Nobody's Perfect, but Jahlil Okafor Seems Pretty Close for the Needy Sixers

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJuly 13, 2015

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today

LAS VEGAS — Now Jahlil Okafor is sitting out, too!

In a world where pundits project the biggest busts as much as who'll become the best draft picks—and with a Philadelphia franchise rightfully fretting over the health of other prized young big men—everything can be a concern.

Okafor is healthy. But he was rested Sunday night at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League instead of playing. It would have been his fifth game in seven days because the 76ers played three games in the Utah Jazz Summer League before arriving in Las Vegas.

Whether a 19-year-old really needs to be protected from overuse, it makes for a convenient time to mention that Okafor's big body, an obvious positive when it comes to a teenager entering the man-sized NBA, is not universally accepted as all good.

Some scouts raised the issue that Okafor's body might only get bigger—and not in a good way—as he ages.

Most scouts raised the issue that Okafor is not at all fast. So, him getting heavier in the NBA would only compound that problem.

This is the sum of Okafor's overall parts: What he has is clear and present and will help an NBA team immediately, but the people who are paid to visualize what prospects will become as the years unfold can see how Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and even Kristaps Porzingis could eclipse Okafor.

This is how the guy viewed as the consensus No. 1 entering the college season goes from the Timberwolves leaning toward him to passing him over for Towns, and the Lakers initially thinking the two big men were above all but ultimately investing in Russell.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 25:  Jahlil Okafor meets with Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected third overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the First Round of the 2015 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 25, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of  New York C
Elsa/Getty Images

Even as logical as it seemed for Okafor to be plugged in as the center in Phil Jackson's triangle offense, would the Knicks have taken him at No. 4 over Porzingis, if given that choice, considering trusted Jackson adviser Clarence Gaines Jr. was calling Porzingis a "once-in-a-lifetime" prospect?

Okafor's solid existence in real time today, by the same token, makes him the perfect addition to the 76ers.

There's so much trust-the-process propaganda coming out of Philadelphia and injury uncertainty after waiting a year for Nerlens Noel and now two for Joel Embiid that having someone who does not carry a clear and present danger is inordinately valuable.

Okafor is the guy most guaranteed not to be a bust.

Those who have worked closely with him say there is no possible concern about his character. He simply will not get into trouble. There will be no controversy or conflict.

He deftly quashed the interpretations before the draft that he didn't want to go Minnesota (even if he wanted to be a Laker) and after the draft that he didn't want to go Philadelphia (even if he wanted to be a Laker).

Further, Okafor is a mortal lock for NBA Rookie of the Year. Michael Carter-Williams, with his candidacy bolstered by the talent-poor, low-salary 76ers' dependence on him, won it with practically half of Okafor's size and skill.

Okafor showed how ready he is to have a pro offense run through him Saturday during his debut in Vegas. He repeatedly had counters and showed creativity when the Lakers' defense challenged him. As heralded as his post game is, Okafor is also capable of creating shots when he faces up. Feeling more energetic away from the altitude, he didn't settle for tough shots as often as he did in Salt Lake City.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

His defense needs work, for sure. And concern that Okafor just doesn't have a natural motor to excel on that side of the ball was one reason the Lakers didn't pick him. Yet the truth is that the Lakers liked who he is an awful lot.

And when Okafor got left defending Russell off switches Saturday and the pro-Lakers crowd started rumbling in anticipation, Okafor managed to cope just fine.

When he got the ball in the final minutes of that close game, the cries came forth immediately from the Lakers' bench: "Put him on the line! Put him on the line!" It was practically Hack-a-Jahlil. (Or should it be "Hack-a-For"?)

But Okafor made both free throws after the Lakers fouled him then, a positive step for a guy who lost confidence after missing important free throws at Duke, shot just 51 percent from the line last season and made four of 13 attempts in the Utah Summer League. (Okafor made seven of 12 from the line Saturday in the 68-60 loss to the Lakers.)

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 11:  Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers on July 11, 2015 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
David Dow/Getty Images

Had Okafor played Sunday against the Boston Celtics, he would've learned a bit more about where he stands. Instead, when the Sixers were in the layup line before their 85-76 loss to the Celtics, Okafor was standing off to the side...with Embiid's arm over his shoulders.

The two sat together in baseline seats during the game. But the coming NBA season will be vastly different for one compared to the other, as Embiid takes the year to recover from yet another foot surgery.

All the nitpicking we invariably do with prospects can't change the fact that Okafor is a rare sure thing for now.

And considering everything that has gone wrong for the 76ers, from Andrew Bynum never playing to Dario Saric having not yet arrived from overseas, one splash of certainty is very much needed in Philadelphia.

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.