It wasn’t exactly Doctor J versus Larry Bird but the Sixers and Celtics gave their fan bases plenty of reasons to be excited for a season opener.
The Celtics came into last night with a young roster, a great coach, and playoff experience. The 76ers came in with the chance to showcase their young front court, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, playing together for the first time.
The game started the best way any Sixers fan could have imagined. They started out on an 11 to 4 run and Jahlil Okafor made his first five shots.
Then the real Sixers showed up.
Philadelphia lost the game by 17 and turned the ball over 22 times. However, there were many positives to take from the game.
For one, Jahlil Okafor has a very mature post game. His footwork, and touch around the basket are advanced for a 19-year-old. He pulled out an Olajuwon-esque post move against Jared Sullinger in the first half. This led to Okafor seeing his first NBA double team 14 minutes into the game. Okafor would go on to finish the game with 26 points. The 26 point debut is the second most by a center behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As good as he was scoring the ball, Okafor showed many areas of his game that need work.
As I previously stated, Okafor was doubled early, and they just kept coming. For the most part, Okafor looked like he had never seen a double team before. He would back into the corner and turn the ball over. These double teams led to 8 turnovers by the big man. Okafor also looked gassed by about midway through the second quarter. At one moment there was a loose ball that he did not even go after. I refuse to believe this is an effort thing because you do not get drafted in the top three and win a national championship at Duke if you don’t care. His stamina, or lack there of, was also shown when he was late getting back on defense. For me, this was to be expected. The 38 minutes Okafor played last night were the most he played the past two seasons with the exception of the 41 minutes he logged in an overtime win over UNC.
Another thing I noticed was that Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor seem to compliment each other very well. They compliment each other a lot better than I expected considering neither one of them has an exceptional mid-range game. Where Okafor lacks on defense, which I think was very overblown, Noel more than makes up for it. Noel picked up right where he left off last season by notching three steals and two blocks. Noel is also the “active” player when it comes to crashing the offensive boards. He is very Dennis Rodman like with his relentless attack of the glass. When the Sixers have put everything together, and he is still here, that will be his role. He will get his points, and money, by playing relentless defense and pursuit of the offensive boards.
The last thing I noticed is that despite the outlook of the front court, the back court is very weak. Hollis Thompson the supposed “three-point specialist” started 0-9 and finished 3-15 from the field. The 22 turnovers are definitely a product of a lack of leadership, and skill at the point guard position.
I know this is just one game so I am not putting Jahlil Okafor into the hall of fame yet. I am well aware this team will struggle to win games. I mean just check out my Sixers season preview. But by the first game, I can get a sense of what this season might bring. With all young players, they will flash their potential but also show major flaws that they can hopefully clean up by season’s end. Also, I am looking forward to reading Jahlil Okafor’s dad’s tweets.
Again its just one game. Like all sports fans, I love to analyze and get excited. I can’t wait to see how the Okafor and Noel tandem does against bonafide big men like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Because after all, they were going against David Lee and Tyler Zeller. So we can pump the brakes there. One thing is for certain, this season is going to be filled with excitement.