Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
According to a report from CSN Chicago, the Bulls have inquired about the availability of Chicago’s own Jahlil Okafor.
This is the first we have heard about any team taking interest in the second-year center from Duke since the NBA Draft back in June and the NBA Trade Deadline is looming (February 23rd). There aren’t many suitors for the third overall pick, since many view him as a player who needs the right system to be a productive NBA player, but there are a handful of potential Okafor destinations.
The right fit for Okafor would be a team that runs most of its offense in the half-court, a good team with a good defensive scheme, and a team that needs a scoring punch. A good fit would also include a team that has limited means to acquire a young talent who’s cheap for another two seasons.
Okafor did have an impressive rookie season putting up respectable numbers but there hasn’t been much progression from him this season. It’s very apparent that Brett Brown’s running style prefers the other team’s bigs (Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and even Richaun Holmes) to Okafor. The team just plays with better flow and tempo with Okafor out of the lineup and it’s very safe to say the Sixers will not be able to get the most out of Okafor’s abilities.
Much like when I wrote about Nerlens Noel a few months ago, the Sixers can’t expect much return in an Okafor trade and they will get nowhere close to peak value. So don’t expect a large return for Okafor, who at this point is looking like the next Evan Turner rather than the next Joel Embiid.
With that being said, here are eight possible Jahlil Okafor destinations:
According to Vincent Goodwill in that same CSN Chicago report, adding Okafor would add some much needed scoring from the interior on a roster filled with complimentary, defensive-minded bigs (Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson, Cristiano Felicio). Gibson is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, likely to depart Chicago, while Felicio is a restricted free agent, sure to receive some decent offers that will be expensive for Chicago to match. Robin Lopez has two years left remaining on his deal, but there are expectations for natural regression as he approaches 30. With Okafor, Chicago would add a former top-five pick on a team filled with middle-to-late first round players with limited upside (Nikola Mirotic, MCW, Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant, and Bobby Portis).
But what doesn’t make sense with the Bulls’ inquiry is Okafor’s fit in Fred Hoidberg’s offensive system, which relies on spreading the floor, and having a shot-heavy offense. Gar Forman and John Paxson didn’t exactly help out Fred by building a roster based on his scheme, so as Marc Whittington of Liberty Ballers points out, Okafor would be another square peg in the round Hoidberg system. Makes you wonder if Fred will even be around for next season coaching the Bulls.
- Players: Nikola Mirotic (upcoming RFA), Michael Carter-Williams (upcoming RFA), Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant
- Draft Picks: 2017 SAC first round pick (conveys if SAC picks 11-30); all other CHI first round picks; 2018 CHI second round pick
Dallas got an up-close and personal look at Jahlil last week, where Okafor finished with 16 points (7-16 shooting), one rebound, and one assist. It wasn’t exactly the best audition for the big fella as backup center Salah Mejri destroyed him on the glass all night. Regardless, Okafor represents something that the Dallas roster doesn’t have a lot of: young, long-term talent.
The team’s big man rotation is headlined with 38-year old Dirk Nowitzki and 32-year old impending free agent Andrew Bogut. Backing them up are 25-year old Dwight Powell, 30-year old Mejri, and 24-year old rookie AJ Hammons, making Dallas’ big man rotation the oldest in the NBA.
Even as Dallas has started to wins some games in 2017, they are looking towards life after Dirk Nowitzki, filling its roster with some young guard talent while looking to dump off some of its older players (Bogut, Deron Williams, JJ Barea, and Devin Harris).
With the Mavs poised to draft in the top ten of the draft for the first time since 1998, Dallas looks to be moving on with a youth movement. Jahlil Okafor would be a nice, young addition to the Mavericks older frontcourt, complimenting the nice young pieces the Mavericks have in the backcourt. Having Jahlil learn under the well-established Rick Carlisle would do wonders for his career, as Rick can establish a defensive scheme that can look past Okafor’s obvious faults.
- Players: Wes Matthews, Devin Harris, JJ Barea, Seth Curry, Justin Anderson
- Draft Picks: All available first & second round picks; 2019 GSW second round pick
Charlotte would have been the top destination for Jahlil before they traded for Milwaukee’s Miles Plumlee. The rationale was that Okafor would have been a talented young piece for a team that was not going to draft high in the draft in the next few years, while providing a much-needed second scoring punch behind Kemba Walker.
The fit was also ideal because Charlotte was a top-ten defensive unit the last couple of years with a roster devoid of defensive talent in the frontcourt (Al Jefferson, Josh McRoberts, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes, Frank Kaminsky) under Steve Clifford. Jahlil could have been a passable defender in Clifford’s team defensive scheme where his biggest weaknesses would have not been exploited.
