76ers

Jahlil Okafor on DNPs: 'It's funky for all of us'

Jahlil Okafor on DNPs: 'It's funky for all of us'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jahlil Okafor knows the situation.

There are only so many minutes to go around among himself, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, and someone is going to come up short. That person, as of late, has been Okafor.

“Obviously it's a funky situation. It's funky for all of us,” Okafor said Tuesday. “Right now I'm the person who's sitting out, so obviously not [the position I want to be in]. I know I’m not the type of player that’s a DNP, but that’s what it is right now. 

“Coach (Brett) Brown has been phenomenal with communicating with me, and I know in the long run I’m going to be fine. I just try to come in here every day and work as hard as I can.”

Okafor registered DNPs the last two games while Embiid started and Noel took on a sixth-man role. Riding the bench is a stark contrast for the 2015 third overall pick, who had been averaging 22.4 minutes per game this season. 

“I think for the short term, I think it’s wise and mature for him to accept it," Brown said. "When you really crawl in and say what do you want out of your career, what do you want to be, he’s not going to tell you he wants to be sixth man and I don’t blame him.”

On Monday, Okafor participated in a workout for low-minute players. He also spent time at the training complex putting up extra shots. 

"The roles that people accept versus the roles that people are given are kind of different," Brown said. "To date, I feel like he has handled it like an adult, like a pro, and his spirit has not taken a dent. I intend on trying to keep him believing in himself.”

Okafor said he and Brown have kept open dialogue during this shift in playing time. 

“I know that he doesn’t have to tell me anything,” Okafor said. “He could just go out there and coach, I could just be on the bench unaware of anything. He’s done an amazing job. I’m appreciative of that.”

While Okafor has not received a timeframe of how long this situation will continue, he expects to play Saturday against the Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back. Embiid does not play in consecutive games, which creates an opportunity for Okafor. The Sixers have four sets of back-to-backs this month alone. 

“I see a very clear path in the immediate future where we keep his spirit up and there is an end game to why he’s coming in late last night,” Brown said. “There’s light at the end of his tunnel because of that Joel back-to-back situation especially.”

As Okafor watches games from the bench, he doesn't get caught up in the concept of his teammates' "taking" his minutes. The close-knit frontcourt has remained supportive of one another while minutes fluctuate from big to big.

"It makes it a lot easier knowing I have guys playing in front of me that I genuinely like," Okafor said. "You can’t really get mad at them or anything like that because you guys are really good friends. I’m seeing Nerlens do his thing, it makes me happy to see any one of your friends doing well. It makes it a lot easier having guys that you like."

Banged-up Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year. 

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said. 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.