Philadelphia 76ers: Nerlens or Jah, Let’s Settle This

Feb 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) celebrates with center Jahlil Okafor (8) after a score against the Washington Wizards during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) celebrates with center Jahlil Okafor (8) after a score against the Washington Wizards during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

This has been one of the most productive offseasons in recent memory for the Philadelphia 76ers, and the fanbase has every reason to be extremely excited for not only this season, but many seasons to come.

The Ben Simmons addition is the obvious bright spot in the offseason so far, but there are many more things the organization has done that should get fans truly excited. Joel Embiid finally looks like he’s ready to hit the NBA floor, they added some veterans that can actually produce (sorry Elton Brand you don’t fall into that category), and they were able to convince Dario Saric to come to America despite rumors he would spend an additional season in Europe. But there’s one problem that’s been lingering with the Philadelphia 76ers roster, and that’s the logjam that exists in the big man positions.

Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor? This has been the question posed all summer by fans, the front office, and media around Philadelphia. With Joel Embiid’s impending debut season on the horizon, it seems the Philadelphia 76ers front office, for good reason, are expecting him to soon be a major impact player in the league. Despite Okafor’s 17 and 7 rookie season, his play left many unconvinced that he was a true staple of this organization for years to come. Normally drafting someone at the 3rd spot is an assumed franchise player, but there has been doubt from the beginning about the Sixers’ true intentions with Jahlil. Most just believed that Sam Hinkie took the best player available, thus building the team’s assets.

Then to the curious case of Nerlens Noel. This will now be his 3rd season of action, and his leash isn’t exactly the longest right now. Many were expecting Noel to take a notable leap from his rookie to sophomore season, but that ended in disappointment as Noel only upped his PPG by 1.1 and grabbed the exact same amount of rebounds per night. What makes his lack of improvement even more frustrating is the inability of him and Jahlil Okafor to form a formidable partnership in the frontcourt.

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Even if these two were only ever going to be a temporary pair, it was not something that should have came as a total shock to Sixers management. The skill sets of the two just don’t compliment each other at all. Ideally, you would like a big man who can bump and bruise, get those tough buckets in the paint, and also be a defensive presence around the rim. Additionally, having a big who can spread the floor and knock down shots will also heavily benefit not only the other big man but the entire team.

Okafor is obviously much more skilled on the offensive end, and that’s not news to anyone. The big man has extremely impressive skills and footwork on the low block, and you won’t see much better on the offensive end when it comes to strictly offensive post effectiveness. He’s also a very good rebounder, but the flaws are there. The Sixers would like to run a high tempo offense more with Ben Simmons, and Okafor is by no means ideal offensively for that type of game. He would much rather slow things down and play on the block, thus already not precisely fitting into team plans.

Then you add Nerlens offensively. Of course no one denies his shot blocking and rim protecting ability, along with very above average rebounding. But Nerlens Noel is still a problem on the offensive end. He has no real value besides as a pick-and-roll lob specialist, and you’ll almost always find him down low. If you’re looking to play to Jahlil’s strengths offensively, having Nerlens down there all the time taking up space and attracting more defensive attention is likely not the best path to his success.

Philadelphia 76ers
Jan 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) react after a score against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

It would be obvious to say that getting rid of Nerlens would eliminate any strength the Sixers have with rim protection, but people forget that Joel Embiid is someone more than capable of holding his own defensively. He was known more for his defensive skills than offensive during his time at Kansas, and he was even known as a guy who could get out to the perimeter and pick someone up occasionally. While it’s debatable if he will be immediately athletic enough to try that in the NBA, it can’t be forgotten how much of an asset he is defensively and how he can easily slot into that rim protector role.

The simple fact that continually comes up when talking Okafor and Noel together is that the two are just ineffective together on the court. The team was outscored by an average of 19.5 points per game when the two were on the court together, which is laughable. When you have needs on other spots of the team like the Sixers do in the backcourt and with shooters in general, the sensual thing to do is to trade one of these pieces while they still have relatively high value. The team could very well be completely fine with moving on with one of the two as they still have Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, Jerami Grant, Richaun Holmes and…ugh…Elton Brand. The hard part remains, and always has been, which of the two to trade.

This is obviously a decision GM Bryan Colangelo is faltering with himself. As recently as earlier today, Colangelo denied that either of the two big men were being shopped around.

"“I think what I said over the course of the summer is there is no doubt that we got three talented players. It’s a high-class problem to have…“But I never felt compelled that we have to do something, because it will work itself out over the course of time. Some of it will work itself out with contract negotiations and free agency. There’s different things that are staggered in terms of timeline.”"

Philadelphia 76ers
Jun 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo during an introduction press conference at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Even the GM is having a hard time refuting something that most of us believe to be inevitable. So someone needs to take a stance here, and I’ll take a stab.

Nerlens Noel should be the one traded. It’s not an easy call, and perhaps not the correct one at this current moment, but the fact has to remain that Jahlil is a better player, and thus more valuable to the team. Guys like Nerlens Noel become available every summer, just look at Bisack Biyombo heading down to Orlando. Offensively limited rim protectors will never be scarce in the NBA. Players with the pure skill and grace of Jahlil Okafor don’t come often. As previously stated as well, the defensive hole that Noel leaves the team in can partially, if not fully be covered by the incoming Embiid.

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If the team does move on from Nerlens before the season, I expect to see an opening night lineup of Bayless, Henderson, Simmons, Saric, and Okafor, with Embiid forcing his way into that lineup with reps and NBA-level conditioning under his belt. Now that’s a lineup I don’t think we will hear very many Sixers fans talking about.