Likes and Dislikes: 76ers Rookie Jahlil Okafor Bounces Back
Each week we’ll dive into a couple of observations about the Philadelphia 76ers. You can view previous installments in the Likes and Dislikes series here.
This week we’ll talk about Jahlil Okafor, and how he’s bounced back from adversity. Okafor is averaging 22.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game over his last four games, once again showing the potential to dominate on the offensive glass that makes him such a tantalizing prospect.
Like: Jahlil Okafor Has Bounced Back From His Struggles
There was a point in time, not too long ago, when nothing seemed to be going Okafor’s way.
With news about Okafor’s involvement in multiple altercations and a 108 mile per hour speeding ticket, Okafor was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. To top it off Okafor was struggling on the court, with a nine game stretch where he averaged just 14 points per game and shot just 40.5% from the field.
But Okafor has bounced back in a big way of late, averaging an impressive 22.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game over his last four games, while shooting 48.0% from the field and 94.4% from the free throw line during that stretch. Okafor has had at least 22 points and 6 rebounds in each of those four games, becoming the first Sixers rookie to accomplish that feat since Billy Cunningham did so back in 1965-66. He is also the first Sixers rookie since Allen Iverson to score at least 20 points in 3 consecutive games.
One thing that has helped Okafor of late: he’s getting to work quicker offensively.
During the previously-mentioned nine game stretch where Okafor was struggling, nearly 16% of his field goal attempts came after he held the ball for more than 6 seconds. Over the last four games Okafor has attempted just one such attempt.
Instead, nearly 48% of Okafor’s attempts have come from shots where Okafor has held the ball for less than two seconds, shots which are generally efficient: Okafor is shooting 50% on these attempts.
This has had a direct impact on Okafor getting shots early in the shot clock, with 65.3% of his attempts coming with between 18 seconds and 7 seconds remaining on the shot clock, compared to just 47.6% during his nine game slump.
Such a drastic change is usually the result of many factors, and this is no exception. Okafor is running the court better, which is giving him more scoring opportunities against a defense which isn’t set, and he’s been more aggressive in attacking when he does get the ball, which limits the defenses ability to recover.
What’s even more impressive about his play of late is that it’s largely not a result of his guards setting him up: 61.1% of Okafor’s field goals over the last four games have been unassisted, which is actually up, from his season average of 60.7%.
Attacking early in the shot clock is important for Okafor, both because it makes passing out of a potential double team more effective and because it gets him higher looks at the basket for himself. On the season Okafor is shooting just 38.4% (33-86) on shots when the shot clock is at 7 seconds or less. Perhaps just as importantly, it has helped keep Okafor’s turnovers down, as Okafor is coughing the ball up on just 8.4% of his possessions over the last 4 games, a steep drop from the 13.6% turnover ratio he had during his slump.
The drop in turnovers has been reflected in the Sixers’ stats as a team as well, as the Sixers are turning the ball over on just 15.6% of their possessions over the last 4 games while Okafor’s been on the court, compared with 20.0% during his nine game slump.
Dislike: Okafor’s Teammates Can’t Hit a Shot
Yet despite Okafor’s improved play of late, that hasn’t translated to improved offensive performance as a team: over the last four games, the Sixers are averaging just 86.4 points per 100 possessions with Okafor on the court.
To put into perspective just how bad that is, the worst non-Sixers offense this year averages 97.1 points per 100 possessions.
The Sixers’ offensive struggling with Okafor on the court isn’t exactly something new, but the “why” of the struggles are different. During the first 10 games of the season the Sixers actually shot better from the field (42.1% vs 39.1%) when Okafor was on the court, with a true shooting percentage (which adjusts for the value of the three point shot and the ability to get to the free throw line) virtually identical: 49.4% with Okafor on the court, 49.5% with him on the bench.
The reason the offense was so inefficient at the beginning of the year was because the Sixers were turning the ball over on 19.5% of their offensive possessions with Okafor on the court, compared to just 12.1% when he was on the bench.
That 12.1% turnover ratio when Okafor was on the bench was completely unsustainable, something which I noted at the time. 12.1% would have been the best ratio in the league, and the Sixers didn’t have the talent level to maintain that.
And the turnover ratio has certainly regressed back to the mean, with the Sixers turning the ball over on 18.6% of their possessions over the last four games when Okafor has been on the bench. On the flip side, that 19.5% turnover ratio with Okafor on the court has dropped to a much more manageable 15.6% over the last four games.
So why is the Sixers’ offense struggling so much with Okafor on the court? Nobody, and I mean nobody, can make a shot: Okafor’s teammates are shooting just 30.2% (48-159) from the field over the last four games when he’s been on the court.
Okafor critics will be quick to argue that Okafor’s presences makes his teammates worse, while his supporters will point to the lack of talent he has to work with. In truth, the last four games likely just represent a slump for his teammates.
Through the first 22 games of the season his teammates shot 32.7% from three point range while he was on the court, vs 32.6% when he was on the bench. Over the last four games they’re shooting 25.4% from three with him on the court. They legitimately haven’t made a three pointer (0-9) on a pass they received from Okafor over the last four games, when they shot 33.3% from three when on the receiving end of Okafor passes during the first 22 games of the season. It’s simply not sustainable, even for this rag-tag collection of talent.
Below is an “extensive” video breakdown of Okafor’s culpability in these missed shots:
- Okafor is playing much better of late.
- Being more decisive with the ball and attacking quickly before the defense gets set has helped Okafor immensely.
- Turnovers for both Okafor and the team are way down when Okafor’s been in the game.
- Okafor’s teammates can’t throw the ball into the ocean from the perimeter right now.
If you’re looking for trends, I view Okafor’s early-clock decisiveness, and the Sixers’ drop in turnovers with Okafor on the court, to be more relevant than their recent struggles shooting the ball. Despite the low offensive output with Okafor on the court of late, I think they’re making progress.