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Roundtable: Debating Jahlil Okafor

The ATH crew discussed whether the Hornets should sign Jahlil Okafor if he’s bought out.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Jahlil Okafor entered the NBA as one of the top prospects of the 2015 Draft. The Sixers took him 3rd overall in hopes he would develop into one of the best offensive big men in the league. Despite averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds per game his rookie season, Okafor’s stock has plummeted due to his inability to defend.

Philadelphia has looked to trade him for some time, and situation has turned sour in the past year or so. The team has turned down offers they find too low, but critics argue the Sixers are limiting his development by not moving him. Okafor has reportedly asked for a buyout, but so far the team remains intent on moving him via trade.

So where do the Charlotte Hornets fit into all this? Well, no where at the moment. It’s doubtful the Hornets would give up the assets Philadelphia wants, so a trade is almost certainly off the table. That said, if Okafor were bought out, Charlotte has an open roster spot and could offer him a league minimum deal. Now it’s likely Okafor will command more than a league minimum offer, but let us pretend Okafor is more concerned about fit than money. If Okafor liked the idea of coming to Charlotte to develop under Steve Clifford and the coaching staff, and the team offered him a two-year contract (with an un-guaranteed second season) could Charlotte be the type of landing spot that could revitalize his career? And whether it is or not, do you think he’s even worth signing?

A few of the At The Hive crew decided to debate these questions through a roundtable discussion. As you’ll see, the consensus on him is mostly negative. There is also random discussion about Carlos Boozer. That said, whether you agree or disagree with members of the group, feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.

Note: Portions of the discussion have been modified for clarity.

Nick Denning: Assuming he is bought out, should the Hornets sign Jahlil Okafor on a league minimum deal. Say, two-years, and make the second year unguaranteed?

Stephen Sears: Nope, [I] don’t think he would add anything to what we already have at the center spot.

Jonathan DeLong: No, no, no, no.

Daniel Coughlin: [I] absolutely would. I’d prefer a one-one with team option. With cap flex issues and potential still there, yup. Plus he could, maybe, net a second-round pick if they want to go that route because he’s not getting on the court.

Delong: He has one skill: scoring, and he can only do that in the most inefficient way possible and he's not even good at that. He's a terrible defender and a terrible rebounder. And he would bog down the offense with his play style.

Dylan Jackson: Before the season started, I’m pretty sure Rich Cho and/or Steve Clifford said something about adding another big to the rotation. I don’t know what I’d want to give, but he’s young. I don’t exactly expect us to resign Dwight so I wouldn’t be terrified if we signed/ traded for him depending on what we gave up.

Denning: To Dylan's point, Dwight may not last past his contract. Shouldn't they at least see if any young bigs with potential could fill in once he's gone? I'm with those who don't think he'd play this season, but give him a year to develop, send him to Greensboro, etc. If they like his progress, sign him through next season?

DeLong: I don't think he has any potential.

Denning: Well, damn. (You may be right, though.)

Jackson: He has some (but not too much) defensive potential. 7-footers with 7’6” wingspan don’t come often.

DeLong: He's an extremely limited player that has a poor reputation when it comes to effort and work ethic. His play style doesn't fit in the modern NBA, so he'd have to be extraordinarily proficient at it for it to work at all. He isn't.

Coughlin: He’s done? Can add absolutely nothing to his game at age 22?

DeLong: His wingspan is negated by the fact that he had the lateral agility and vertical leap of a 30-year-old Al Jefferson. He can get better, but he's such an awful player right now that a massively improved Jahlil Okafor is still not worth a meaningful roster spot, in my opinion.

David Walker: He’s not good on defense at all, but he did have Al comparisons when coming out. But man, is he ever coming along at the wrong time.

DeLong: I mean, he's been playing for a very bad 76ers team and he still manages to tank their offensive and defensive efficiency whenever he steps on the court.

Jackson: In his first season, he averaged 17 points in 30 minutes. He’s certainly capable of at least being a minor contributor. He doesn’t have to have a major role. I’m still not sure if I’d do it, although I won’t shut down the idea.

DeLong: Those are [a] very empty 17 points though, Dylan. He had a 27.3 percent usage rate (Kemba level) and was a minus for the team offensively.

Coughlin: [But] Okafor is on a team that loves (rightfully) another guy at his position and openly tried to trade him. The well is poisoned.

I don’t think he’s an all-star, but to write off a gamble when financial flexibility is impaired also feels wrong to me.

Walker: Someone is going to take a flyer on him if only because those teams were so bad. And he’s youngish.

Denning: Whether he is good or not, is it not a no-risk situation to bring him in for the rest of the season (and maybe un-guarantee his contract for next season?)

DeLong: I think there are much better gambles [the Hornets] could take.

Denning: I was about to add that, you're right. Or rather, that's worth pointing out.

Coughlin: You’re all wrong. I’m the only right person ever. (Joking.)

Denning: This is also true. What is truth, anyways?

Coughlin: Welcome to Relativity NBA™, I’ll be your host. Today’s guest is Hall of Famer Jahlil Okafor. Jahlil, tell us how it feels to be not very good at basketball, but great at 2 a.m. punching.

(I’d still take a one-one on him just to see if it opened any trades because Carlos Boozer was in the NBA for a long time.)

Denning: But would Boozer have lasted as long in today's NBA?

(Sidenote; I "played" with Boozer’s younger brother — as in, he was on varsity, I was on JV — in high school. His shooting form was exactly like Carlos', but he was a 6'4 guard, not a power forward. He did end eventually up at Iowa St, so good on him.)

Coughlin: Did [Carlos Boozer] yell “And one!” after every shot?

Walker: After everything.

Coughlin: I think Boozer could have made it in the NBA today. Not on a great team maybe or as a max contract, but 15-17 point from a sixth man or on a Sacramento is realistic. Just because we live in a modern world that understand “analytics” and efficiency doesn’t mean that every player fits that and teams have to fill rosters around their primary players and bad teams need to reach the salary floor. Blah blah blah.

Denning: Yeah, I think so too. He was a good player with prime Deron Williams in Utah.

Coughlin: I’m no basketball genius, but the Spurs just gave Pau Gasol a new deal and he’s basically Booz at this point.

Denning: Anyways, so final thoughts on Okafor? Yes, no, something in between?

Coughlin: Yes on Okafor, because he has some potential, maybe a little trade value, and won’t be relied on for major contribution.

Denning: I’m certainly not against it, but I understand that his numbers, as Jonathan indicated, are a bit empty. That said, it’s important to note Charlotte’s current cap situation. as you said Daniel. If Okafor could be had for a league minimum contract, he’s worth at least considering.

DeLong: I'll consolidate my thoughts into one message. Okafor is the kind of center that was coveted in the NBA 20-30 years ago. However, centers of his ilk are a dying breed, and for good reason. Post up and isolation plays are among the least efficient means of scoring in the NBA, and that's where Okafor's bread is buttered, relatively speaking.

The problem is that he's not particularly good at scoring in those situations. I don't have time to find the numbers, but last season I saw that he was average to below average in post up scoring efficiency. I don't remember where he was in iso scoring, but I'm sure it wasn't great. So now we have an unathletic, one dimensional center that isn't even particularly good at his one dimension. It's vitally important that your centers can defend, rebound, or at the very least pull opposing centers out of the paint with outside shooting. Okafor does none of those things well at all, and he hasn't shown the flashes that suggest that he'd ever be able to do them. If the Hornets are looking for upside in a young big, there are plenty of better options out there.