But with Charlotte having lost six in a row and Cody Zeller out with an injury, the Hornets decided to shake up its frontcourt rotation by trading Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert to the Bucks for Miles Plumlee. The Hornets were able to rid itself of two below-average players but are taking a big gamble on Plumlee who is averaging 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds per game this season, after signing a four-year $50 million contract this past offseason.
Charlotte still could make a deal for Okafor, but it seems unlikely now with Plumlee on the roster. The only way Charlotte could acquire Okafor is by trading anyone of its middling salaries (Jeremy Lamb, Marco Bellinelli, or Ramon Sessions) for Okafor’s low cap figure.
- Players: Jeremy Lamb, Marco Bellinelli, Ramon Sessions
- Draft Picks: All available first & second round picks; 2018 CLE/BKN second round pick
New Orleans Pelicans
Not an ideal trading partner, but the Pelicans can use all the talented young players they can get. Anthony Davis playing alongside plodding centers hasn’t been an ideal situation for New Orleans the last two seasons, but Okafor seems like a better fit with Davis than Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca.
The Pels could work as a Sixers trade partner because of their depth in the backcourt. They feature some solid talent with Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, E’Twaun Moore, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, and Tim Frazier. The one name that is most intriguing is Saint Joseph’s product Langston Galloway.
He’s a 6’2 combo guard who can defend opposing point guards and shoot the three ball well (37% from deep this season). Galloway has a player option this offseason worth $5.4 million, which he will most likely decline, becoming a restricted free agent. He would be a very nice compliment to Ben Simmons’ playing style and if the Sixers trade for Langston, they can match any offer sheet this offseason (assuming he declines his PO). The Pelicans already have a lot invested in Moore and Hield, while remaining hopeful they can resign Jrue Holiday this offseason, meaning Galloway could be obtainable.
- Players: Langston Galloway, Alexis Ajinca, Tim Frazier, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter
- Draft Picks: All available first & second round picks; 2017 PHI second round pick
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are another intriguing option for Jahlil Okafor. They are used to playing a half-court style with a lot of offense flowing through the low post and scoring on the inside. The Spurs could potentially have three of their big men out of San Antonio next season as all three have player options this summer (Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon, and David Lee). Not to mention that LaMarcus Aldridge can opt out of his deal after next season meaning the Spurs’ frontcourt could be pretty vacant by the start of the 2018-2019 season.
Okafor would be a nice system player under Gregg Popovich, revitalizing his career at the best place possible. The Spurs would most likely send a first rounder and potentially the rights to one of its unsigned international players, but a salary match would need to happen.
- Players: Kyle Anderson, Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes
- Draft Picks: All available first & second round picks
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers were close to drafting Okafor with the second pick of the 2015 Draft, but maybe Okafor could end up in LA.
The Timofey Mozgov signing hasn’t worked well for the Lakers so far (he’s signed through 2020), with Tarik Black and young Ivica Zubac backing him up. Zubac has a chance to be a good player, but he doesn’t have quite the offensive skillset as Okafor.
It’s difficult to find a deal between the Sixers and Lakers, but the offer wouldn’t be much as they owe first round picks to both the Sixers and Magic. A third team would have to be involved in a deal, but just a thought.
- Players: Lou Williams, Luol Deng, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance
- Draft Picks: All available second round picks, 2018 DEN second round pick, 2019 CHI second round picks
Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC general manager Sam Presti has a history of acquiring young, cheap players before hitting restricted free agency (Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, Jerami Grant, and Joffrey Lauvergne), so what makes Jahlil Okafor any different.
With Enes Kanter missing 6-8 weeks after fracturing his forearm punching a chair, the door opened just a little for a potential Okafor deal to OKC. As Russell Westbrook, Oladipo, and Steve Adams both having big deals that kick in next season, Okafor could be a nice value add for the Thunder at a cheap price before next season. The issue is that the Thunder don’t have much to trade, other than second-year point Cam Payne and rookie Alex Abrines. They owe a 2018 first round pick to the Jazz and a 2020 first round pick to the Sixers from the Ersan Ilyasova deal. A deal with OKC would likely have to involve a third team.
- Players: Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, Alex Abrines, Josh Huestis
- Draft Picks: all available second round picks (2018-on)
Jahlil would be a good fit for the Wizards off the bench as Washington has one of the league’s worst bench units, but there are too many guys clogging up the frontcourt for Big Jah to make his way down I-95 to DC. To help out Marcin Gortat, the Wizards spend big this offseason in free agency ($34 million this year alone) on three big men that haven’t exactly been helping Washington (Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith, and Andrew Nicholson). The Wizards also don’t have much to offer other than Kelly Oubre, Tomas Satoransky, and their own first round picks . The financial burden of the three backup bigs will be too much for Washington to pull the trigger on an Okafor deal.
- Players: Kelly Oubre, Tomas Satoransky
- Draft Picks: all available first round picks (past 2017); 2017 & 2018 second round picks
Photo: Kyledog7 (via: Wikimedia Commons)