The Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas experiments have stalled.
Both arrived in Brooklyn from Philadelphia in early December (along with a second round pick in 2019) in exchange for Trevor Booker, who is now with the Indiana Pacers. Both are averaging around 13 minutes per game with the Nets this season, and both of whom have seen their playing time cut over the last few weeks.
And although Kenny Atkinson said good things about both, he did not indicate that either will get more time in the team’s last 16 games. And that includes Sunday’s game vs. their old team.
“We’ve got everybody healthy now and they had their little stint where they’ve got some minutes because we were down … but I’m thrilled with their approach,” Atkinson insists, regarding Stauskas and Okafor. “What they bring to the program, what they bring to the organization. And I’m not just saying this as coach speak, they’ve been great. The attitudes were great, sometimes it just takes time.”
In particular, Okafor hasn’t played since February 12, and in three consecutive games leading up to that, he averaged only 8.9 minutes per game. That actually followed a 15-point outburst against the Houston Rockets on February 6. But as any stats maven can tell you, his +/- numbers while on the floor have been atrocious.
While Okafor has seemingly fallen out of the rotation, Stauskas has been in and out, but mostly out. His best game was his debut, a 22-point effort that included five 3-pointers on December 15. He’s had a few other quality scoring showings along the way, but they’ve been few and far between. On January 27, Stauskas dropped 15 points in a loss in Minnesota, and subsequently had 12 three days later against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Since then, he’s played in nine games, averaging 9.2 minutes per appearance, and he’s also racked up five DNP/CD’s (did not play, coach’s decision). In that stretch, he’s also only averaged 1.2 points with his shooting percentages from the field and from three hitting 23%.
Because they’ve been ‘great’, Atkinson says the situation has been ‘unfair’ to Stauskas and Okafor, who continually try to earn permanent roster spots with the Nets in in their contract year. (Okafor is a free agent this July, and the Nets have until June 30 to extend a $5.1 million Qualifying offer to Stauskas).
“They come in the middle of the season and I know all these guys already and they’re trying to prove themselves, they’re trying to get my trust, they’re trying to get our coaching staff’s trust,” said Atkinson. “That could just take more time, that’s all. I think they both have the potential to be great in the system, the potential to fit in, but sometimes it’s just circumstances. So we’ve got more time in here to work with them. My coach in college (would say) that you’re a sprained ankle away from playing 25 minutes. So that’s the way they should be looking at it.”
But both Stauskas and Okafor have had their moments, and although the Nets have struggled with injuries all season, they’re now mostly healthy. Moreover, Atkinson seems to have shortened his rotation and has inserted Dante Cunningham in the back-up big position where Okafor was getting minutes.
Will either be back? So far the betting is that the Nets would like to see what they can do with Okafor following a summer of workouts and performance training.