For sure, I love a good NBA debate, even though it seems as though we share some ideological differences, it is interesting to hear your point of view.
Okafor’s problem is not that he doesn’t know how to play basketball it is just that his combination of things he is good at and things he is not makes him very limited. He is a big man who doesn’t protect the rim or clean the glass. And you can say that that is an effort thing but his 17% defensive rebound rate is like that of a stretch big or an elite rim protector. The problem is he is neither of those. And rebounding isn’t a new issue for him, he struggled with it at Duke too and they were winning. I’ll admit there may be some confirmation bias because I never was high on Okafor as an NBA prospect but advanced stats hate him too. He posted a negative VORP and WARP this year while Nerlens was positive in both.
You mentioned him being able to guard fours with Embiid protecting the rim and this is something that Brett Brown talked about experimenting with (Noel was the rim protector) on the Zach Lowe Pod, and basically admitted failed miserably. He is just too limited defensively to guard any position in the starting lineup. He has to be utilized as a bench player in my opinion and that isn’t something he is going to be happy with in Philly.
As for the three guys you mentioned:
Gortat: Can protect the rim, is actually a very skilled passer and tries really hard on defense. Jahlil could be a better passer than I’m giving him credit for seeing as there was little to pass to last year but Gortat’s overall skill set is better for a starting NBA center than Jahlil’s is. Not saying he can score in the post like Okafor but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as protecting the rim, setting screens and making reads going downhill. All of things that Gortat does well.
McGee: First of all he is super happy that you think he was successful in the NBA. I would argue the only quality ball he played was like half a season in Denver when George Karl somehow gained the power of mind control. But even still, McGee was an incredibly athletic rim protector, dive man who just didn’t have the constant effort and mental acumen to perfect his craft. I would take Okafor on my team over McGee right now but in terms of center skill set McGee’s was probably more valuable.
Brand: Can’t say I am super familiar with Brand’s game, as by the time I was following the NBA hardcore he was a mildly successful 76er. But early on Brand’s stats show he offensive rebounded like an animal, a great way for a limited big guy to look a lot better. Jahlil doesn’t do that either. And I think motor is more innate than you seem to.
It is true I do not hear the local media for basically any NBA team. But I do love the RTRS Podcast (I am guessing you hate them because their views are similar to mine) and feel that most hot take sports radio stuff doesn’t add much to the conversation anyway. No way would Okafor ever fetch a Westbrook type player or anything even close, it is things like this that make me lose respect for those types of personalities. I do see your concern for clearing the way for Embiid if he isn’t healthy but also Center is the least important and now deepest position in the league. I would love to see them experiment with Simmons at small-ball center and they have Richaun Holmes too who they could give some minutes there too. If Noel goes 30ish and they can get 15 from Embiid they are set, if Embiid can’t play they’ll be able to find guys to fill in.
As for what I think Okafor could fetch, I am not even sure if a first rounder would be on the table. Perhaps a team that falls out of love with its recent draft pick would be a good trade partner. The fact is that as soon as Okafor was drafted he wasn’t worth his draft slot, almost no player is. Personally I think that Portland would be a good partner if they falter a bit early on this season and want to shed the Crabbe contract maybe Layman (you’re a Terps fan right?) and possibly a pick. That would be an amazing haul for Okafor. I think if you get anything close to a starting caliber player it is a good deal.
I see what you are saying about per-36 stats but it is more than that. If Okafor’s role is limited his attitude may become an issue which would force Philly to trade him quicker and may turn teams off as they would likely see him in a bench role too.
Bottom line I think we both look at team creation a little differently and that is fine. I actually think had they not drafted Simmons they could have tried to build counter to the NBA and centered around Okafor. But with Simmons in the fold they have to put everything through that lens. And looking at the LeBron model it is stretchier bigs or excellent defensive bigs to pair with a point forward like that. I just don’t think Okafor fits, and Noel and Embiid are possible fits so it makes more sense to keep them around and see.