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July 08, 2015

Sixers beat Celtics as Okafor offers another so-so performance

The real story here is Furkan Aldemir’s long-range sniping

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After dropping the opener in Utah to the San Antonio Spurs by three points on Monday night, the Summer Sixers rebounded nicely and defeated the Boston Celtics, 76-62. It should be noted that Boston was without its best player, Marcus Smart (or, as they say in New England, “Mahcus Smahtt”).

For this recap, let’s not overthink things and simply address whatever is noteworthy with a bullet point:

•    Jahlil Okafor (13 points, 5-12 shooting, 3-6 free throws, 9 rebounds, 4 turnovers, one steal, +11) was average again, which is also to say he wasn’t overly impressive against inferior competition to what he’ll see in the NBA. That is not meant as an indictment of his career prospects, but saying he played well in this particular game feels like a stretch. 

•    Here is what I didn’t like about Okafor’s performance, in no particular order: Like Nerlens Noel in last year’s summer league, he looked winded, and the fatigue seemed to negatively affect his play; He didn’t box out on the defensive glass as much you would like to see; For someone who had excellent hands in college, he dropped a few decent set-ups from T.J. McConnell; The Celtics were consistently fronting him in the post, and he never really found a way to counter (also a team issue)

•    Here is what I liked about Okafor’s performance, in no particular order: For the second straight night, his post-ups consistently bent the defense, which gave the Sixers’ perimeter players open shots and the ability to attack on the kick-out pass; He held up acceptably well in pick-and-roll defense, generally playing soft coverage and corralling the ball-handler at the foul line

•    Offensively for the Sixers, the difference between the first and second half was night and day. McConnell did a nice job as the catalyst in the final 20 minutes pushing the tempo.

•    Here are a couple of terrible Vines taken from my television that capture some of the difficulty that Okafor and the Sixers as a team found in the first half. First, here is the big fella trying to post up right where Furkan Aldemir is rolling to the rim. Oops:

•    Next, here is McConnell passing up what looks like an open layup and kicking it out to Okafor, who has to dribble into a post-up that eventually gets blocked. It’s the same spin move he impressively pulled off last night, but Aldemir’s defender comes over from the opposite block in plenty of time:

•    On a positive note, you can see on that play how Okafor is consistently drawing a second defender. He just needs to recognize it better in that instance. You also see how much harder it would be to help if a legitimate stretch-4 was playing next to Okafor.

•    Aldemir was a beast on the glass with 13 defensive boards, but the more I watch him play, it becomes harder and harder to envision him ever providing much value on offense. He struggles dribbling, passing, and tonight aside, shooting.

•    Really though, who cares about all of that stuff? Aldemir knocked down, count ‘em… three triples! Furkan and the Sixers have worked really hard on extending his range, so good for them to see the hard work paying off a little bit. After his second 3-ball, the play-by-play announcer (who could fill up a whole post of its own by himself) unironically said “shooter’s touch.” Summer League truly is a magical place.

•    Random basketball play that drives me crazy: When there’s a loose ball, and a player decides to dribble behind the back in traffic instead of simply grabbing the basketball. I like to fancy myself as a player’s coach (if I was a coach, which is a ridiculous notion), but that play and shooting with a foot on the three-point line would both be finable offenses.

•    After a second consecutive strong showing, Richaun Holmes has officially piqued my interest. He’s athletic and active at the rim and also at least a willing pick-and-pop guy out beyond the arc. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton opined that Holmes is a nice fit with Okafor on offense. The one glaring hole in his game? Holmes dribbles like the one kid at basketball camp who has never played before in his life.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann