On the Beat: Okafor Sidelined with Right Knee Injury
PHILADELPHIA - Throughout Jahlil Okafor’s promising rookie season, few opponents succeeded in slowing down the potent big man. A right knee injury has.
On Friday afternoon, 76ers President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Sam Hinkie disclosed the findings of the CT scan conducted Tuesday on Okafor’s right knee, which recently began bothering him again.
“Jahlil started to experience discomfort in his right knee, which we immediately investigated,” said Hinkie in a statement released by the Sixers. “After a comprehensive series of tests and additional evaluation by our medical team, it was revealed that he has a small tear of the meniscus.”
Okafor, who missed two games in late December because of right knee soreness, will “undergo a minor arthroscopic procedure” at a still-to-be-determined date. Hinkie, however, did say, “Our medical team will continually monitor and evaluate Jahlil’s progress, and we anticipate he will resume full basketball activities in approximately six weeks.”
The Sixers’ final contest of the regular season is scheduled for Wednesday, April 13th, which falls inside Okafor’s prescribed timetable for recovery. Although Brett Brown indicated Okafor will be out for the rest of the year, he sounded, all things considered, somewhat encouraged by the results of Okafor’s X-rays.
“I think it’s one of the more common [injuries], when you really study what’s going on, it’s going to be a 10 minute procedure,” said Brown before the Sixers’ home game against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. “It’s going to restrict him from playing for six weeks. Because of the timing, it sounds probably more dramatic than it should that we’re not going to see him again. I get all that. As far as the history of has [the injury] happened? All the time. The impact that it has on somebody moving forward is negligible. It’s something that you can continue to strengthen and rehab. I think it’s very common amongst NBA players.”
“I had no idea what was going on,” said Okafor, describing his reaction to the pain that returned to his right knee earlier this week. He spoke prior to Friday’s tip-off as well. “After I missed a few games with my shin injury in the Orlando game [February 28th], I was on the treadmill. My knee just didn’t feel right. I was worried about it. I alerted the medical staff. That’s when I took the procedures to give me the scan on my knee, and see what was going on. That’s when I found out I had a slight tear in my meniscus.”
Okafor’s initial concern subsided upon receiving his official diagnosis.
“With me, I was worried about what was going on with my knee,” he said. “I didn’t know. I just knew it was super uncomfortable when I was on the treadmill, so just kind of a sigh of relief because I was able to know exactly what was going on with my knee, and that it was something minor. It was just good to finally know what was going on.”
Okafor is now sporting a custom-fitted “unloading” brace designed to relieve pressure on his right knee. All said and done, he will end up missing the Sixers’ final 23 outings of the season. Still, he feels positive about the campaign he put together.
“I’m confident that I can call myself an NBA player,” said Okafor, who averaged 17.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. “I can go out there and produce. My season is over, but we still have a season here. We have a lot of games to be played. I’m confident with my teammates coming here next year, and that it’ll continue to get better.”
Projected to be a consistent low-post scoring threat following a freshman season at Duke in which he topped the ACC in total points, Okafor immediately backed up his reputation with an emphatic arrival to the pro ranks on opening night. Against Boston at TD Garden, he connected on the first five shots of his career, posted 10 points in the first quarter, and finished the evening with a team-high 26 points, the third-most ever for a Sixer in his debut.
As the season rolled along, Okafor continued to turn in impressive performances. There was the 21-point, 12-rebound effort versus his idol Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs on November 14th. Okafor then cranked out 25 points and 12 boards in a match-up with fellow rookie and number one overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns in Minneapolis 11 days later. In the Sixers’ most recent victory, a 103-98 triumph over Brooklyn on February 6th, Okafor snagged 17 rebounds, to go along with 22 points. Just two weeks ago in Dallas, Okafor erupted for a career-best 31 points, becoming at the time just the fourth first-year player this season to reach the 30-point mark in a game.
As of Friday, Okafor held the following statistical ranks within the NBA’s 2015-2016 rookie class:
17.5 points per game - 2nd
7.3 rebounds per game - 3rd
50.8 field goal percentage (at least 20 minutes / game) - 3rd
30.0 minutes per game - 3rd
11 double-doubles - 4th
23 20+ point games - 2nd (he had two more than current leader Karl-Anthony Towns as of February 28th)
Okafor had been playing particularly well on the heels of the NBA All-Star break. In the Sixers’ first six games back, Okafor averaged 20.3 points in just 26.6 minutes per game Over the course of this span, his offensive rating was 115.0, while he converted 63.4 percent of his field goal attempts.
“The young man scores,” Brown said, reflecting on Okafor’s efforts. “He has nimble feet, he’s got soft hands, he’s got an extraordinary offensive feel to the game. I think growing him on getting deeper catches, growing him on recognizing crowds offensively immediately comes to my mind. I think he’s been excellent. Look at his body. His skin fold is fantastic. His weight is down. I think that extracting his quickness and speed up and down the floor because of the fittest he’s ever been is a credit to our sports science department and him. Those are all positives.”
Brown continued, “His zoomed in focal point, my zoomed in focal point for him, will be defensively related. It will be pick-and-roll specific on guarding pick and rolls, but you step back and say, ‘He had a heck of an NBA season.’ He really did. His mood is great, he understands. He’s disappointed obviously. He must take stock and take pride in the fact that he did have a good NBA year, coming in at 19 and 20 [years old] and navigating through the things that we’re all going to remember to be Jahlil’s first NBA season. I’m proud of him. He ticks well. He’s a good person and he cares. I think his season will be remembered like that.”
Okafor’s 928 points stands as the third-highest total in Sixers history through the first 53 games of a player’s career. Allen Iverson tops the list (1,133 points), with Jerry Stackhouse behind him (991 points).
Here is the Sixers official press release: https://www.nba.com/sixers/medical-report-jahlil-okafor