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January 22, 2016

What they’re saying: Jahlil Okafor is getting out of the post

Sixers NBA

For the Philadelphia 76ers, Ish Smith has been the key to success. Since the 27-year-old point guard was acquired on Christmas Eve, the Sixers have a -3.2 net rating.

That’s not necessarily great (to be successful, you need to have a rating above 0.0), but it’s also not terrible. In fact, the number ranks 23rd in the NBA over that span, which isn’t so bad considering how young the Sixers are and especially how poorly they started out the season.

I wrote about Jahlil Okafor’s improved play earlier this week, and over at Sporting News, Ian Levy uses some SportVU Data to show that Okafor has turned into more of a face-up player recently:

What's interesting is the dramatic increase in elbow touches at the expense of interior touches. His overall touches are also down which speaks to him being used more strategically. Although Okafor is theoretically better when he's closer to the basket, he's also effective around the elbows. His face-up game is at least as polished as his back-to-the-basket one and he's been able to score easily with a quick first step, careful footwork, and savvy use of his size and touch. His points per touch are much lower at the elbow because those touches are also frequently a way to move the ball, reversing it from side-to-side or setting up curls and dribble-handoffs. Okafor is much more dangerous from this spot than Noel was, and having him spend more time there has also allowed Noel to retreat to the areas where he is most effective.

Coming into the NBA, we all thought of Okafor as this polished, back to the basket type of player. That he is able to do damage from the elbows already as a rookie is interesting/promising.

Other Sixers news, notes and analysis from around the web:

A Chat (With Myself) On Jahlil Okafor’s Defense: Xylon Dimoff, Hoop76   

Okafor’s defense is a complicated subject, because there are things he does legitimately well as well as fairly obvious deficiencies. Dimoff talks himself through the subject with video evidence, as well as a bunch of stats:

The problem is that in the pick-and-roll-heavy direction the league is going (it’s already there), the best kind of player for Okafor to defend would be himself — a withering breed of bigs who feast in the post. On the 35 pick-and-roll plays that have ended in a shot, turnover, or foul against Jah, he’s allowing a score on a fifth-worst 52.4 percent of them. When it comes to keeping up with some of the rangier bigs of today’s game, Okafor lacks both the lateral quickness and reflexes to keep up.

New York Knicks Head The NBA's Most Valuable Teams At $3 Billion: Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes

The Sixers were valued at $700 million, 28th in the NBA (and only ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans). The current ownership group bought the team for $280 million back in 2011.

Nerlens Noel is the versatile defensive monster: Philip Rossman-Reich, Hardwood Paroxysm

I still believe Noel needs to play the 5 to reach his full potential, but it’s good to see that his defense is getting some national love. This play he made on Monday against Melo was excellent:

Yet, Noel is one of the few centers in the league quick enough to stay with guards on the perimeter. At the end of Monday’s double-overtime loss to the new York Knicks, Noel was guarding Carmelo Anthony on the perimeter. He stuck with Anthony on a drive and blocked a shot at the rim as Anthony tried to wiggle his way around him. Anthony did end up making a pull-up three-pointer to force the first overtime, but Noel was right there trying to contest. There are finer points to playing more on the perimeter that Noel will have to learn.

How T.J. McConnell went from my high school rival to an NBA point guard: Jordan Greer, Sporting News

McConnell has settled into the backup point guard role nicely behind Smith:

And this story comes from someone who used to play against him in the Pittsburgh area, when he was actually kind of a gunner.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann