Seltzer's Notebook | Okafor's Debut, Johnson's Homecoming Tour
Okafor Holds Own in Debut
Just like that, five and a half minutes into Saturday’s first quarter, Jahlil Okafor made his regular season debut, and the third-year, slimmed-down center wasted little time getting involved.
Within seconds of checking in, Okafor found himself fending off Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and Kyle Lowry for a hard-fought offensive rebound. He then retreated to the corner, and proceeded to dribble baseline right past Lowry, before using a spin on the rugged Valanciunas to set up a successful jump hook.
The 21-year old finished with a solid stat line of 10 points (4-7 fg), 9 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots against the Raptors.
“I just tried to remember what I’m good at, what I do well,” said Okafor afterwards.
He also did his best to translate the aspects of his game he was working on in the off-season - defense, rebounding, setting screens - to the floor as well.
Specific to his efforts on the glass, Okafor wanted to be “aggressive and strong with the ball.” In 50 outings last year, the big man reached the 9-rebound mark on seven occasions.
“In that department, I did what I wanted to do.”
Not only was Brett Brown encouraged by Okafor’s performance, he was simply happy to see the Duke product in action.
“He shows why he was the third player chosen [in 2015] in that he really can score,” the head coach said Saturday. “We all see his body - it’s a well deserved body. He’s put in a lot of time. He’s down 20 pounds, and I think the way he moves shows he’s a lot more nimble on his feet and he can get up and down the floor a lot easier. It was good to see him play, and I thought that when he was on the floor, he did well.”
Johnson Reflects on Past Stops
Thanks to a few early scheduling twists, in a matter of three short weeks, Amir Johnson will have passed through each of the three cities he previously played in before joining the Sixers.
During his new club’s exhibition slate, the 13-year vet returned to Boston, where he was based the past two years. Saturday, Johnson was back in Toronto, his stomping grounds from 2009 through 2015. And Monday, Johnson and the Sixers will visit his first NBA club, Detroit (albeit in the Pistons’ brand new downtown Little Caesar’s Arena, not The Palace of Auburn Hills, where Detroit played the last three decades).
“I guess it’s the way the schedule is laid out,” Johnson said Saturday. “It’s cool that I get to go back to places I called home once. It’s cool going back to those places and seeing old faces and old friends.”
In the absence of Joel Embiid, Johnson made his first start of the season Saturday, and received a warm ovation from the sellout crowd of 19,800 when line-ups were introduced.
“This place is really sentimental,” said Johnson, who still owns a home along Lake Ontario. “I was here for six years, growing as a player, as a man, so it’s definitely like home here.”
Johnson remains Toronto’s franchise record-holder for career field goal percentage (57.2). He also ranks fourth on the Raptors’ rebounding list (2,836), and has made the fifth-most appearances in team history (451).
Sevens Participate in G-League Draft
The NBA G-League conducted its annual player draft Saturday afternoon. The Delaware 87ers, with Elton Brand in his first season as general manager, made four selections - Cal State-Northridge guard Darin Johnson at No. 12, Arizona State guard Tyshawn Abbott at No. 38 (he’s played professionally overseas the past few years), Southern New Hampshire University forward Devin Gilligan at No. 61, and Creighton guard Isaiah Zierden at No. 64.
The Sevens, with second-year head coach and former Sixers assistant Eugene Burroughs at the helm, are set for their fifth season as the Sixers’ G-League affiliate club. Training camp will be held this Tuesday through Thursday, with the team’s regular season opener slated for November 3rd.