Brett Brown has a pretty good idea what could have happened if he had decided to allow rookie center Jahlil Okafor to play more than the 31 minutes he posted in Monday night’s loss to the Bulls.

“He could have [scored] in the mid-30s and 20 rebounds if I let him play more and finish the game like we have been,” Brown said after Tuesday’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “He could have had a massive game.”

Instead, Okafor scored just 21 points (on 25 shots) with a career-high 15 rebounds. He did this even though he did not play the final 6:13 of the 23-point loss and without frontcourt mate Nerlens Noel, who sat out with sore wrists.

Before Monday’s game Brown said Okafor “could score 20 points in his sleep,” but urged him to improve his rebounding numbers. So Okafor got 15. He also has urged Okafor to improve his foul shooting from the 51 percent he posted in his lone season at Duke last year.

Okafor started the season 15 for 18 from the line and is shooting 62.2 percent on his free throws this season.

So at 19 and not even two years removed from his final high school season, Okafor is averaging nearly 20 points and seven rebounds in seven NBA games.

Can he get much better?

“I think he can be,”  Brown said.

How good remains to be seen, Brown said. But just seven games into his NBA career, Okafor hasn’t even scratched the surface.

“I see his ceiling being high and I really love the fact that he’s coachable,” Brown said. “He truly wants to please and he truly wants to get better. He’s been a real treat for me to coach.”

Yes, but how much better can Okafor be? Is he a perennial All-Star or something more than that?

How can Brown be sure Okafor has much more room for improvement?

The answer, the Sixers’ coach says, is inside Okafor. Though he’s just 19, Brown says Okafor is already an imposing force on the court.

“There are probably four or five guys in the NBA heavier than him — bigger. All that matters,” Brown said.

“I always go to his body. He’s been great. If you saw his skin folds I could base my comments on data and facts and measurements. He’s great — he’s bought into that in a huge way. If we can get him to be in the best shape of his life and hold that, he will be quicker up and down the floor and he’ll be able to go up and down the floor more times. He’ll be able to take his normal 10 to 12 steps to get up and down the floor and make it eight. He will be a committed roller and a committed screener and if you take his body and make it perfect, he responds to coaching.”

The response time has been pretty quick so far. He’s improved his rebounding on the fly, he’s second in two-point field goal attempts and makes and leads all NBA rookies in nearly every category.

“He’s playing great,” Noel said. “It’s just a matter of time before he starts to get the numbers. He still is learning about positioning and where he needs to be. To play in the NBA is a lot different than any other level. I think he’s playing great. He could have easily had 30 [points on Monday night] but he missed a couple of bunnies.”
But, yes, he’s still learning. Brown is pacing himself in terms of what Okafor’s responsibilities will be this season. The goals are rather modest and it’s possible the rookie will grow beyond them by season’s end.

At least that’s the hope.

“My marching orders for Jahlil this year are three things: defensive rebounds, screen setting and rolling out of it, and deep catches,” Brown said.

In the meantime, Okafor’s play hasn’t surprised many of his teammates, especially frontcourt partner Noel. How good can Okafor be?

Maybe good enough to the lead the Sixers to some wins.

“He’s in great shape and he’s continuing to work hard,” Noel said. “He’s playing great.”