Jahlil Okafor may have been pushed out of Philly, but he’s going to be welcomed in Brooklyn with open arms.
In the past six months, the Nets have acquired two 21-year-olds, both high lottery picks, in Okafor and D’Angelo Russell. In what’s becoming a mantra everyone knows, they were the second and third picks in the 2015 draft. It cost them Brook Lopez, Trevor Booker a first-round pick and $48 million in contractual obligations to Timofey Mozgov.
It’s become a trend for the way Marks has done business over the last six months. He’s taking a chance on players that seemed like misfits on the teams that drafted them. Players that were scrutinized for off-court hiccups at 19 or 20-years-old.
As one Philadelphia writer noted Thursday, “The Nets are the Island of Misfit NBA Toys.”
D’Angelo Russell has thrived when healthy, averaging 21 points and 5.7 assists since joining the Nets. He’s grown as a player, but it’s more about the opportunity Brooklyn has given him that’s allowed him to flourish in the limited time he’s played. Not to mention the intangibles: The confidence and freedom they’ve allowed him to play with. He’s buying in.
“I learned a lot and now I am moving on to a new opportunity,” Russell said a month after he joined the Nets. “The situation is, you’re with one team and you go to another team and it is completely different. Brooklyn has been open arms from Day One for me, so I am looking forward to it.”
Expect the same with Jahlil Okafor, who the Nets will have at least 5-6 months to develop and evaluate.
“We’re not going to prejudge them,” Atkinson said Thursday of both Okafor and Nik Stauskas. “We’re going to welcome both of those players with open arms. Any misconceptions or ideas anyone has about these guys whether it’s their work ethic or character, we judge them on our terms ... and that’s how we do it with everybody.
“I think they’re coming into a strong locker room. I think they’re coming into a program with a staff that really cares, a front office that is top notch. I’m really excited about this,” Atkinson added, a big smile creasing his face.
Like Russell was in L.A., Okafor was stranded on an island in Philadelphia. He spent his rookie season either hurt or trying to carry a historically bad 10-72 Sixers team. They didn’t have any veterans to guide him and they gave him zero reason to believe ‘The Process’ was something worth buying into. It became clear that he was essentially a rental player warming the seat for Joel Embiid’s return.
It didn’t help that Okafor got into a post-game fight with Boston fans that one of them recorded. Then, there was the speeding ticket for going 108 miles per hour over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. He said he was ashamed. His teenage transgressions, like DLo’s SnapChat with Nick Young, became his reputation.
"Honestly, I did not want them to pick up my option," Okafor said in early November. "This is my life. This is my career, and I'm not getting an opportunity here, which is fine. The team looks great and I'm not a part of that. I want the team to do great things, but at the same time I want to play."
Chris Mannix reports that Okafor is “extremely” happy to be headed to Brooklyn after 2.5 seasons of clutter and confusion for the 21-year-old. As noted, Brooklyn is going to welcome him with open arms. And Okafor likes the city. He would often make his way to New York on the weekend to catch a first run movie with his girlfriend.
And who would know better than the Nets: It’s not about how you fall, it’s about how you get back up.
The Nets believe Okafor will indeed get back up and flourish under Atkinson and the coaching staff. They were brought in to get this rebuild going with their rep for player development, namely guys like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Harris and others over the past 18 months.
“Look at what Kenny and his staff have done over the course of the last 18 months with a lot of the guys, the guys who’ve bought in,” Marks said after the trade. “The coaching staff has done a heck of a job and I expect nothing less than with the two guys we’re bringing in.”
He said he believes a change of scenery could be exactly what Okafor needs. The same way Russell needed it.
“We've been following him for a long time,” Marks added.
So, look at a player like Okafor. He’s supposedly lost 20-pounds after going on a vegan diet and has been working on his 3-point shot. Conditioning? In fact, hours before the trade, Philly writers reported, Okafor was the last player on the court after shootaround wrapped up. He was doing conditioning drills and putting up shots,
We’ll find out soon enough how he fits, but don’t be surprised if the Nets slowly ease him into the rotation so he can adjust to the fast-paced offense.
It may take a little time, but there’s no reason he can’t be a serious asset in the future. The Duke product averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds during his rookie campaign at 19-years-old. Kenny Atkinson has Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller and Jarrett Allen taking (and making) three-pointers. You better believe Okafor is going to take them too. A whole lot of them.
This all makes too much sense for both parties. After watching Atkinson manage his guys for a season, followed up by the Russell acquisition, it’s been obvious the Nets have become an organization with a chip on its shoulder. That’s become the identity, and they’re only adding more to the arsenal with the acquisition of Okafor.
Okafor recalls a game he wasn’t supposed to play in when he posted 26 points and nine rebounds. “It was just me being pissed, kind of saying to our organization that I think this is unfair,” Okafor told Jordan Brenner. “Just letting the basketball world know that I'm still the guy that everybody thought I was.”
That’s the chip he’s coming in with and he’ll have plenty of chances to prove himself.
The Nets traded its best rebounder to get him and the frontcourt is already extremely thin with so many bigs fighting for minutes. More importantly, he’ll get opportunity because the Nets believe in him. Something he never fully had.
“I would like for them to just send me somewhere where I can get an opportunity,” Okafor told ESPN in November
Welcome to Brooklyn, where we have a phrase for the past: “fuhgeddaboudit!”
- Jahlil Okafor will finally get a second chance in Brooklyn, just like D’Angelo Russell - Kristian Winfield - SB Nation
- Trevor Booker is a high-energy player that will give the 76ers depth and toughness - Kristian Winfield - SB Nation
- Jahlil Okafor is the latest example of the Brooklyn Nets buying low on a promising player - Matt Ellentuck - SB Nation
- In trading for Jahlil Okafor, the Brooklyn Nets follow a familiar path - Tim Bontemps - Washington Post
- Three Things to Know: Jahlil Okafor gets his chance. What will he do with it? - NBC Sports
- Grading The Deal: 76ers Trade Jahlil Okafor To Nets In Win-Win Move - Keith Smith - RealGM
- Nets trade gives Jahlil Okafor only thing he wanted: A chance to prove he can play - Jeff Zillgitt - USA Today
- CAN JAHLIL OKAFOR TURN HIS CAREER AROUND WITH THE BROOKLYN NETS? - Bryan Toporek - BBallBreakdown
- Nets Won Twice On Thursday — On And Off The Court - Steve Lichtenstein - WFAN
- NETS BULK UP THEIR TALENT BASE - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets
- Jahlil Okafor Just Made the Brooklyn Nets Interesting as Hell - Jack Moore - GQ
- Jahlil Okafor Can Finally Be A Basketball Player - Albert Burnenko - Deadspin
- Brooklyn Nets: Implications of the Jahlil Okafor trade - Jacob Ahlmann - Hoops Habit
- Bodner: Sixers acquire Trevor Booker for Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a 2nd-round pick - Derek Bodner - The Athletic