Jahlil Okafor was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers third overall in last year’s draft. He entered the NBA coming of a National Championship performance with Duke in the NCAA tournament, and was lauded as the most polished big man to enter the draft in several years. Okafor firmly stuck himself in the Rookie of the Year conversation very early on, and currently has averages of 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while playing 30 minutes per game.
However, the team announced Friday that Okafor will have to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery in order to repair a slight meniscus tear. When asked about the expected duration of Okafor’s absence, head coach Brett Brown replied, “It will take six weeks before he’s able to get going practicing again and get back on the court, and so based on the [timetable], that is correct [that he’ll miss the rest of the season].”
While this is being described as a minor procedure, Philadelphia fans cannot be happy with more injury news. They had to wait a year before seeing 2013 sixth overall pick Nerlens Noel suit up after recovering from ACL surgery, and have yet to see 2014 third overall selection Joel Embiid play a professional game after breaking his right foot twice. And now their best player, by far, is being forced under the knife.
For the time being, however, losing Okafor all but ensures a 25% chance at the number one overall pick in the upcoming draft. The 76ers have all of eight wins in 64 games while the closest team in the race to the bottom, the Los Angeles Lakers, have 14 wins in 66 games. Without Okafor, the team that already averages the fewest points in the league will find it exponentially more difficult to put the ball through the hoop.
GM Sam Hinkie is well-known for his mantra, “Trust the process.” I’m not sure he anticipated the process taking this long (he was hired in 2013), but the team has also not been able to draft first overall, despite being one of the first or second worst teams for years. However, if the ping pong balls fall their way this May, the reward could be huge.
LSU’s do-it-all Freshman Ben Simmons is widely expected to be the top selection and has drawn comparisons to LeBron James, himself. If Philadelphia is able to add him to their promising core of Noel, Okafor and Embiid (assuming they get healthy), they may finally be willing to move on to the next step in their “process.”
For the sake of the NBA, let’s hope so.