Seltzer's Notebook: Brown Liking Okafor's Contributions, Still Focused on Fundamentals

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Brown Cites Progress in Okafor
When it comes to Jahlil Okafor, Brett Brown wants to see repetition.

The second-year big man fulfilled that very task in both outings of the tough back-to-back that the 76ers just completed Monday night.

After turning in 14 points and a season-best nine boards Sunday versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, Okafor was again productive Monday in Toronto, notching 15 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes. He started the game, with Joel Embiid back in Philadelphia on mandated rest.

Over the past week, Okafor has reached double-figures in four of five appearances, and posted at least five boards in three consecutive games. He seemed encouraged by his recent steadiness following Monday’s 122-95 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

“Just being more comfortable, getting in better game shape,” Okafor said about how he’s felt lately. “I really wasn’t able to do anything prior to the season because of my knee. I was restricted from doing extra running and stuff like that.”

Okafor underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in March.

In 53 games last year prior to sustaining his injury, Okafor scored with relative ease, all things considered. He ended the campaign ranked second among rookies with an average of 17.5 points per game.

Looking at the roadmap for Okafor’s development, Brown remains zeroed in on one particular area, and putting the basketball in the net isn’t it.

“Specifically, rebounding,” Brown said Monday, “making an effort to chase balls down if it’s an offensive situation, and rebound out of space, be hard to box out, to do whatever you got to do to shake somebody and go pursue the ball.”

In the early stages of this season, Brown has commended Okafor for being a willing learner, and coachable. The last few days, his output on the glass would lead one to believe that the instruction is hitting home.

“Defensively, he is more of a positional rebounder,” said Brown. “He’s not what I would deem length rebounder. He has to make his hits, hold his ground, and then chase balls.

“We understand Jahlil is a scorer, he’s scored his whole life. It’s the other parts of his game...that we’re trying to grow him where he becomes a more complete player.”

Fundamentals, Development Remain at Core of Brown’s Mission
Rolling the “consistency” theme over into this next notebook item…

Brett Brown was asked Monday in Toronto whether the Sixers’ revamped roster this season has caused him to alter his coaching approach.

He was very direct and succinct in giving an immediate answer.

“Nope,” Brown said.

The question was certainly a valid one, considering that, in the past, Brown didn’t have at his disposal Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and a stable of veteran free agent signings.

Always forthcoming and thorough while speaking during media availabilities, Brown then went on to give a deeper take on the matter. In no way, he indicated, has his message changed. There’s just a difference in how it’s being transmitted.

“I just say I’m a lot louder,” said Brown. “It’s so clear to us that it’s fundamentals. It’s really skill development. There’s game tutoring, there’s stuff situationally, but the basics of just playing solid basketball, and being solid and purposeful with what we do. Our rules don’t change. What we do is what we do is what we do. We just try to walk down a year.”

Monday, the Sixers faced an opponent in the Raptors that has evolved into one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams. Before joining the Sixers, Bryan Colangelo spent seven years overseeing the Raptors, and was instrumental in putting together Toronto’s core of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas. 

Just a few seasons ago, the Raptors were in the midst of a five-year playoff drought. Now, they’re bidding for a fourth straight Atlantic Division title.  

Brown thinks Toronto represents a relevant case study.

“I think it’s an excellent example for us,” Brown said. “I think Bryan Colangelo deserves a lot of credit for being a significant part of that, but I look at this team, and they’ve been able to keep it together. I think that there’s a culture of defense, and there’s a culture of good people. I think those cornerstones are part of most successful teams. The growth path is an excellent example.”

As of Tuesday, the Raptors were three games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East.

Embiid-Okafor Pairing Could Soon Return
Just to circle back on a tease that Brett Brown gave towards the end of his post-game news conference Monday…

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s game against Sacramento, Brown allowed for the possibility that five-men-by-trade Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor could get some run together. 

Why now?

Because of the impending match-ups that personnel could dictate.

Fourteen times in 18 games this season, first-year Sacramento head coach Dave Joerger has gone with a starting line-up featuring 6-foot-11 DeMarcus Cousins, and 7-foot Kosta Koufos. 

Brown said Monday that this frontline “complies” logically with him using Embiid and Okafor in tandem. Furthermore, now that Okafor is free of minute restrictions, Brown has more flexibility.

“It’s my expectation that we will play [Embiid, Okafor] together. At what point, I have not thought that through yet.”

Only once previously this season have Embiid and Okafor, the number three picks in the 2014 and 2015 drafts, respectively, played alongside each other. They were on the court for approximately two minutes, 15 seconds in the second quarter of the Sixers’ second game of the season, an October 29th loss to Atlanta. 

During that stretch, the pairing yielded two made free throws, three rebounds, and two blocks.

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