Well, on the bright side, Jahlil Okafor showed some flashes.
Some of you are probably thinking, ‘wow, only 13!?’ but the Nets are sharing big minutes among their bigs, Tyler Zeller, the starter, and Jarrett Allen, the rookie, played 16 and 18, respectively.
However, the recently freed vegan has had his moments, and against the Spurs, just as he did vs. the Hawks last week. Against the Spurs, he highlighted another dimension of his game.
We know that the Nets love pace and space, which is why eyebrows were raised when this deal was made, but Okafor showed on Wednesday that he can play in the system in a different way. While there were a lot complaints about his passing out of the post (or lack of same) in Philly, it was a big selling point when he was at Duke, along with his footwork and his giant hands. And he showed a little of it Wednesday night.
The numbers may not arouse you at first glance: four points, four rebounds, two assists (and four personals). He also led the team in +/- with a +8. But they only serve as a microcosm of Okafor’s performance, which Kenny Atkinson left (reasonably) happy.
…Or as happy as he could be after yet another close loss.
“He’s really trying to fit in to our system, even to a fault,” Atkinson said of Okafor. “He’s really looking to get people involved. I liked his spirit tonight. I like how he played. I think he got a little fatigued at the end of his stint there but he’s really trying to do everything we asked.”
As the sample size grows, the understanding is that Okafor may not return to what he once was as a rookie in Philly, a 17.5-point, 7.0-rebound, NBA All-Rookie Second Team performer. Or, at least not now. But Atkinson likes where he is, and the trajectory of where he is headed.
“I just think, as he gets more comfortable, the production will increase,” Atkinson said, as always preaching patience. “He could easily just go out there with blinders and play his own game but he’s doing a great job fitting in with our group.”
Spencer Dinwiddie also offered a word on Okafor, briefly highlighting his strengths, which were fleetingly demonstrated against San Antonio.
“He’s got a great touch and great feel for the game,” said Dinwiddie of Okafor. “Being able to throw it to him, he’s a guy who scores and make plays for us, and we’re excited to play with him. You guys are getting more and more everytime he plays.”
The Nets have been slowly bringing Okafor along. His minutes might not be increasing steadily —between his breakout game vs. Atlanta and Wednesday, he played seven and eight minutes vs. Washington and New York — but the trend line is up.
Before the Hawks game, Atkinson urged patience with Okafor.
“He’s still in training-camp mode, still getting his conditioning better. And it’s improved twentyfold,” said the coach. “Keep that going, and it will pay dividends. But I like his process right now. He wants to have a great game for us, and it will happen.”
And now with D’Angelo Russell about to rejoin the team, things could very well accelerate.