need is right before their eyes in Jahlil Okafor, and yet they continue to look away.
Sometimes the obvious can be understated, this appears to be the case with the Sixers’ and their second year big man.
The question is why, and the answer may lie with “the Answer”.
Since the trade of Allen Iverson in 2006, Philadelphia basketball fans have been searching for their next star……………..rather than their next championship.
Enter Joel Embiid, versus Jahlil Okafor.
One is considered destined for stardom and can do no wrong in the eyes of many. The other is viewed as a defensive liability and nothing more than a valuable trade piece.
The crazy thing is both are necessary building blocks, capable of bringing Philadelphia back from irrelevant-ville.
Embiid is flashy, while Okafor is boring but efficient.
Joel is raw offensively while being instinctively dominate defensively. Conversely, Jahlil is instinctively fluid offensively and at times downright tragic defensively. The Cameroon native is without a doubt a physical specimen who could possibly one day lead a club to a championship. Yet the center, much like Okafor, is not without glaring flaws.
He struggles mightily against physical centers like Steven Adams (6 for 16), Marc Gasol (4 for 10), and Tristan Thompson (8 for 18) among others. Then there are the struggles recognizing when and where the double teams are coming from, and a habitual failure to “keep the ball high”.
The 7-footer is busting with athletic ability, but is far from a fluid athlete, which is why he is often seen stumbling and struggling to stay on his feet. His passing ability, specifically from the post or when he goes left at times, can be hideous.
Therefore Joel, just like Okafor, has glaring room for improvement.
However, when the former Jayhawks’ flaws are interrupted by ill-advised three pointers, powerful dunks and ferocious blocked shots, those very flaws are viewed as manageable and tolerable.
Interestingly enough that same patience is not present when discussing or watching “Big Jah”.
Despite the former Duke Blue Devil’s flaws coming with championships on every level and a Hall-of-Fame level of consistency, for some inexplicable reason those results have been deemed inconsequential.
It feels as if fans have invested in hope and disregarded production.
Consider this while attending the University of Kansas, Embiid played in 28 games averaging 23 minutes per with 11 points and eight rebounds. Then the center injured his back. Thus ending his season and any hopes of the Jayhawks winning the National title.
Now the other third overall selection’s resume reads slightly different.
Okafor arrived at Duke University, with far higher expectations and delivered. The big man played in more minutes (30 per), scored more points (17 per) and most of all brought a title home. In fact, since 13 “Big Jah” has been winning. From tournament MVP awards to Gold Medals and finally National Championships. The forward/center has been the focal point and reason why every team he has played for has won.
Meanwhile, “JoJo” has been………….developing. The flashes that have made some very astute basketball basketball minds salivate were present even then. As a high school senior he scored more than 20 points in just three games. Joel’s high school coach Justin Harden had a grading system he used for each player. As a player still learning the nuisances of the game, the big man received an A or higher in 19 of 37 games. Not alarming and frankly to be expected, what was alarming were the 12 games he received a C+ or worse.
Now let us fast forward to the pros.
Comparing each players first 15 games, both players had five games of 10 or more rebounds. Both players had seven games of 20 or more points.
As for block shots, Embiid has 14 games with at least one blocked shot and Okafor had 10 games of at least one.
So with both players posting eerily similar numbers, why is the former Blue Devil so easily believed to be replaceable?
Because styles make fights!
For an organization fighting to justify an accepted losing culture, the crowd pleasing plays of No. 21 are too good to pass up. Even if it comes at the expense of a productive yet methodical player. As are basketball fans starved for talent, there is no way either player’s ability can be just thrown away, or even conversed about in such a manner.
Hope can be a disregard for reality in some instances. To rid itself of a productive player who is still developing, could be a death blow, considering Joel’s history.
We have seen this movie; for years we watched Allen Iverson, ignoring his shortcomings and hoping for an NBA title. Even when it was apparent even at such a tender age that Kobe Bryant (the man Philly could have drafted) had the requisite discipline and work ethic to reach the desired goal.
Years later could this be the sequel?
A player with Jahlil’s impressive (albeit brief) resume is a valuable building block, and should be viewed as such. His penchant to score at ease and put pressure on opposing frontlines in today’s NBA is a commodity, simply because it is such a rarity.
Small ball and threes are a direct result of the lack of potent and fundamental big men.
Teams that have good big men routinely make the playoffs and win games. Look no further than the Memphis Grizzlies who have won 50 or more games three of the last four seasons.
Teams with great big men compete for titles year in and year out.
Now “Big Jah” would not fall into the great category, but his offensive prowess would certainly fall within the “good” category. With over a third of his buckets (34 percent) coming within 10 feet or closer, there is little doubt that he is already the offensive paint presence many hope Embiid will become.
This is not to say the former Jayhawk will NEVER develop, in fact he has persevered through so much already it is impossible to root against him. This is merely an attempt to acknowledge that development is still ongoing and as yet to produce any sustainable hardware.
Just as it is not to say the hardware that the former Blue Devil has amassed through his ongoing development will transfer itself to the professional level.
The very patience given to Joel needs to be administered to Jahlil as well. If nothing more because BOTH resumes demand it and neither player has developed. This organization must stand pat with both players, even if one is voided of the flash that seems to blind so many onlookers.
In an age where 140 characters can be mistaken for biblical logic, it is the time spent striving and building that should be revered. That step by step accomplishment can be prolonged agony or simply a process.
Regardless, allow time to be the judge, not man.