Jahlil Okafor has recently become the odd man out of the Philadelphia 76ers’ frontcourt rotation. With potential All-Star Joel Embiid now firmly entrenched as Philly’s top center, and once-excised defensive stud Nerlens Noel back in the fold and happy with his role (for now, at least), Okafor has found himself parked on the bench, not seeing any action in four of the Sixers’ last five games entering Saturday, and playing just 10 minutes in his lone appearance during that stretch.
The 21-year-old got his shot at extended minutes on Saturday, as head coach Brett Brown elected to start Okafor against the Washington Wizards with Embiid resting as the 76ers were on the second night of a back-to-back set as part of his ongoing management plan after missing more than two years with multiple foot injuries. Saturday night’s visit to the nation’s capital also happened to be the night of #BusTheProcess — an event organized by the The Rights To Ricky Sanchez Podcast that saw a reported 350 Sixers die-hards take the bus from Philadelphia to Washington, pack out a section of the Verizon Center, rain down Philly-friendly chants on the Wizards and their fans and, after the game, score an on-court photo with “The Process” himself.
Shamus Clancy, a writer for the Sixers-focused blog Liberty Ballers, cracked a joke early Saturday evening about the drop-off in excitement between getting to see Embiid, the Rookie of the Year favorite and two-way game-changer, and settling for Okafor, whose defensive failings and poor fit alongside Embiid have made him persona non grata among a segment of Philly fans:
Imagine taking a bus for two hours only to see Jahlil Okafor start.
— shamus (@shamus_clancy) January 15, 2017
That joke, unsurprisingly, did not sit well with Chukwudi Okafor. That’d be Jahlil’s dad, who has made it clear in the past that he has no issue with piping up on his son’s behalf, and who reminded us of that on Saturday night:
So, a little bit different than what John Lennon wanted us to imagine, then. Kind of working the other side of the street, here.
On the other hand, there are probably better ways to
process manage your frustration than offering to deliver hands to whichever 20-something blog dude comes at your kid sideways. On the other, it’s very understandable that Chukwudi Okafor would not appreciate snark about his son — especially with Jahlil getting his first significant opportunity to prove his worth after a tough couple of weeks — and would respond to it in a defensive and protective manner.
Clancy himself granted as much, in a chat with Jim Adair of Crossing Broad:
“I understand him wanting to back up his son, he’s obviously been very vocal about his son, I get that. I think my dad might be similar about me if I was a pro athlete. I’ve said worse things about Okafor in the past I’m sure. He saw something that was [pretty] tame, I think, in terms of things that are said about his son in the Sixers blogger community.”
Chukwudi Okafor later offered the now-standard-post-blow-up social media claim that he was not, in fact, the one who said the thing that raised eyebrows:
I was hacked ????????
— Chukwudi (@DaddyofaPro) January 15, 2017
While grim and gritty “The Slap” reboots were being pitched and discarded 140 characters at a time, Jahlil Okafor was actually playing professional basketball, and — on the offensive end, at least — doing pretty well!
Okafor scored a season-high 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting to go with nine rebounds, one steal and one block in 35 1/2 minutes of work. His big scoring night wasn’t nearly enough to carry the night, though. The Embiid-less Sixers proved unable to stop Washington in the second and third quarters, falling behind by as many as 24 points en route to a 109-93 loss at the hands of John Wall (25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists), Bradley Beal (20 points, four rebounds) and the Wizards, who have now won four of five to improve to 20-19 on the season. The Sixers saw their first three-game winning streak in three years snapped, falling to 12-26.
Coach Brown introduced a bit more intrigue into the Sixers’ ongoing efforts to showcase each of their high-lottery-pick centers, suggesting that he’s not committed to stashing Okafor back on the bench once Embiid returns for Monday’s matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. From Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“That’s a fair question,” Brown responded when asked before the game if Noel would be the backup. “I don’t know. What goes on the next game and so on, we’ll figure that out.” […]
“[Okafor is] an NBA starter,” Brown said. “Anybody that looks at it is going to see 26. He could have had 30 in a heartbeat. That’s what Jahlil does. He can score, and he commands double teams.”
Whether or not Okafor goes back to riding the pine, a word to the wise: be careful what you tweet about Chukwudi’s large young adult son as this all gets figured out. If you come with the slander, it might not be safe for you in these Internet streets.
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