Game Preview | Okafor Looking to Master "0.5" Mindset

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Sizing Up the Sixers (26-45):
The past few days, in some ways, have represented a snapshot of sorts of how the 2016-2017 season has gone for Jahlil Okafor.

This time a week ago, the 76ers had just returned home from the West Coast, and a stretch of solid contributions from Okafor was one of the encouraging developments the team brought back with it. During the four-game trek, the center reached double-figures in each outing, culminating with his first set of back-to-back 20-point showings (23 pts at the Lakers, 22 pts at the Warriors).

Not only was the trip highlighted by Okafor scoring in volume (he averaged 18.8 ppg out west, second only to Dario Saric’s 24.5 ppg), he also performed efficiently on the offensive end, converting 55.8 percent of his shots.

But then, last weekend, Okafor started to experience soreness in his right knee again. The issue has been one that’s dogged him throughout the season.

The big man subsequently had to sit out the second half of Sunday’s victory over the Celtics, and missed all of Monday’s overtime bout against the Magic in Orlando as well.

Just when it looked like Okafor was gaining some type of personal momentum, it was temporarily snuffed out. Such has been the ebb and flow of his second season.

In an effort to get back into rhythm quickly upon returning to action Wednesday in Oklahoma City, Okafor concentrated on competing with the “0.5” mindset that he and Brett Brown both feel has served him well this year.

What does this approach entail? Simply, when the basketball reaches Okafor, his task is to figure out what to do with it in a half second or less.

“The biggest key to me is making quick decisions,” Okafor said Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “I think that’s what’s been most beneficial for myself and my teammates.”

And his view on the matter really hasn’t wavered much throughout the season.

Ask the 21-year old any number of times in any number of different ways about his development, and, at least in respect to his offense game, the “0.5” mentality is a concept he frequently references (on the defensive end, Okafor will likely tell you that rebounding remains his primary focal point).

“It’s something that I learned about this year,” Okafor said, when asked about Brown’s “point-five” challenge. “I think Coach Brown started it. You have half a second to make your mind up to know if you’re going to shoot, pass, drive. Don’t hold the ball too long, and make your decision quick.

“Most of that is just coach telling me to trust my instincts as a basketball player.”

At the outset of Wednesday’s contest against the Thunder, Okafor, who started for the 11th time in 12 appearances, seem to act swiftly in several instances in which the ball hit his massive hands.

After the Sixers and Thunder went scoreless for nearly two minutes to open the game, there was Okafor, upon receiving a mid-post bounce-pass from T.J. McConnell, wasting little time committing to a purposeful baseline drive in the midst of pressure applied by the very grizzly Steven Adams.

Later on in Wednesday’s first half, with the Sixers trying to keep pace with a determined opponent, Okafor, after bringing the ball up to the top of the 3-point arc, promptly recognized that Justin Anderson had gotten a step on Doug McDermott. He then hit the hard-cutting Anderson in stride with a pass that led to a nice lay-up.

In the opening moments of the third quarter, Okafor’s mind and body alike were on the move, as he saw space open on the weakside of the floor, and zoomed towards the lane, where Gerald Henderson found him for a running dunk.

All in all, Brown said he thought Okafor, who tallied six points, two rebounds, and two assists Wednesday, looked “ok” against O.K.C. It sounded as if Brown might have been inclined to play Okafor longer than six minutes in the second half had the scoreboard not been heavily in the Thunder’s favor.

“His health rules the day,” said Brown. “We will be respectful and mindful of our situation as it relates to his health.

“The times that he has been on the floor and shown what he can do, he really comes and more than not has an immediate impact on a game.”

Provided good health, Okafor should have his first chance this season to suit up in his native Chicago, with the Sixers squaring off against the Bulls Friday night. The 2015 third overall pick was unavailable the last time the Sixers were at United Center, in January.

Over four career outings against his hometown team, Okafor has averaged quality numbers, putting up 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game.

Sizing Up the Bulls (33-38):
With less than three weeks to go in the regular season, Chicago, through a bevy of ups and downs this year, still finds itself in a virtual dead heat for the final playoff-eligible spot in the Eastern Conference. But while the Bulls were only a game behind Miami for eighth place in the standings as of Friday morning, they were also tied for ninth with Central Division rival Detroit.

A month ago, Chicago, in its second campaign under coach Fred Hoiberg, appeared to be headed in a decent direction, having posted five victories in the span of six games. During this stretch, which was fueled by a season-high tying four-game winning streak, the Bulls even beat Golden State, 94-87.

Chicago’s results, however, have regressed in recent weeks, despite its bid for a post-season berth. The Bulls have gone 3-8 since their March 2nd triumph over the Warriors, and along the way, lost free agent pick-up Dwyane Wade for the rest of the year due to a fracture and sprain of his right elbow.

An All-Star for a third straight season, Jimmy Butler tops Chicago in scoring, doing so at a career-best clip of 23.4 points per game. His two-way wing versatility is further reflected by averages of 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.9 steals.

Series History:
The Sixers’ series with Chicago has swayed in the Bulls’ direction in recent years. Chicago has prevailed in each of the past 12 meetings between the clubs, and 17 of 18 overall. The Sixers have endured defeats of 105-89 and 121-108, respectively, this season.

The first time around, on November 26th at The Center, Nik Stauskas and Richaun Holmes pitched in off the bench with 13 points apiece. In the second match-up, Robert Covington, a Chicagoland area product, notched 21 points, 12 boards, three assists, three steals, and three blocked shots.

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