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."