Jahlil Okafor to return to Nets lineup on Wednesday, will get his chance

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Jahlil Okafor has played in just one game for 23 minutes in Brooklyn back on Dec. 15, since then both he and the team agreed to keep him on the sidelines to work on conditioning and his game.

Starting Wednesday, Okafor will get back in the rotation — and the free agent to be will get the chance to prove he has a role in the NBA. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson made the announcement, via Nets Daily.

“He’s close. I’d expect to see him against Minnesota,” Atkinson said before Monday’s game. “I think we’ll start to get him some minutes. He’s been doing a phenomenal job getting ready physically with our assistant coaches learning what we’re doing. Collectively we feel like he’s ready to get some minutes….

“It’s not going to be 48 minutes right off the bat,” Atkinson adds, regarding how much we’ll actually see Okafor. “We’ll build him up and evaluate where he is physically and game-wise. Like anybody, you’ve got to earn it with play. Let’s see it in small doses and hopefully build him up to bigger minutes.”

Okafor has an old-school game: below the rim, back-to-the-basket, best suited for a halfcourt style play. The NBA has shifted dramatically in recent years away from that style — the Nets play at the fourth fastest pace in the league — and to make his game work in the modern NBA Okafor has to prove he can be a very efficient scorer and stronger on the glass than we have seen. Okafor’s career true shooting percentage of 53.9 is basically league average. He has to be a better playmaker passing out of the post. He needs to show some improvement on defense.

There is a model for him, for example Enes Kanter has made a nice career playing below the rim and not being a strong defender, but he is incredibly efficient on offense and a beast on the boards. That’s what Okafor needs to be.

Okafor is an unrestricted free agent next summer, he is playing for his paycheck. Someone will give him a chance, but the quality of opportunity (not to mention money) will be determined over the next four months in Brooklyn.