Point/Counterpoint: Should the Philadelphia 76ers Trade Jahlil Okafor?

Jordan and Kevin (try to) briefly debate the merits of trading Okafor now that the Sixers have the #1 overall pick.

Rumors are flying that the Philadelphia 76ers will trade their current best player, Jahlil Okafor, and take Ben Simmons #1 overall, effectively replacing Okafor. Should they? Kevin and Jordan discuss. 

Kevin: Plain and simple, the Sixers should not trade Jahlil Okafor. 

Look at the current roster of this team. Who has proven that they're an NBA-level starter? Covington? McConnell? Joel Embiid? No way, Okafor is the only guy on the team with tangible skills.

Of course he's got flaws, he's 20 years old. He'll never be as good a defender as Noel, but he's already a better offensive player already than an awful lot of 4/5s in the NBA. He can't stretch the floor the way a Kevin Love or a Draymond Green can, but he can score 20 a game with relative ease for a team that can't score points.

Let's say that Philly did want to trade him and then picked Ben Simmons. They would effectively be trading their only known commodity for a guy who is only a year younger, doesn't have an outside shot, and has never played in the NBA. That doesn't terrify Sixers fans? 

There's no such thing as a sure thing in the draft. Think about the last 10 years and how many top 3 picks fizzled out. Some were head-scratchers (Anthony Bennett), but many just aren't the game-changers they were expected to be. Think about top-of-the-draft guys like Otto Porter, Beal, Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Tuner, Derrick Favors (probably the best of this group), Bargnani, Thabeet...hell, Michael Beasley was a surefire stud in the NBA. Having people think you’re #1 pick worthy doesn’t mean anything.

The Sixers finally have a piece that they can use. It might not be a perfect piece for the evolving NBA - Okafor isn't exactly a gunner from outside - but it's a player who can carry them to wins on his own. 

I know what you're thinking: Embiid, Noel, Saric, Okafor, maybe Simmons - they don't need all those frontcourt guys. You're right, so why get rid of the one who is clearly the best of the bunch? He'd return the most in a trade, but what would that be? He has a small salary so you can't get a star for him and you desperately need outside shooting. Where does that leave you? As for the log-jam of big men, it's hard to count Embiid as someone that Philly "has" considering the last time he played meaningful basketball was while LeBron was on the Heat. As for Saric, you can't count on a European dude to come in and be Dirk when we've seen Darkos and Bargnanis come across the pond on a regular basis. I admittedly don't expect Saric to be terrible, but I'd expect something closer to a Turkoglu or Bargnani than a Nowitzki, and I’d take Okafor over Turk/Bargs.

If I'm Philadelphia, my number one option is to trade the #1 pick for an established wing player (and probably a top 10 pick) who can actually make a three pointer. Leave Okafor inside as one of the two primary scoring options and commit to improving. If they can get a pick that will turn into another contributor, that's just gravy.

Jordan: If the 76ers do draft Ben Simmons, which they most likely will, then Okafor is the no brainer odd man out, and it makes sense basketball wise and down the line. 

It's not that I want to kick Okafor to the curb, I love his post game, but the whole point of the Sixers tanking process is to first make sure you land a franchise player, then form a young core you can build on like the Magic, Nuggets or Timberwolves. To do that, the pieces have to fit and make sense. While Okafor is an A-list post player, he is flawed in nearly every other facet of the game - even rebounding. Obviously he can get better at those to where he might be OK, but he has a limited ceiling. He is an Al Jefferson/Enes Kanter type with better passing, and like them, his defense is bad. I tried to hold out hope, but he has slow feet, he's bad at rotations, he's not versatile, and he's a terrible rim protector. It was fun watching somebody be a dominant low post player, but he doesn't have an outside game to mix it up. At most he is the best player on a .500 win team...which is what the 76ers were before Hinkie arrived! So now we are back to that treadmill of mediocrity if we decide that Jahlil is the guy, which would defeat the whole purpose of these past three seasons.  

The NBA has obviously moved towards shooting, spacing, and being perimeter oriented, but more importantly the game has moved towards versatility; players now play multiple positions. The 76ers had real issues when they had Okafor and Noel starting together. Noel had to move to the four because Okafor absolutely cannot play the four - he has to stay at center. That makes everyone play differently. Sure Noel can play the four, but can't be the shot blocker and switching center that he was a season ago when he is mainly guarding stretch 4s. This let teams put Okafor in the Pick n Roll blender which leaves the rim wide open. He's not a shot blocker, so anytime guards go downhill, it means easy buckets. It really puts the roster in a bind; you need a flexible roster that can adjust to anything instead of Andre Drummond/Greg Monroe part 2 (Hey another guy with a similar game to Jahlil!)

Your point about Simmons could be made about every rookie. Some of the stuff at LSU turned me off from Simmons, especially as I watched more and more games, but he is still the best player in this draft. Simmons is a legit 6'10, can pass, push the ball down the court, can score in the paint, and will be able to play multiple positions. Even if he can't shoot now at least he can improve on that. But let’s say he doesn't, he's still versatile with multiple skills AND has the ability to play multiple positions. As far as Saric, you can't compare him to guys like Darko or Turk because they have different kinds of games. Saric did have 50-40-90 season playing pro ball in the Turkish league, so at the very least we know he can stretch the floor.

Yes, Joel Embiid might not have played a game in two years, but it's not like he was sitting around doing nothing - he has insane physical features, upside, and skills. We used a lottery pick on him, we have to see what he'll be able to do, and he'll be coming off the bench playing limited minutes. So while people say "Embiid hasn't played a game yet, so we don't know what he'll be" that's exactly the point. We know what kind of player Okafor is and will be. He does not fit the future of this team and holding onto him is just wasting time. Trade him while his value is high and get some picks and perimeter players that way. Sixer fans can stomach the 15 win seasons if it means we can contend down the road. The important thing is hoping that the new front office won't cave in to more losing so they won't fool themselves into thinking that Okafor can be THE GUY to help us get to that point. If we do take Simmons, I think Okafor is going to be on a different team by the start of next season. 

Kevin: So here’s my question: What do you expect to get back for Okafor, what would make it worthwhile, and can Philly get that?

Jordan: I think The Lakers, Celtics, and Suns will all make draft day trade offers for Okafor. We know the Celtics and Lakers have had their eyes on Okafor for a while and I think the Suns are going to try to unclog their gluttony of guards.

How much he is worth depends on what Colangelo is looking for. I think you have to get a player and picks in return. Rumors on multiple news outlets have the Celtics wanting to trade their number 3 pick for Okafor, which is one of the few teams that would actually make sense for him. On top of that Colangelo reportedly loves Kris Dunn out of Providence, who projects to be far and away the best guard the Sixers have had in three seasons. So if that trade happens and the Sixers got Simmons and Dunn that would be a hell of a draft haul. Philly could sucker Boston into giving up more but I doubt it and personally wouldn't mind if it was just the #3 pick because I'm on the Dunn train.  Question is would the 76ers want to help a division rival out.

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