Sixers Mailbag #2: Okafor’s Struggles, Noel’s Jumper
Every Monday we’ll have a Philadelphia 76ers mailbag, where we’ll discuss some of the pressing topics around the team.
In this second edition of the Sixers mailbag we’ll take a look at Jahlil Okafor’s struggles to score in the post, Nerlens Noel’s jump shot, Dario Saric’s (eventual) transition to the NBA, what kind of an impact Kendall Marshall can make with the Sixers, and whether the Sixers or the Celtics rebuild is the better route to take.
“How confident are you that Jahlil Okafor demands a double team at the NBA level? It seems like the team is predicating their offense on these double teams, but I’ve yet to see signs that Okafor proves that he can establish the positioning and finishing ability to force teams to double him.”
I think, for the most part, he already has been forcing a double team (here, here, here, here, and here are a few screen caps from just the last game), even despite his struggles to score. And struggle he has, as Okafor has more turnovers out of post-ups than he has made field goals so far in his (very young) NBA career.
With the exception of his first game against the Wizards, I don’t think establishing “good enough” (but not great) post position has been the primary culprit. Okafor has never really been a “back his shoulder into you, back you down, and shoot a jump hook” kind of post-up player. He’s always kind of posted up far from the basket, then used a combination of spin moves, drop-steps, and deceptively quick drives to get to the basket. I don’t think he’s going to struggle too greatly getting good position down the line, I think he’ll mostly just have to adjust his mentality a little bit and rely less on his ability to start away from the hoop and make up ground.
I don’t think deep post position is the primary concern, but I do think there are some things that are different than college. First, he’s struggling to finish around the hoop. There’s some legitimacy to this concern, but I also think it’s early.
Second, I think Okafor’s rushing his shots, and I think this impacts his struggles finishing. I’m not sure if this is because of the shorter shot clock (35 seconds in college to 24 in the NBA), nerves, or just trying to be aggressive, but it doesn’t seem like he’s surveying the defense, kicking it out, and either re-posting or finding open cutters/shooters as well as he did in college.
Finally, I don’t think the Sixers, and even Brett Brown, have fully realized how to play off of him yet. If you look back at the five screen caps linked above, there’s some poor spacing there. And it’s not just poor spacing because of a lack of shooters, but guys that just aren’t in proper positions to give Okafor an easy outlet valve to combat the double team (especially true in the second and fifth screen caps).
Some of these guys have never played with a legitimate post player before. Not only does the post player have to learn how to handle a double team, but the other players have to learn how to react as well, and it could take them some time to really get acclimated.
As Okafor settles down, starts working to establish position earlier than he did in college, works to develop his left hand, and players start to learn how to play off of the attention he receives, I think his post-ups will become more efficient than they have been.
Dan Logan (@DanielJLogan)
“Compare Sixers rebuild to Celtics rebuild.”
Comparing the two is going to be a fascinating debate down the line, since they’re very different in the way they’ve gone about rebuilding.
The commonality between the two is that both teams have steadily increased the quantity, and quality, of their assets to the point where they are ready to pounce if a star level player becomes available.
Where the two have differed is the desire to move forward, at least in terms of win total, in the short term. This became especially true at the trade deadline, where the Celtics went out, got Isaiah Thomas, and made a late season run to the playoffs, and the Sixers instead opted for the future lottery pick from the Lakers.
This has led to a lot of praise by the media towards the Celtics. In general, I’m a firm believer that true progress for a rebuilding team is how close you are to having a franchise level player, and I think the Sixers collection of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and, yes, even Joel Embiid is closer than the Celtics. They C’s will win more games, and they have less of a chance of falling on their face and being terrible, but I don’t see the same upside, either.
But the C’s are in a pretty good position to have their cake and eat it too, thanks in large part to the incoming draft picks from the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics get Brooklyn’s 1st round pick (unprotected) in 2016, have the right to swap their own pick with Brooklyn’s in 2017, then have another unprotected pick from Brooklyn coming to them in 2018. That’s absolutely huge. ESPN predicted the Nets to finish with a 30-52 record, and that seems about right. Any and all of those three picks could be very, very valuable.
So while I’m dubious that anybody on the Celtics truly has superstar potential, and because of that there’s a part of me that feels the Celtics success has a limited, short-lived ceiling, the fact that they have those three picks in their pocket allows them to go about this a little bit differently than the Sixers. All of those draft pick caveats that pundits have used to denounce the Sixers plan still exists (no sure thing, going to be a while before the pick turns into something, etc), but they’ve given themselves a lot of options going forward.
Chris Cusick (@callmebuttta):
“Do you think it will take time for Dario Saric to acclimate to NBA play next year?”
Well, first, I know that Saric continues to assert that he’s coming to the NBA at the first chance he gets. That’s great, and I’m not saying he won’t. That being said, until he actually does it, I’m always going to worry about the chance that he stays with Anadolu Efes for the duration of his three year contract, because there is quite a financial incentive to do so. Again, I’m not predicting that Saric will stay over another year, but I’m tempering my expectations a tad until the rumors become a reality.
With that caveat out of the way, I think there’s undoubtedly going to be an adjustment period for Saric. There’s a very real difference in the size and athleticism he’ll face in the NBA, and especially for a guy who has an inconsistent (albeit improving) perimeter shot. Being able to create the same looks, both for himself and his teammates, is going to be a struggle at first, not to mention the tougher defensive tasks he’ll face.
That being said there are a number of ways I think Saric is going to contribute immediately, most notably his ability to grab a defensive board, push the ball in transition, and make incredible passes to guys running in transition. His passing on the break is elite for his position, and he’ll be fun to watch in that regard. The passing talent that the Sixers have accumulated in the front court, with all of Okafor, Noel, Embiid, and Saric being good passers, is going to be fun to watch down the line.
Adio Royster (@AdioBRoyster):
“Kendall Marshall‘s per 100 poss stats are 14.4 points and 10.5 assists. If he’s the starter, what are realistic averages?”
In terms of playing time, I’d guess he’ll approach the 29 minutes per game he played with the Lakers. Even if he starts, I don’t think he’ll go much above that, in part because they’ll want to give Tony Wroten considerable time at the point as well.
In terms of overall production, it’s important to remember the Lakers actually played with incredible pace that season (second highest in the league), and a good portion of Marshall’s assists game in transition. In fact, Marshall had a pretty crazy 5.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in transition for the Lakers.
While the Sixers aren’t going to be a slow team, I wonder if their potential for a step back defensively (integrating Okafor, Marshall, Stauskas, etc into the defense), combined with Okafor’s post scoring won’t further slow down a pace that was already being scaled back (1st in 2013-14 to 6th in 2014-15). So I think you have to account for that somewhat.
If I had to put numbers on it, I’d say 7.2 points, 5.6 assists, and 37% three point shooting in 25 minutes per night. And, yes, I just pulled those numbers out of nowhere.
Coach Prince (@balltillyhufall):
“Thoughts on Nerlens Noel‘s jump shot?”
I think at this point you have to be happy with the progress, at least if you had realistic expectations relative to where he started when he entered the league.
Shooting over 60% from the free throw line last year was nothing short of a minor miracle for a guy who legitimately didn’t attempt a jump shot during his one season at Kentucky. So far in the preseason he’s shooting 60% once again from the line, and getting there almost nine times per game.
From a form standpoint, the hitch at the top of the shot definitely looks smoothed out, and he seems to be shooting the ball at the apex more frequently than he did last year. There’s still some inconsistency, but he seems to be getting better with repetition, which is really all you can ask for.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.