Video Breakdown: Sixers Test Jahlil Okafor/Joel Embiid Pairing, Get Mixed Results

Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) congratulate each other after a score against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 2, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) congratulate each other after a score against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Sixers put Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid together to start the game. The stints brought back mixed results.

The Sixers went into Wednesday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors with a new experiment. The towers that Philadelphia holds in their front court have rarely seen the court at the same time. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel did not find any sorts of rhythm in their short time on the court together last season, and Noel has yet to see the court with rookie Joel Embiid.

Okafor rarely saw time on the court with Embiid either, but on Wednesday Brett Brown decided to mix things up. The matchup against Toronto seemed to be the perfect time for the Sixers to test out the pair. Center Jonas Valanciunas is a versatile offensive center that does most of his damage inside the paint, but his front court running mate this year has been Cameroonian rookie Pascal Siakam.

Siakam is a long, lanky forward that struggles scoring. Making a defensive matchup for either Embiid or Okafor at the power forward position feasible. Okafor took on Valanciunas most of the night, while Embiid marked the power forward position on defense but played more of a read defense, leaking towards the paint and serving as the team’s rim protector on switches.

The pair found themselves struggling for spacing on a few occasions, but overall, it wasn’t a horrible showing. What was troubling was the significantly low shot attempts from Embiid compared to his other performances. Embiid scored 9 points on just five shots.

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He found himself along the three-point line more often than usual with Okafor in the post, but his lack of shot attempts is also due to a struggle of passing the ball down low. It could very well be that coach Brown laid out the gameplan so that Embiid’s outside shot would be maximized with Okafor down low, or it could be that Embiid just wasn’t as active off the ball as we’re used to seeing. Either way, the duo had evident positives and negatives in their performance together.

Spacing On Offense

It’s always intriguing to watch Embiid off the ball. His signature top of the arc spot up three-point shot comes early in possessions after trailing the ball handler. Other times, Embiid is often fighting down low, switching sides to find good positioning. Okafor loves to work the left side of the court with the ball in the post, but often finds himself in the high post working from the elbow.

The positioning seemed to stay relatively the same when the two teamed up. One of the first few possessions of the game shows this.

Here Okafor uses one of his eye-popping post moves to scoot past Valanciunas. What isn’t shown is Embiid near the top of the key, opening up the paint for Okafor while giving him multitudes of passing options. Okafor has Gerald Henderson in the corner, Robert Covington next to him, and Embiid at the top of the key. It’s almost like isolation down low. Okafor is best in one-on-one situations, and giving him four outside shooting options just eases the down low situations.

Again, it’s up for debate whether this hinders Embiid’s ability to be effective on offense, but Okafor saw better looks on Wednesday than he has all season. Embiid did benefit in some instances from the centralization of the ball down low. Here, Embiid gets an open three-point look after an Okafor post-up.

We see Okafor continuously favoring the left side, and it benefits Embiid once again after he makes a freakish play driving from the top of the key. Embiid often has a shaky down low option to dump the ball off to. Here Okafor catches the beautiful pass and finishes it off with an easy dunk.

In all, the offensive performance was decent between the two. There were some moments where Okafor was trying post up on the same side Embiid was positioning himself. There were also times the two would play traditional style of post-up ball. Okafor posting up on the left, Embiid on the right. The spacing was questionable in that scheme, as we see Covington driving a flooded lane with no relief from Okafor or Embiid as a passing outlet.

There were still glimpses of potential between the two, but lack of chemistry hurt. We see below that Okafor tries to hand the ball off to Embiid, who then rushes the rest of the play and dribbles into the double team. The potential is there for a kick out pass, but Embiid seemed a little surprised to receive the ball from Okafor like that.

Defensive Rotations

The biggest question for the pairing comes on the defensive side. Again, Toronto’s lineup allowed for some leeway on missed rotations, but it’s apparent there are issues in communication. On multiple occasions, we saw Okafor and Embiid both pull towards the ball down low, leaving open shots in the mid-range.

Valanciunas had himself a field day with these looks on his way to a 17-point and 10 rebound game. Patrick Patterson also had some open looks, while Siakam struggled to hit the mid-range shot. Okafor did have himself a decent game defensively, but his poor rebounding could doom the pair.

With Embiid guarding the power forward position, Okafor had the main responsibility of pulling in defensive rebounds over Valanciunas, a tough task for anyone. But Okafor’s struggles on the defensive boards are well documented, and his efforts fell short once again Wednesday.

The Sixers will likely test the duo again sometime this season, as the first real look at them together brought mixed results. It wasn’t as diabolical as some have made it out to be, but the pairing still have ways to go if it’ll become a constant for the Sixers.

Next: Video Breakdown: Noel's Return

The pairing clearly benefits Okafor more than it does Embiid, but it’s naive to say that the lack of shots Embiid saw was completely due to Okafor’s play. The Sixers have the entire rest of the season to test these two out together, the expected return of Ben Simmons could throw a positive wrinkle into the experiment.