Okafor Out For Preseason Opener, Saric Likely to Start

Jahlil Okafor will sit out the Sixers preseason opener as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. Dario Saric is likely to start at power forward.

Sixers' center Jahlil Okafor has had a CT scan on his right knee | Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Sixers’ center Jahlil Okafor has had a CT scan on his right knee | Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

When the 76ers begin preseason basketball tomorrow night against the Boston Celtics, they’ll do so without the services of yet another big man, as Jahlil Okafor will not play.

Okafor, whose rookie season was cut short due to surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, has not been scrimmaging of late because of soreness in his knee. Sixers head coach Brett Brown said he wants Okafor to get more practice time in before he plays, according to Brian Seltzer of Sixers.com.

With both Okafor and Ben Simmons sidelined, Brown will turn to Dario Saric as his starting power forward. Saric, the 12th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft who has played the last two seasons for Anadolu Efes in Turkey. Saric is battling some lower back soreness himself, but practiced in full today.

The Sixers will also likely be without the services of Jerryd Bayless, who has been dealing with a sore left wrist. If Bayless can’t go, Sergio Rodriguez is likely to be the starter at the point guard spot. Joel Embiid will start at center, although he will have his minutes limited as he returns from surgery last offseason to repair a fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot, and it sounds like most of his minutes could come early in the first half. Gerald Henderson and Robert Covington will likely be the starters on the wings.

For Saric, the start is bittersweet.

“It’s a little bit stupid when you get in that position because your teammate gets injured,” Saric said, referring to teammate Ben Simmons getting injured. “But I will do whatever the coach says.”

Saric was candid that he still requires more practice before getting completely up to NBA speed.

“I am ready like 70% or something like that,” Saric said. “I need for sure more practice.”

Saric’s teammates feel confident in his abilities.

“He isn’t as athletic as Ben (Simmons), but I think he’s a better shooter than Ben, and he can be a playmaker too,” fellow rookie Joel Embiid said. “That’s what Ben is, and that’s what Dario is going to be. So I think Dario fits in perfectly.”

“We encourage him leading a break after he has rebounded,” head coach Brett Brown said when talking about Dario’s ability to play in transition. “I have said for along time that Dario’s basketball experiences are rich. Ben has played a lot of basketball, but it wasn’t like he had played in the Olympics, Euroleague, or the Turkish League, so I think Dario will reap the benefit of those very rich basketball experiences.”

While the Sixers are likely to start Saric and Embiid on the frontcourt tomorrow, nothing is set in stone going forward. “Do you go back and look at playing some of your bigs together? Might Jerami (Grant) slide to the 4? I feel like it’s going to be very fluid,” Brown said. “We will learn a lot. The preseason is really going to be good for us in that regard.”

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.