With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out for the next few days with a sore left groin, Jahlil Okafor is likely to get more minutes this week — including Wednesday night’s game vs. the 76ers.
The Nets hope that he does as well as he did vs. Minnesota on the weekend, when he scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds in 23 minutes. More importantly, the 22 year old looked comfortable, passing out of the post with confidence and helping out on defense. For a few minutes, Kenny Atkinson even played Okafor with Jarrett Allen ... for the first time.
The Nets may be easing Okafor into their rotation, but for him, this is no tryout. This is home.
“I’m not treating it like a tryout, I’m treating it like it’s my home,” he said. “They welcomed me with open arms, and that’s all you can ask as a basketball player. They’re taking the time to develop me. They’re showing me a lot of love and care.”
Quite the statement. Okafor will be a free agent come July and the Nets, because of an arcane CBA rule, won’t be able to pay him more than $6.2 million next season ... no matter how well he does. But as he says, free agency is the furthest thing from his mind ... and the Nets say the same. It’s about now, starting with the Knicks on Tuesday.
“He’s our player, we love him, and we’re going to push him to get better,” Atkinson told reporters.
Of course, it’s a long, long way from a 21-point performance in January to a contract renewal in July, but his teammates like what they’re seeing.
“I think his talent is evident,” Spencer Dinwiddie told beat writers. “He’s showing flashes. He was the No. 3 pick for a reason.”
Dinwiddie, of course, was referring to the 2015 NBA Draft where Okafor was taken third overall after D’Angelo Russell was taken No. 2. The Nets have put a lot of hope in that draft. (Hollis-Jefferson was taken No. 23 that night.)
Expect the Nets to use more of the big line-up they used for a few minutes in Minnesota. They’ll be up against Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter, the combination that has killed the Nets three times. Okafor thinks it can work.
“I definitely think I can be effective against those guys, especially being a bigger body,” Okafor said. “But that’s up to Coach. He likes to play small ball at times, and it has worked for us.”
If he does get big minutes against the Knicks bigs, Atkinson will be pushing him to do two things.
“Keep defending and rebounding” Atkinson told reporters. “I think offensively he’s really starting to get what we’re doing. Obviously, the defensive rebounding, that’s going to be the [key]. That really gets you minutes, in my mind.
“I thought that was a real weakness of his in Philly. I think we’ve emphasized it. I think the type of defense we’re playing fits [him]. I do think the effort is there. I think he’s got the body for it. He’s got fantastic hands. He catches everything. He’s got huge mitts, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a good rebounder.”
One thing that won’t be an issue. Confidence. The Nets seemingly have taken care of that.
“I have said this before; I have all of the confidence in the world in myself,” said Okafor. “I have been playing basketball my entire life and I’ve been successful at it – I don’t need a 20-point game to have any confidence. But it was good to go out there with my teammates.”
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