Jahlil Okafor Scrimmages, Hopes To Be Ready For Regular Season Opener

The Sixers second-year center participated in his first 5-on-5 scrimmage since training camp and hopes to be ready for opening night.

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

Sixers center Jahlil Okafor participated in his first 5-on-5 scrimmage since training camp and hopes to be ready for the start of the regular season. | Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Center Jahlil Okafor participated in 5-on-5 scrimmages today for the Sixers, the first full scrimmage he’s taken part in since September 30th, when he experienced soreness in his right knee on the final day of training camp.

Okafor underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee last March.

Okafor said he started experiencing soreness in the knee after playing against teammate Joel Embiid in the final scrimmage of training camp.

“I felt it initially after (practice ended),” Okafor said. “I was hoping the ice would help it, but I felt it initially after (practice). I remember I was icing it all the way on the bus back to Philadelphia, and when I woke up the next morning it was really sore so I called our guys and we started taking care of it.”

Okafor said that he is no longer experiencing any discomfort in the knee.

“My knee is feeling better than what it did at training camp in my first 5-on-5,” Okafor said. “Now the priority is seeing how I recover and how I feel tomorrow when I wake up.”

“There is nothing wrong with the knee,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “It’s just a matter of getting through some inevitable pain from time to time.”

Okafor was not sure whether he would play in the Sixers final preseason game Friday night in Miami. The goal is to be ready for next Wednesday, October 26th, when the Sixers open up the regular season at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The focus will now shift to how Brett Brown will use Okafor and fellow center Joel Embiid on the court. At the end of practice, Embiid and Okafor were playing on the same team alongside Sergio Rodriguez, Nik Stauskas, and Gerald Henderson. While Brown doesn’t anticipate the two big men starting the game together, he will play his two post-oriented centers together at times, and could look to end games with his big lineup.

“It’s all (situational),” Brown said about when he’ll look to play Okafor and Embiid together. “There’s no book that tells you how to do it. It’s going to be a gut feel.”

Part of the problem in the pairing is that both Embiid and Okafor will be on a minutes restriction when the regular season starts, and Brown doesn’t want to use up all of the minutes on his two most talented offensive players right away. He’ll instead look to stagger the two to keep the offense flowing for as many of the 48 minutes as possible.

Even so, Brown wouldn’t commit to starting the two together once those minutes restrictions are lifted.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end up. I know I’m not going to start them at the start of the season,” Brown said when asked whether they would eventually start together. “I hope when you have real minutes to play with, that you can do it more. Might we end games like that if I can save some of those minutes and just figure out how you can end a game? It’s all on the table.”

Regardless of whether Okafor eventually moves into the starting lineup, Brown is excited to have the second-year center back.

“It’s just really good for all of us to see those two together at this stage,” Brown said. “When you talk about who are your best scorers? It’s those two.”

Playing two post scorers is counter to an NBA that is increasingly becoming more about floor spacing and playing at a fast pace than it is about running the ball through the post, and accommodating both of them is likely going to take some time to develop the chemistry required. Despite that, the team is confident they can make it work offensively in time.

“Once we figure it out, we’ll be a force together,” Okafor said when talking about how he will work alongside Joel Embiid. “(Embiid) is so skilled he can play with anybody.”

Joel Embiid, his potential frontcourt partner, agrees.

“I like to think that I’m a guard, so playing with him I’m going to try to let him get his space and it gives me the chance to work on my outside game,” Embiid said, half jokingly.

“I’ve always thought that if you want to put your best defender on him that leaves me open,” Embiid said. “It’s just a matter of us getting in shape and being able to keep up, run the floor, and guard every position.”

Over the past two years the Sixers have struggled to find the spacing and movement to play off of one post scorer. With two low-post scorers sharing the court, getting the remaining players to act in unison is even more important.

“You post it, and you post it deep, and you have to have spacing around it,” Brett Brown said about running an offense through two post players. “The NBA is so well coached. They come and they double from different angles, and so to space them and place the other players where you want, that’s where we have to be really organized.”

Injury report
Nerlens Noel did not participate in practice as he recovers from a groin strain. The Sixers do not expect him to be available when the regular season starts next Wednesday.

Robert Covington (migraine), Hollis Thompson (upper respiratory infection), and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) also did not practice.

Joel Embiid played nearly 20 minutes Saturday night in Detroit, the most minutes he’s played in a game so far this preseason. Despite the increase in time, Embiid says he felt fine afterwards.

“I feel great. I think they wanted me to sit out a little bit today, but I felt great. I went through the whole practice and my body feels great,” Embiid said, before joking that he hopes to play 40 minutes in the regular season opener.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.