NEW YORK - Now is not the time to hit the alarm button about Jahlil Okafor's performances, the 76ers say.
All NBA rookies, regardless of who they are, have steep learning curves. The third overall pick out of Duke is experiencing his. And he's basically doing it without any instruction.
"I have to do a better job of placing people around him and helping him grow," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "I'm just being quiet and watching how he plays. Then [I will start] trying to figure it out."
It's not surprising that Okafor looked like a 19-year-old rookie on offense in the last two exhibition games. The Sixers spent all of training camp working on defense.
The 6-foot-11, 268-pounder did have an impressive debut, though. He made his first five shots en route to scoring 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting in the preseason opener vs. the Washington Wizards on Oct. 6.
But Okafor has combined to make just 5 of 18 (27 percent) shots and averaged seven points while drawing crowds against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets. The Chicago native looked frustrated with his play at times in Saturday's 97-95 victory over the Nets at Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
He was held two points on just 1 of 6 shooting to go with four rebounds, one assist, and four turnovers in 16 minutes, 56 seconds. Okafor, who missed his first five shots, didn't play in the fourth quarter due restricted playing time because of a sore knee.
His only points came on a reverse layup over Brook Lopez with 8:28 left in the third quarter.
"I've never been a guy to pinpoint one thing," Okafor said after that game. "I have to work on my entire game. I'm just trying to keep making progress and keep progressing. It's preseason. So I'm trying to work everything out."
Part of the problem is that he has no room to move on the court as the primary offensive threat. Teams are doing everything possible to stop him, forcing another Sixer to beat them.
"We are just getting him the ball, trying to space around him and let's see [what happens]," Brown said. "I think I've got to coach more movement around him. You know, cutting off post feeds, slashing from the weak side."
The length and athleticism of NBA post players and the quickness of league guards are unfamiliar territory to him. So Brown said he and Okafor need to figure out a way to "quarterback the gym."
"Then we start sprinkling shooters around," Brown said. "That's the best play [we] have - Jahlil Okafor, get him the ball, and [defenders] are going to come. We can play that second side."
Okafor's thirst for knowledge and determination to get better have the Sixers confident that things will improve.
Nerlens Noel knows a lot about overcoming preseason struggles. The power forward appeared far from being a solid NBA player in last season's NBA exhibition opener at the Boston Celtics. But Noel went on to average 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks over his final 22 regular-season games. He also finished third in last season's rookie-of-the-year voting.
"He's still growing," Noel said of Okafor. "He still has a lot of time to get used to that NBA game. I think he's doing well. It's just mentally he just needs to feel a little more comfortable and get used to the offense."