No one knows what kind of player Jahlil Okafor will be with the Brooklyn Nets.
He could be productive and serviceable. Maybe he won’t be.
But at the very least, Okafor gets what he wants: a chance. And he wasn’t getting that with the Philadelphia 76ers who traded him, Nik Stauskas and a 2019 second-round pick to the Nets for Trevor Booker on Thursday.
“This gives him a runaway to show we had can do,” Bill Duffy, Okafor’s agent, told USA TODAY Sports. “We’ve only seen a portion of what he’s capable of doing. He’s leaner. He improved his body. He’ll be a lot more effective. I’m excited for him to have this opportunity to get up and down the floor and have an impact.”
The Okafor situation with Philadelphia had festered long enough. His dad even wore a Free Jah t-shirt to a Golden-State-Philadelphia game this season.
The Sixers made it clear that Okafor was not part of their future, and it would’ve suited both sides better had the Sixers traded Okafor before the season began. But Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wasn’t willing to give Okafor away and sought a deal that worked for him, too.
Okafor was buried on the bench, and to his credit, he kept most of his frustration out of the public. Yes, Okafor wanted a buyout or a trade, but he kept the majority of his frustration behind the scenes. He put on a good face despite the lack of playing time – just 25 minutes in two of Philadelphia’s 24 games this season – and was not a locker room problem.
Duffy’s solid relationship with Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo helped ease a difficult situation. Duffy knew Colangelo was trying to find a trade partner that made sense for Okafor – just as Colangelo did for Duffy client Steve Nash almost 20 years ago.
Following Nash’s 1997-98 season with the Phoenix Suns, he wanted a starting role. But the Suns had Jason Kidd. So Colangelo, who was the Suns GM, worked with Duffy to find a landing spot for Nash. The Suns traded Nash to the Dallas Mavericks where Nash flourished and developed into a star-in-the-making.
Okafor, who turns 22 next week, is in his third season and was the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft behind Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, who also plays in Brooklyn. It’s too early to dismiss Okafor’s NBA prospects.
“We are excited about the prospects of both Jahlil and Nik, as well as adding another future asset which will aid us in our continued roster development,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a news release. “This trade provides us with a good opportunity to bring in two young players who were high picks in recent drafts and give them a chance to succeed in our system.”
Two seasons ago, before the Sixers moved in a direction that did not include Okafor, he averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds and shot 50.8% from the field, and in the restricted area at the rim, he shot 59.8% – four percentage points higher than the league average that season, according to nba.com/stats.
Okafor has offensive skills, especially in the low post, and will need to show he can be a better defender than he was with the Sixers. The question is, is there a place in today’s NBA for a player like Okafor who is a traditional big man in a style that doesn’t always embrace traditional bigs?
At least now, Okafor has a chance to show if there’s a spot for him in the NBA.
30. Chicago Bulls (3-18) | Last week: 30 – This team — which has just three wins through 21 games (.143 winning percentage) — is on pace to finish the season with the worst record in franchise history. Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports
28. Sacramento Kings (7-16) | Last week: 28 – The Kings snapped their eight-game losing streak at Oracle Arena with their win over Golden State last Monday. So there’s that. Kamil Krzaczynski, USA TODAY Sports
27. Phoenix Suns (8-16) | Last week: 27 – Devin Booker is averaging 23.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, four assists and is shooting 45.5% from the field and 37.6% from beyond the arc. Only four other players in the NBA — Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, LeBron James and James Harden — can say the same. Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports
26. Dallas Mavericks (6-17) | Last week: 26 – Rick Carlisle became the third active head coach to reach 700 wins on Saturday, when his Mavs downed the Clippers by 26 points. Gregg Popovich (1,165) and Doc Rivers (812) are the other two. Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports
25. Memphis Grizzlies (7-15) | Last week: 24 – The Grizzlies, who shocked the collective hoops world by firing head coach David Fizdale last week, have reached the lowest of lows. But the present — 11 consecutive losses and an Achilles injury to Mike Conley — is far from the team’s only concern. Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports
24. Brooklyn Nets (8-14) | Last week: 23 – Though they’re well on their way to another lottery-bound season, the Nets only needed 21 games to reach eight wins this season. They needed 30 last season. Baby steps. Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports
23. Los Angeles Lakers (8-15) | Last week: 20 – Though they’ve lost five consecutive games, the Lakers have loved what they’ve seen out of second-year forward Brandon Ingram as of late. Matched up with his idol, Kevin Durant, the 20-year-old scored a career-high 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting in Wednesday’s loss to Golden State. Sergio Estrada, USA TODAY Sports
22. Los Angeles Clippers (8-14) | Last week: 21 – The Clippers, who have won 50-plus games in each of the past five seasons, are on pace for 30 wins, which would be the franchise’s worst mark since 2009-10. So now what? Do they trade DeAndre Jordan? Is Doc Rivers on the hot seat? Is Blake Griffin really the future of the franchise? Brace Hemmelgarn, USA TODAY Sports
21. Orlando Magic (10-14) | Last week: 25 – With his most recent scoring outburst (Wednesday vs. Oklahoma City), Aaron Gordon became the first player in franchise history to record 40 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and four steals in a game. Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports
20. Charlotte Hornets (8-13) | Last week: 22 – The Hornets dropped two consecutive games (at Toronto on Wednesday and at Miami on Friday) without Kemba Walker, who’s out with a shoulder injury. Charlotte is 0-5 in the past two seasons without their star point guard in the lineup. Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports
19. Miami Heat (11-12) | Last week: 17 – Hassan Whiteside, who has played in just 15 of Miami’s games to start the season, is out indefinitely with another bone bruise in his left knee. Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports
18. New York Knicks (11-11) | Last week: 18 – Despite the arrival of Tim Hardaway Jr., veteran guard Courtney Lee has played some of the best basketball of his life through the first quarter of the season, averaging career-highs across the board (12.9 points, 46.2% from three, 3.9 rebounds, three assists). Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports
17. New Orleans Pelicans (12-11) | Last week: 13 – Anthony Davis suffered a left adductor strain in Friday’s loss to Utah, but an MRI and further evaluation revealed no structural damage — the second devastating injury dodged by the star big man this season. Russell Isabella, USA TODAY Sports
16. Indiana Pacers (12-11) | Last week: 12 – Victor Oladipo: NBA All-Star? If he keeps this up, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be. The fifth-year guard is averaging a career-high 23.4 points and five rebounds, numbers that rank first and third among Eastern Conference shooting guards, respectively. Tom Szczerbowski, USA TODAY Sports
15. Oklahoma City Thunder (10-12) | Last week: 16 – Of all players who have started at least 20 games this season, Andre Roberson ranks last in scoring, averaging just 4.9 points per game. He also ranks last at the free throw line, making just 33.3% of his attempts. Mark D. Smith, USA TODAY Sports
14. Milwaukee Bucks (12-9) | Last week: 15 – The Bucks have gone 8-3 since acquiring Eric Bledsoe from Phoenix and rank fifth in the NBA on defense during that span, allowing 101.2 points per 100 possessions. Before Bledsoe’s arrival? They ranked 29th. Kelley L Cox, USA TODAY Sports
13. Utah Jazz (12-11) | Last week: 19 – The Jazz have managed to stay afloat despite an onslaught of injuries, winning five consecutive games behind stellar play from Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors. The former scored 41 points — a franchise record for a rookie — in Friday’s win over New Orleans, while the latter is averaging 18.6 points on 73.1% shooting and nine rebounds during the past five games. Russell Isabella, USA TODAY Sports
12. Denver Nuggets (13-9) | Last week: 11 – Nikola Jokic is expected to be back soon after the MRI results on his sprained left ankle reportedly came back negative — encouraging news for a team already down a star big man in Paul Millsap. That sound you hear? A collective sigh of relief from Nuggets Nation. Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports
11. Portland Trail Blazers (13-10) | Last week: 9 – The Blazers, who were 21st in the NBA last season with a defensive rating of 107.8, rank fourth on that end of the floor this season, allowing 100.3 points per 100 possessions. Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports
10. Washington Wizards (12-10) | Last week: 14 – The player to step up in John Wall’s absence has been … Tomas Satoransky? He’s hardly the only one, but the second-year swingman has put together back-to-back career games — the most recent of which (17 points, four rebounds and four assists) came in a win over Detroit. Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-10) | Last week: 10 – The Timberwolves continue to struggle on defense this season, allowing 108.2 points per 100 possessions (23rd in the NBA). Brad Rempel, USA TODAY Sports
8. Philadelphia 76ers (13-9) | Last week: 8 – According to Sixers, only one player in NBA history (since 1963-64) has tallied 1,065 points, 457 rebounds, 125 assists and 108 blocks — averages of 21.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 blocks — through 50 career games. That player is Joel Embiid. Bill Streicher, USA TODAY Sports
7. Detroit Pistons (14-8) | Last week: 7 – Andre Drummond has taken significant steps forward this season, averaging a career-high four assists per game to go along with 14.3 points and an NBA-best 15 rebounds. He’s also shooting 64.8% from the free throw line — a 26% increase from last season. Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports
6. San Antonio Spurs (15-8) | Last week: 5 – Welcome back to the All-Star conversation, LaMarcus Aldridge. The third-year Spur is averaging 23 points (on a career-high 51.6% shooting), 8.1 rebounds and became the fifth San Antonio player in the past 20 years to record 40-plus points in a game with his 41-point outing in Wednesday’s win over Memphis. Soobum Im, USA TODAY Sports
5. Toronto Raptors (14-7) | Last week: 6 – The Raptors boast the NBA’s best home record this season (8-1) and have the second-best home offense in the league, scoring 114 points per 100 possessions while at Air Canada Centre. Tom Szczerbowski, USA TODAY Sports
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-7) | Last week: 4 – Dwyane Wade has finally found his footing with his new team, averaging 13.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and four assists during Cleveland’s 11-game winning streak — play that earned him a Sixth Man of the Year endorsement from teammate LeBron James. Sam Sharpe, USA TODAY Sports
3. Boston Celtics (20-4) | Last week: 1 – The Celtics still lead the NBA with a defensive rating of 99.7, but have seen a significant dip on that end of the floor in the last six games, ranking 19th during that span. Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports
2. Golden State Warriors (18-6) | Last week: 3 – The Warriors dished out 46 assists in Friday’s win over Orlando, one shy of the franchise record they set last season. Golden State leads the NBA in assists this season with 30.9 per game, the most for a team since the 1984-85 Lakers. Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports
1. Houston Rockets (18-4) | Last week: 2 – The Rockets are 7-0 since Paul returned from his knee injury, outscoring opponents by 21.6 points during that span while leading the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating. Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports