When the Nets traded for Jahlil Okafor back on December 7, he had played a total of 25 minutes for the 76ers, having fallen behind Joel Embiid and Richuan Holmes in their rotation. Jah was free, finally.
Since then, the Nets have been patient with the former overall No. 3 pick, working him into their system and improving his conditioning after months of sitting on the bench. He’s been patient, too, getting minutes here and there, showing flashes of his potential but not being consistent.
So what gives? The 6’11” big man will be a free agent this summer and so, they have another 24 games to figure out what they want to do with the 22-year-old.
Brian Lewis spoke with Okafor and Kenny Atkinson Monday, trying to unravel what’s become a bit of a mystery as to when Okafor should play and for how long. Okafor, of course, wants to play, but he’s being diplomatic about it.
“Getting on the floor is very important,” Okafor told The Post before scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds off the bench. “As a basketball player we all want to be on the court. My minutes have been fluctuating up and down, but the coaches say it’s nothing on my end.”
Indeed, Atkinson said one issue has been the Nets going down so fast so often that he’s had to go small when he didn’t want to.
“It’s us getting down and having to go small,” Atkinson said. “When you go down 25 you have to speed the game up, get more shooting, so he gets caught up in that. Hopefully [we’ll be better] and we can get him some more minutes.”
And Okafor admits he needs to be better. Although on the surface, his numbers vs. the Clippers don’t look bad, he was a -18 in 13 minutes.
“In one game, Detroit, I got in foul trouble, so that is on me. Then New Orleans, we were getting our [butts] kicked the entire game until mid-third quarter. But obviously I want to get on the floor, to do whatever I can to get on the floor and have the coaches have the utmost trust in me.”
Atkinson also noted that he’s still thinking long-term about Okafor at the 5 and Jarrett Allen at the 4.
“Jarrett can play four because he can defend the position. Jah right now is more of a traditional five, a closer-to-the-basket guy,” Atkinson said. “We have to look at all options. Jarrett’s played some four. It’s not perfect because of the shooting … he’s not spreading the floor like a traditional four. But we could look at it at times.”
So far, that’s happened once ... and it wasn’t planned, says Okafor.
“They tried it in Minnesota for a few minutes, but that was completely unexpected. It just happened. I didn’t know the coaches were going to do that and I don’t think Jarrett did either. So they haven’t had that discussion with us.”
Okafor has professed his love for Brooklyn and it may just take a summer to work everything out. It’s unlikely the Nets will have much competition for him, which is good because under the terms of the CBA, they can only pay him $6.2 million over one year. Everyone’s protected in that way and so we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the season and free agency works out.
- Nets sending mixed message with Jahlil Okafor’s playing time - Brian Lewis - New York Post