Jahlil Okafor was rewarded a DNP - REST in the box score last night, as the Sixers took on the Hornets in Charlotte. The real reasons for Jahlil's absence, of course, were far too long and complicated to fit into one stat line, as our No. 3 overall draft pick's was instructed to not even travel with the team, with a trade -- finally, a trade -- supposedly due any moment. It was at least three days ago that Okafor was informed of the team's intentions to move on -- which is why he also sat out the Miami game -- and as of writing, Jah certainly appears to us plebs to still be a Liberty Baller, with trade talks seeming to only get more abstract in the hours since.
This is not a good situation. It's going to be exceedingly difficult to welcome Okafor back to the team now, but you have to imagine that every day he sits, our leverage in working out a deal for him lessens. I didn't really expect the team to deal him this far ahead of the trade deadline, but when a team holds a player out due to an imminent trade, usually it means the trade is actually imminent. To put Jah in limbo like this makes us look cruel, and possibly downright silly.
But as badly as this is going, you can only get so mad, because it could've been so much worse. As much as the Colangelos may have mishandled this (and some other recent personnel issues), you have to give them a decent amount of credit for one thing: They seem, at least for now, to be holding onto Nerlens. Though things got so bad with our Process O.G. a couple months ago that a trade seemed nearly as inevitable as it currently seems for Jah, they declined to deal the center for 40 percent on the dollar. And good thing, because right now, he's playing like an absolute star, and perhaps the biggest reason they picked up their third W in a row last night in Charlotte.
In the 105-99 win, Nerlens had 12 points (on 5-6 shooting) and seven rebounds, with three steals and two rebounds. Pretty good stats for 28 minutes of play, but I don't think they really do his contributions justice -- he was everywhere for the Sixers on defense last night, constantly helping and recovering, switching where necessary, jarring balls loose and disrupting possessions at every possible corner. I used to be bothered by his lack of rebounding (only 9.3 boards per 36 minutes this season, his career-worst rate), but now I realize that he's barely ever in rebounding position only because we ask him to be so many other places for us as well. (Our other forwards are picking up the slack for him anyway -- particularly Dario Saric, who had his fifth double-double of the season last night with 18 and 11.)
And I think we might be overlooking his offensive contributions a little, as well. His stats there are a career-best this season -- 16.3 points per 36 minutes on an incredible 61% shooting -- but again, the real impact is non-statistical, as the gravity he pulls just by diving into the rim and forcing the defense account for him as a lob threat opens so many things up for both our point guards and our surrounding shooters. It's how Tyson Chandler managed to be the fulcrum of such effective offenses in Dallas and New York, and it bodes really well for how effective he can be playing with both Ben Simmons and whatever wing talent we add to the team before next year.
Of course, this isn't to say that Noel will definitely be a Sixer forever. At some point in his development alongside Joel Embiid -- who we, uh, have to hope will come back at some point -- having Noel around as a backup center might be enough of a luxury that it's worth seeing if we could score a real bounty for him on the trade market. But while Embiid is injured, and before we really see what they can do on the court together -- I still get heart palpitations picturing JoJo holding down the middle on defense while Nerlens causes anarchy on the perimeter -- having #4 around allows us to be competitive in every game, and actually win a bunch of 'em too. As badly as Jahlil Okafor's end days with the Sixers are currently being handled, as long as it's his bags they're prematurely packing and not Noel's, we're still coming out on top.