Sixers Mailbag – Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Updated: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 09:55 PM

“If Jahlil was coming into the draft this year without the last 2 years of knowledge, where would he be ranked? I’m thinking in the mid-to late first with big men clump. It’s amazing how fast the league priorities changed. Even if we didn’t have the last 2 years of tape, Jah’s value dropped significantly.”
— Steven

Oooooh man. This is a tough one, in large part because this is one of the bigger scouting misses I’ve had recently, and one that I regret.

If you go back and you re-read my write-up of Okafor heading into the 2015 draft, I think I nailed his concerns as a prospect. I then, on my big board, said Porzingis had the upside to be in the tier with Russell and Okafor, and that he fit with Embiid far better than Okafor did. So if I thought the upside was there and the fit far better, why did I have Okafor 3rd and Porzingis 4th? I ask myself this at least once per week. I swear.

Well, part of that was risk. I liked Porzingis. Loved, you might say. He was in my top 5 all year and reached as high as #3. I was consistent on that. I never dropped him (he eventually moved back only because Russell moved up). Yet even I had my concerns, mostly with his physicality and struggles that caused (rebounding, interior defense, finishing in the paint).

But part of that was, while I knew that Okafor had the potential to get run off the floor because of his defense, the upside if he could slowly and methodically correct his flaws was immense. The lack of awareness on defense was evident, but he was only 19! If he was an outlier in terms of improvement, dropping him too far was something you could regret. It wasn’t even about the probability of that happening, but being in position to capitalize if it did.

If we take the view that getting a superstar is the most crucial objective to accomplish in team building, and we have an honest appraisal of how unlikely it is to get one, then even saying Okafor only had a 10% chance of improving his flaws to the point where he’d be an actual impact player and not just a stat stuffer was an opportunity tough to pass up.

I find myself doing the same thing with Josh Jackson. I’m really, really concerned about his jumper. I think people overstate the odds that it will improve to the point where it needs to be in order for him to reach his upside. I also think his upside, if that jumper doesn’t improve, is overrated. Yet I like the rest of Jackson’s game, and if I’m wrong about his jumper working out then I could really regret passing on him. So even though my confidence in him reaching his upside isn’t as high as some, actually dropping him in my rankings is tough for me to do. And this is even taking into consideration the very different position the Sixers are in as a team than they were in 2015. They may not have certainty as of yet in regards to Embiid and Simmons reaching superstar level, but the projections are far more reasonable now than they were two years ago.

Heading into the draft, we tend to have a rosy view of player development. “They’re only 19!” “He’s probably never been asked to pay attention on defense, just wait!” “He’s never had to worry about his outside shot before! It’s easy to fix!” We take these future improvements as fate, as an eventuality, the reward for those who have the longest view and the most patience. That every slow big man is going to become Marc Gasol. That every poor shooter is the next Kawhi Leonard. That every kid whose coach vouches for him as a terrific work ethic.

That’s not really the case, though. It’s hard to turn a non-shooter into a shooter. It’s hard to make someone who never gave a shit about the intricacies of team defense to all of a sudden do so.

Yet even with that knowledge, it’s hard for me to look at those guys with potential fatal flaws and imagine what they could become if they’re corrected. If I’m having a glass half full day I’d say it’s important to have the intellectual humility to leave open the chance that I could be wrong about the probability of a player improving his jumper, or of the improvement in their team defense, and to remind myself what they could become if I am wrong. On a glass half empty day I’d say my continued naivety is going to get the better of me again. I’m not entirely sure which interpretation is correct, but I learn towards the former.

There are absolutely market forces which hurt Okafor’s value, and would probably hurt his value now more than it did in 2015. As teams space the floor, the need to make up ground and rotate defensively has never been higher. That’s especially true from your center, now frequently the only big man (and, thus, best position to get potentially elite weak side rotation) on the floor. There’s also “more” big men on the market than ever, because those 60 big men that would have been starting a decade ago are now fighting for 35 or so positions. Supply and demand can be a you-know-what.

Yet those “he’s only 19 and he’ll improve” blinders are very real. Offensive skill level also tends to jump out when watching a game, especially when judging the talent level of a young kid. Even with the current focus, I think Okafor’s still a high pick. What does that mean? Top 3? Top 5? Perhaps not. But top 10? I’m not sure exactly where, but I think somebody still makes the (losing) bet that he’ll improve, and thus someone with his talent level still gets taken in the top 10.

This is a league that continues to make mistakes with regards to tall human beings with alarming regularity, and Okafor’s offensive talent would still stand out to the point where I can see somebody betting on the 19-year-old version of him improving his flaws. I’d just hope I wouldn’t be the one making that bet once again.

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Derek Bodner

Derek Bodner is a credentialed reporter covering the Philadelphia 76ers independently for He is also a college basketball scout for, and an NBA contributor for The Ringer. Contact Information: / @DerekBodnerNBA

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  • Kevin Herman

    Jackson and Okafor is a really bad comparison. Looking back Okafor always was average to bad at every aspect of basketball besides scoring out of the low post. Okafor was always a mediocre athlete as well people overlooked it because of his savante like post scoring and wingspan. Okafor was always lazy on the boards and defense. Jackson is a stellar athlete with a high motor. I just think its way more likely he improves his weaknesses then Okafor. The light still hasn’t gone with Okafor and it probably never will never because its been drilled into his head that he is there to get buckets. I think you are still a little in denail about how bad Okafor is Derek. He stinks. Even if he suddenly started putting out better effort he just doesn’t fit the modern NBA and he is not an explosive athlete.