Neither Jahlil Okafor nor Nets coach Kenny Atkinson know how long it’ll take the newly acquired big man to get into game shape. But both agree he’s not there now, and it won’t do either any good to play him until he gets there.
That could take a while.
“I don’t know how far I am away, but I know I’m not there yet to where I can play 25, 30 minutes and help the team win,” Okafor said. “So I’m doing myself a disservice and the team if I’m out there. I’m not really contributing as much as I think I can. I don’t have a timetable, but hopefully I’m not too far away because I do want to be out there. I do want to play with my teammates.
“Me and coach Kenny talked prior to the game [Sunday] and had a mutual agreement if I think I should be out there right now … I want the team to benefit from me being out there. Being able to have more good days under my belt with the staff and the people they have taking care of my body, my mind, my skill work. That’s going to benefit me so when I get back out there I can actually help.”
Okafor made his Nets debut Friday in a blowout loss in Toronto, but might have to wait for an encore. After playing just 25 minutes all season for Philadelphia — his last appearance for the Sixers was Nov. 7 — it’s no shock the 6-foot-11, 260-pounder’s conditioning suffered.
“No, it’s to be expected. He just hasn’t played,” Atkinson said. “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. 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.
“We need to put him in a situation to succeed and a position to help us. 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.”
No, the Nets aren’t going to put Okafor through any Rocky training montage. But he hasn’t played in four of the five games since his acquisition, with that lone appearance likely contributing to him being shelved. He logged 22 ½ minutes Friday, and was visibly winded over the final six-plus minutes.
“You don’t really know where you stand. Playing against one of the best teams in the East was a good [test],” said Okafor, 22. “A lot of the guys are in midseason form, where I feel like I’m at the start of the season because I haven’t really played. … I have to catch up to a lot of guys.
“That’s why I’m happy I’m here with the actual NBA coaching staff that’s taking care of me every day. 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.”
If Okafor felt cut off in Philadelphia, he’ll be surrounded by a vast performance team and hands-on coaching staff with the Nets. He stayed after practice Monday working on his corner 3s, with assistant Bret Brielmaier running at him to simulate closeouts in game conditions.
“It was a collaborative decision, observing. We have to get more information. We needed a barometer of where he is,” Atkinson said. “Toronto gave us some information. We obviously have other metrics: Watching him in the weight room and performance room. Then it was let’s talk, where do you think you are?
“He was in agreement with it, which is good, because some guys will fight you on it. … He had the maturity and the self-awareness to understand.”