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Trading Okafor was Fool’s Gold

Sam Hinkie dodged a huge silver bullet by NOT trading Jahlil Okafor. Anyone who believes otherwise can point to their own judgement as the exact reason as to why they will never be a successful team builder either on 2K or in anything similar.

Too harsh? Allow me to explain.

It’s easy to forget how good a player is when the team is not that good. It’s also easy to forget the point of a team deciding to trade it’s best player. Typically, an NBA team will trade its best player for a very limited number of reasons, regardless of how good the whole team is. Trading Okafor would mean that the 76ers have conceded on one of the following ideas:

  • Okafor has hit the ceiling of his NBA potential
  • The team cannot improve with Okafor playing significant minutes
  • His value to the team isn’t as high as the price another team would be willing to pay for him
  • Okafor is a behavioral detriment to the team
  • The 76ers have no chance of keeping Okafor in the upcoming free agency period

None of the above reasons apply to Okafor or the Philadelphia 76ers, and therefore cast doubt onto any other reason to jettison the best player on the team (who happens to only be 20 years old).

Andrew Porter, Sports Editor of CBSPhilly.com, wrote about why trading Jahlil Okafor would have been more beneficial to the 76ers than keeping him. Porter’s opinion of the situation was that:

… If he (Okafor) stays in Philly, it likely means Embiid never makes a significant impact.

… He (Okafor) is a defensive liability, doesn’t get up and down the court particularly well, has dealt with minor off-the-court problems, and – for what it’s worth – has a crazy dad.

…The Okafor-plan is followng the MCW-plan blueprint. Let a rookie run around on a bad team, inflate his stats, win the rookie of the year, and move him for a lottery pick.

Needless to say, it is the lack of judgement and futuristic vision that causes Porter’s view of the situation to stumble in an embarrassing way.

To his credit, Porter pointed out Okafor’s offensive dominance, and identifies that he is leading all rookies in scoring this season. Still, even in trying to give him props, Porter stops short of providing a true depiction of Okafor’s ability in the post.

His 17 points-per-game average can be quite misleading.

He is also among the top five at the center position in scoring in the entire NBA, and that is an even bigger deal than leading a group of rookies. Even when attempting to quantify Okafor’s true scoring ability per 36 minutes per game, Okafor’s scoring average jumps up to 20 points-per-game and then jumps again to 27 ppg in a 48 mpg format. His 17 ppg average is being accomplished in 30 minutes a night compared to other top scoring players at the Center position such as Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Brook Lopez, who all top 33 mpg.

An interesting idea that Porter made was that Okafor’s presence would limit the impact and potential of Joel Embiid next year, and he is correct in his assumption. Okafor’s abilities on the court would no doubt limit Embiid’s playing time since they play the same position, but it would be a fallacy to believe that Embiid’s potential is greater than Okafor’s.

Unlike other 76ers fans and commentators, I am not watching Embiid’s vine and Youtube videos and sipping the proverbial Kool-Aid. No matter what kind of range Embiid proves he has on a video up to this point, all the shots he makes, and all the steps he takes on the court are completely unguarded by an opposing player. Embiid hasn’t even been cleared to practice with the team yet, so assuming that Embiid will begin next year as a chiseled, 3-point shooting 7-footer with good post moves and good defense is wishful thinking.

Lets see him do those things with an NBA caliber defensive player in his face because Okafor has proven that he can burn defensive players from the post on a consistent basis.

Porter’s point pertaining to Okafor’s abilities as a defensive player does have a bit of merit. He is not the defensive player that Nerlens Noel is by any stretch of the imagination, and he does not possess Noel’s athleticism either (on the other hand, you can count the number of players that have Noel’s blend of defensive ability and athleticism on one hand). Still, it’s important to remember that Okafor is not playing with a great amount of defensive talent surrounding him and his lack of lateral quickness is not uncommon among 7-foot centers.

More importantly, lets not forget that Okafor has less than 55 games of NBA experience in his career and is still averaging around one and a half blocks per 36 minutes. How much can you expect from a player this green on the NBA level?

Porter’s comments on Okafor’s father are misguided and misplaced as well, considering the fact that losing has a lasting impact on all players and the people surrounding those players, especially when you aren’t accustomed to losing as often as the 76ers in past years.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Okafor has lost more games this season with the 76ers than he has in his entire basketball career stretching back to Duke AND his high school years?

If MY son was losing this often after winning so often before arriving in Philadelphia, I would have a bone to pick with society too.

Porter’s worst argument, by a wide margin, is that trading Okafor would follow the MCW “plan” which was to allow him to inflate his rookie statistics, and trade him for a lottery pick. The problem with this logic is that Okafor is more valuable than a lottery pick (or two for that matter).

The key to building a contending team in the NBA is to acquire great amounts of talent, and keeping that talent long enough to flourish. What is the point of drafting an ultra-talented player of Okafor’s level if you were going to flip his value into a lottery pick that has the potential to be a bust? Okafor is already a lottery pick (and a damned good one)!

Here is a piece of advice 76ers fans, never trade the talent that you DO know for the talent that you DON’T know.

At the end of the day, trading Okafor would have been a catastrophic decision, whether it would have netted a lottery pick or not, because Okafor is worth more than any and EVERY player in this year’s draft. He would be the consensus number one pick in this year’s draft if he stayed at Duke for another year, easily topping Ben Simmons for that honor so far.

For now, lets allow the 76ers to accumulate talent at ALL positions and worry about having an abundance of talent at a single position later. No team in the NBA would condemn having an abundance of talented big men, and the 76ers are no different, especially when one of those big men are already at the top five in the NBA at their position on one end of the court. Okafor’s game will improve with time and experience. Trading him at the past trade deadline simply did not make sense. Put simply, it was fool’s gold.