Jah Rules: Sixers Go Big With Top Pick

by Max Rappaport
Sixers.com Writer

Sometimes, we fall in love with the unknown, the mystery men from the far reaches of the globe, whose one-on-none workouts make scouts drool and fans dream.

Jahlil Okafor is anything but that.

The Chicago native, selected third-overall by the Sixers in Thursday’s draft, has been on NBA radars since middle school, and his first Division I scholarship offer came when he was in eighth grade. When he arrived at Duke last fall, he did so as the nation’s top recruit according to Rivals.com, Scout.com, and ESPN.

As a freshman, the 6’11” big man was a force. He averaged 17.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting a staggering 66.4% from the floor. He earned consensus First-team All-American honors for his efforts and led Duke to a 35-4 record, a #1 seed in the coach’s poll, and a National Championship.

But despite his stellar play in his first and only collegiate season, analysts and experts picked apart the 19-year-old’s game. It’s something Okafor expected, given his status entering Duke, and the grand stage the school provided. Despite his dominant play while in Durham, he entered the draft amid question marks surrounding his ability to defend NBA centers, his lateral quickness, and his upside.

He blocked it all out.

“It’s easy to shoot somebody when they’re at the top of the hill,” he told reporters at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I think I’m a great teammate. I became a better talker on the floor being at Duke, being [a leader] with Coach K. And I think I definitely got better as the season progressed.”

Okafor is one of the most polished offensive post players to enter the draft in recent history, earning comparisons to Tim Duncan because of his nimble footwork, impressive body control, uncanny court vision, and fantastic touch around the rim. In Philadelphia, he’ll join a talented frontcourt that features lottery picks Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.

“I’m excited, very excited,” said Okafor of playing alongside Noel and Embiid, both of whom he counts amongst his friends in the NBA. “Hopefully [we can be] dominant and be winners. That’s what I want to be a part of.”

Embiid and Okafor have been close ever since the Duke product took a recruiting trip to Kansas while still a junior at Whitney Young in Chicago. There, he met the affable big man from Cameroon, and the two have stayed in touch ever since.

Late last night, Okafor’s phone buzzed, and a text message alert from Embiid flashed on his screen. He opened it, and it simply read: “See you in Philly.”

Okafor laughed off the text, chalking it up to Embiid’s playful demeanor. But he wasn’t surprised to be selected by the Sixers. Despite not working out for Philadelphia, his agent Bill Duffy had been in contact with the team often. And after all, Philadelphia is one of least predictable franchises in the NBA.

This year’s draft marked the third straight in which the Sixers selected a player considered the front-runner be selected with the first-overall pick at some point during their freshman seasons. It also marked the third straight in which the team used its top selection on a big man, as well as the third straight in which the player they picked hadn’t worked out for the team privately.

But unlike Noel and Embiid, who entered the league with health concerns (both missed their rookie seasons while recovering from surgeries), Okafor enters the league with a clean bill of health.

In 10 days, the team opens summer league play against the San Antonio Spurs, and the rookie big man will be ready to get to work. 


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