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Okafor needs to shape up to help Nets

Recently acquired center not ready to make impact just yet

December 19, 2017 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After logging 23 minutes in his Nets debut last Friday night, center Jahlil Okafor will get some time off while he gets in better playing shape. AP Photo by Michael Perez
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Recently acquired Nets center Jahlil Okafor isn’t quite ready for prime time, nor any time at the moment, after logging just 25 minutes on the court this season during the closing stages of his ill-fated run as a Philadelphia 76er.

The 22-year-old, 6-foot-11 center tried to knock off the rust last Friday night in Toronto, logging a whopping 23 minutes during his Brooklyn debut and registering 10 points and four rebounds.

It was the former Duke standout’s only action in four games since officially joining his new Brooklyn teammates following the Nets’ two-game trip to Mexico City earlier this month.

Okafor, acquired from Philadelphia on Dec. 7 along with sharp-shooting combo guard Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick in exchange for veteran power forward Trevor Booker, hadn’t stepped on an NBA court since Nov. 7, when he got three minutes of playing time against Utah for the 76ers.

“I felt rusty, had some cobwebs on me,” Okafor admitted after nearly equaling his minutes output for the entire campaign in the 120-87 loss to the Raptors.

“But just to be able to get out there — run up and down and play basketball — was great.”

Unfortunately, Okafor was unable to provide any help during Sunday’s 109-97 loss to Indiana at Downtown’s Barclays Center, and has yet to play in front of Brooklyn fans since his acquisition.

It doesn’t appear that that will change anytime soon after head coach Kenny Atkinson admitted that the post-up pivot man would need to get in better game shape to run up and down the floor in the Nets’ fast-paced, 3-point-shooting, run-and-gun style.

“No, it’s to be expected. He just hasn’t played,” Atkinson said of Okafor, who was taken third overall by the Sixers in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft.

“There’s just a difference between game conditioning — NBA conditioning — for [most people] he’s probably in better shape, but it’s a whole other level,” Atkinson told the New York Post. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. The fact that he’s a bigger guy, that’s part of it, too. It’s more difficult for them.”

Especially when said big guy’s strengths, catching the ball in the paint and driving to the basket, aren’t quite what the Nets are looking for in a big man.

“We need to put him in a situation to succeed and a position to help us,” Atkinson added. “I told him you’re not going to be alone. It’s not like we’re going to put you on some mountain and you’re going to be running. We’re going to do this together.”

Isolation was something Okafor became accustomed to in Philadelphia, where he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during a solid rookie season before seeing his playing time and effectiveness wane over the next year-and-a-half before arriving in Brooklyn.

Offered a fresh start, and a promise that he will be an integral part of the Nets’ future is motivating Okafor to show some patience and work himself back into game shape here in our fair borough.

“That’s why I’m happy I’m here with the actual NBA coaching staff that’s taking care of me every day,” Okafor said in a clear snipe at his former organization.

“When I was in Philly, I was figuring it out on my own. I had my own trainer [Rick Lewis] that I’ve been working with since eighth grade working me out. But it’s a different level when you’re actually working with an NBA staff.”

Though Atkinson did not give an estimate as to how long it would take Okafor to be ready to compete night in and night out with the Nets, he does believe that the Fort Smith, Arkansas native will prove valuable to Brooklyn at some point this year.

Stauskas also made his Nets debut vs. Toronto and appeared to fit in quite nicely with Atkinson’s scheme. The 24-year-old Michigan alum scored a team-high 22 points in the loss to the Raptors, but was unable to provide much help here in Brooklyn on Sunday, going scoreless in 15 minutes off the bench on 0-for-5 shooting.

The Nets (11-18) have dropped three in a row and four of their last five since dealing Booker, and were eager to get back in the win column Wednesday night against visiting Sacramento.

Brooklyn will also host Washington here on Friday before embarking on a five-game road trip to close out December.

Nothing But Net: General manager Sean Marks stayed busy during the holiday season, signing Long Island Nets standout Milton Doyle to a two-way contract Monday. Doyle leads Long Island with 21.3 points per game this season, and will now be an available to be called up by the NBA franchise when needed, much the same way Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead has been utilized throughout the campaign. “If I get to come up here and play, call me at three, four in the morning,” said Doyle. “I’ll be here.” … Nets players are getting in the holiday spirit this week here in Brooklyn. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert were slated to take 25 local children on a shopping spree at Modell’s Tuesday afternoon while Joe Harris will distribute goodies to kids in alliance with NYPD Wednesday at an annual Sleigh Ride event in Bedford-Stuyvesant.


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