Who among Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor is the odd man out of Philadelphia?
If there’s one thing certain about the Philadelphia 76ers‘ current roster, it’s that they created a major logjam in the front court.
What Philly has to work with
The team drafted the consensus top-pick of this year’s draft, Ben Simmons, which many considered as a no-brainer decision. The LSU product has the rare combination of size, ball handling and a very decent mid-range game that will make him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
Both their first round picks from two years ago, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric will finally make their debuts as well this coming season. Embiid missed the past two seasons due to a pair of foot surgeries while Saric was stashed in Europe to gain more experience but is now NBA-ready. He’s showed tremendous improvement during the Rio Olympics.
These three rookies will join the Sixers’ four and five spots in a rotation that already has Nerlens Noel and 2015 second-overall pick Jahlil Okafor. The team’s head coach, Brett Brown, will have the unenviable task of distributing the minutes to these big men.
Team President Bryan Colangelo has been very vocal about his desire to loosen the jam they have created and trade one or two from the promising bunch. From the five, three names are considered as the most probable to be packaged in a deal: Embiid, Okafor or Noel.
It will be very hard to imagine that they will trade Embiid. After all, the 76ers have been very patient with him and waited two long years for the Cameroonian to be 100-percnet healthy. He is now on schedule with his strength and conditioning and is expected to play in the preseason. If the 7-foot center can show glimpses of his game back when he was with Kansas, it will give the team more reason to hold on to him. But if there’s any team who shows interest in Embiid and is ready to make an offer that’s hard to refuse, Colangelo and co. will definitely consider it.
Noel vs. Okafor
This leaves the Sixers to look for deals for either Okafor or Noel. Both have shown their value and what they can contribute to the team.
Okafor played well last year given the expectations that were on his shoulders after one season in college. The Duke product averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 blocks in 30.0 minutes per game.
Noel on the other hand has had two solid seasons where he has shown he is an inside presence and an elite rebounder. The sixth-overall pick of the 2013 draft has career averages of 10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.7 blocks in 30.1 minutes per game.
But despite their individual brilliance, they have not proven that they can co-exist and contribute positively when they share the court.
Both are tremendous athletes and have their own case as to why they should be kept in Philadelphia. Even if they almost have the same height, they play very differently.
Okafor is more comfortable playing facing the basket and has the better perimeter game. He also has the makings of becoming the stretch-four the team needs, but he is not as good of an inside-the-paint defender as Noel, who is also the better rebounder between the two.
With this summer’s free agency already drying up at this point, the Sixers have shown that they are willing to wait for an offer that truly will entice them before pulling the trigger on a trade. They might have an influx of young big men on their roster, but it is certainly better than having a scarcity of it.
Which player will most likely go
If the rumors from the past couple of months would be the sole basis of who the team will decide to let go off, it will be Okakor. He was to be included in potential a draft day deal in an attempt to bag the third overall-pick from the Boston Celtics. That didn’t pan out, but with the inclusion of number-one overall pick Ben Simmons, Okafor is even more expendable.
Simmons plays more similarly to Okafor than any other of the bigs. Compared to Okafor, Simmons also has better passing skills and is arguably more agile. It makes more sense to pair up Simmons with Noel in the frontcourt since he has a knack for getting to the ball for possible offensive rebounds and will give more room for the Australian to operate.
At this point, it’s not who has more potential and who was drafted higher, it’s who compliments the other players on the team better. Since the Sixers look to build around Simmons, Nerlens Noel seems to be the more ideal mate up front for the new face of the franchise.
Should it not work out, then team can make use of Saric and Embiid more, who play more similar to Noel. Surely, there are a number of options available for them, they just have to make some moves, one at a time.
The situation in Philadelphia is something definitely worth monitoring and only time can tell how the team will manage this. But all signs point towards not seeing these five on the same lineup by the start of the season.