Newly minted 76ers center Jahlil Okafor will win the 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year award. Take that to the bank. It’s a formality.
You probably read that and said, “Pipe down, pump the brakes.” I won’t. And it’s not entirely because the former Duke Blue Devil is off to a fantastic start in summer league action. It’s deeper than that.
Sure, scoring 20 points, pulling down 9 boards and rejecting 2 shots in your professional debut is stellar. I loved what he said afterward about giving himself a C-minus for his first game action -- that tells me he’s not settling. He’s not going to let complacency sink in. Follow that up with 13 points and another 9 rebounds, and the kid is off and running.
The reason Okafor will win rookie of the year is the circumstance – namely, the lack of talent -- surrounding him. Let’s just call it the MCW effect.
Two years ago, Michael Carter Williams won rookie of the year – and not because he was the most talented newcomer to the association. Thanks to a team that merely resembled an NBA roster, he recorded a stat line of 17 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 1 block per game. He wasn’t the most talented player in the 2013 NBA draft; he just walked into a situation, given the void of surrounding skill, where he had to put up numbers and did exactly that.
The 2015-16 Sixers with Nerlens Noel and potentially Joel Embiid resemble more of the plan Sam Hinkie had envisioned, but it is still a roster with major flaws and a backcourt that most pro franchises would chuckle at. Enter Okafor. Expect numbers.
Assistant coach Billy Lange, in charge of running the 76ers’ summer league operation, has said that Okafor has three goals this summer: treat his body better, make defensive improvements, and continue to develop an overall game. Fifteen points and eight boards per night are a given. If he nails two of his goals, he’s on his way to rookie of the year.
Still not convinced? Well, let’s look at other possible rookies who can steal this away from Okafor.
Karl-Anthony Towns is in Minnesota as the first overall pick. Will he get enough shots with the Timberwolves playing alongside reigning rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins? Wiggins is ball dominant, so I doubt it. Towns will be a very good player, but I don’t think he’ll get enough looks on offense to garner this award.
D’Angelo Russell went second to the Lakers. Kobe Bryant will attempt 37 shots a night, Julius Randle will certainly get his looks, Lou Williams can’t help himself, and Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass have just landed in Hollywood.
I love Russell. He has star written all over him. But a certain five-time champion still wants his.
Who else has a legitimate chance? Kristaps Porzingis? His head will be spinning trying to comprehend the triangle and Carmelo Anthony’s motives. Emmanuel Mudiay’s jump shot will hold him back initially. Justice Winslow will have to compete for the ball with Wade, Dragic, Bosh and Deng.
It’s Okafor’s award for the taking.
Need more? Okafor will have a chance to blossom into a franchise-defining player. An all-star a half-dozen times. One of the league’s top five big men. And a solidified piece to the puzzle in Hinkie’s elaborate, patience-testing scheme.
Jahlil Okafor, your 2015-16 NBA Rookie of the Year. Book it. And expect more to come.