Nearly one month after acquiring him from Philadelphia via trade, the Brooklyn Nets finally unleashed Jahlil Okafor ... at home.
It’s easy to forget that Okafor made his actual Nets debut on December 15 in Toronto. On that night, he logged 22 minutes, finishing with 10 points and 4 rebounds in a loss against the Raptors, 120-87, one of the Nets worst showings of the season.
Since then, it’s been a waiting game for fans and media —not to mention Okafor!
He and the Nets mutually agreed it was best for the 6’11“ 2015 National Champion to sit out of game action and better condition himself and learn the Nets system before earning consistent rotation minutes.
As Okafor and head coach Kenny Atkinson said in the time leading up to his home debut, the big man needed to get into basketball shape ... whether he had lost 20 pounds or not with his vegan diet.
And now, the wait and weight are over.
His home debut resulted in two points, two rebounds, two fouls and a turnover in 11 minutes.
“It was a lot of fun,” Okafor remarked post-game. “It was my first time in a while because when I played with Philly for a long time I was in Toronto, Utah. And then when I played with Brooklyn, I played in Toronto, so to finally play in front of a supportive crowd, it was a good feeling.”
The Nets began the second quarter with Okafor, Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Quincy Acy and Allen Crabbe in the line-up.
He was given a special welcome by Olivier Sendra on the PA and fans responded with a sitting ovation.
About 45 seconds later, when Okafor received his first touch. To no one’s surprise, he was right at home in the low post. He backed Gorgui Dieng down with three dribbles and passed off.
Same scenario 35 seconds later, Okafor was swatted by Dieng, who blocked a post-up shot Okafor delivered down low about five from the basket.
Then, with 8:59 left, Okafor earned the approval of Net fans when he received the ball on right wing, hesitated, dribbled left twice and flipped it in over Dieng, finding his first points at Barclays Center.
Before his exit with 5:43 left, Okafor also demonstrated some defensive ability, contesting a couple of shots at the rim, namely an oncoming lay-up attempt from Jimmy Butler, with 7:25 left. Okafor completed altered the shot by positioning himself like a tree, with no foul, then collecting one of his 2 rebounds.
Okafor returned to start the fourth, and played minutes, but the Nets moved away from running the offense through the post (effectively, through him which looks like it will become a thing.)
Of course, “we want Jah” chants resurfaced in the second half prior to his fourth quarter entry, but they were not nearly as thumping as they had been in previous games as he sat in warm-up gear.
Net fans had received a glimpse of Okafor, and were satisfied. That was all they could really expect.
So how did he feel? He was excited. Excited to finally get out in front of the home fans and perform.
He exuded a level of satisfaction to the media scrum who lingerd by his locker, after talking to game hero Spencer Dinwiddie, who had his own set of compliments for Okafor.
“Extremely talented guy. I mean, obviously he was a top three pick for a reason,” Dinwiddie said of Okafor, practically side-by-side. “He’s going to be a guy that we throw it to on the low block and he’s going to get us a lot of buckets. For the first time and kind of feeling things out, I think he played well.
“I don’t think his conditioning was an issue,” Dinwiddie added, to which Okafor leaned over and dapped up the 6’6” point guard, to the delight of the media.
Kenny Atkinson was also impressed with Okafor, as he noted in his post-game press conference.
“I thought he was solid,” said the Net head coach. “I just think it’s going to take him time. He really understood our system and was in the right place.
“Now our guys got to learn how to play with him. It’s more of the chemistry of the group he’s going to be out there with – there’s some hesitancy but he executed our pick-and-roll coverages perfectly, offensively he was in the right spots, I’d say very positive.”
Okafor also talked about wanting to make the team better in all areas, and for him personally, the goal is to earn those minutes that Atkinson says are up for grabs, there for those who want it.
“I think some of the stuff I talked about with coach, I was able to achieve, such as screen sighting, communicating and being active, having energy, and I was able to do that,” said Okafor.
“Getting my minutes up, that’s the next step for me. To have more of an effect on the game and the things that the coaches want me to improve on and implement that with what I do well.”
Okafor also was grateful for the fans support ... and noted that this was the first time this season he had played in front of a home crowd. In the two games he played for the 76ers and the one game he played for the Nets, he was part of the visiting team.
- Jahlil Okafor happy with his debut - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Jahlil Okafor’s role with Nets expanding just a bit - Roger Rubin - Newsday
- BROOKLYN GETS ITS CHANCE TO SAY HELLO TO NEW NET JAHLIL OKAFOR - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets