THERE HAVE been eight practice sessions, a couple of shootarounds and two preseason games for the 76ers so far this season. Certainly not a copious amount of material from which to draw steadfast conclusions, but enough to form some early opinions.
The biggest topic of this season will, of course, be rookie Jahlil Okafor. While expectations for this team aren't even at sea level, the visions of what Okafor could become are pretty much what is keeping fans interested in this organization right now.
There certainly have been flashes, such as making his first five shots in his first game against the Washington Wizards. All those shots were taken from beyond 10 feet mark, which showed what kind of sweet touch Okafor possesses, but also showed that he needs to be able to hold his position lower in the post a little bit better.
Sometimes when Okafor sets up at the low-post block, he simply gets shoved away from where he wants to be. It happened against Washington on Tuesday. The four shots he made in the first quarter came from 11, 12, 16 and 16 feet. Other times, he'll set up low, but when the ball is lobbed into him, he'll step out to receive it instead of holding his spot. So, instead of getting the ball 5 feet from the basket, Okafor is now receiving it closer to 10 feet away.
"You look at it and to me there's a difference between scoring in the paint and low-post play," coach Brett Brown said. "When I think of low-post play, I think of deep catches - you're on the rim, you're drop, step, dunk. He hasn't had that. So that part of it surprised me. He's capable. You look at him historically, and he was able to beat a lot of his opponents. He's not doing that, yet. I don't care how good and how big he is. It's the NBA, with just a different strength and a different weight. So his scoring, if you really analyzed his shots, were not deep catches and were really tough shots. I want to get him more deep catches.
"It is some skill, but it's mostly mentality. To think you are just going to go across the league and get deep catches and rim runs each possessions is just not going to happen. I want to let him feel his way up to do that. But when it doesn't happen, he's shown a skill package to make those shots that I just mentioned."
Okafor certainly doesn't seem bothered by anything, let alone where he's going to score, whether it be from 16 feet or 6 inches.
"No reason (for getting pushed away from basket). He's fine with how I'm playing. I'm just comfortable on the basketball court," the rookie said yesterday when asked whether he preferred getting the ball lower on the block or shooting jump shots.
So after Nerlens Noel and Okafor, there has to be some sort of big-man help coming off the bench. The thought in the organization was that Furkan Aldemir, with his $2.68 million guaranteed contract this season, would most likely be that backup to the starting big men. But in the two preseason games so far, the Turkish player labeled as a "premier NBA rebounder" by some in the organization, has corralled only five boards and picked up nine fouls in about 30 minutes of play. He was easily thrown around by Anderson Varejao on Thursday and, quite frankly, doesn't appear right now to have any NBA skill sets.
"He hasn't played well in preseason, yet," Brown said of Aldemir. "He's had a long summer. Those foreign guys (play during the summer), and I did it myself for years, so I feel it with him. His body has also changed. He's down to an 8 percent skin fold, his body fat is as low as it has ever been. Maybe some of that has something to do with it, but the end result is he hasn't played great basketball yet. So it's always a concern.
"I do think that Furkan, is reliable in the sense that you need somebody like that on the bench, a veteran player that can come in and give you something from time to time. I still think that's in him."
Nerlens Noel won't play this afternoon when the team hosts the Brooklyn Nets in Albany, N.Y. Noel didn't practice yesterday as he is nursing bruises to both his left knee and back. He said he collided knees in Thursday's game with Richard Jefferson and hurt his back during a nasty fall in the third quarter . . . Brett Brown expressed his pleasure with the play of T.J. McConnell on Thursday. The point guard played 21 minutes and gathered six points and four assists with no turnovers . . . After playing the Nets, the team will play at the Knicks on Monday and then host the Washington Wizards on Friday.