Halftime Sports

Big Problems: How the Sixers Could fix their Struggles at Center

December 22, 2016


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“They need to figure this sh-t out, man,” a clearly upset Nerlens Noel said after the Philadelphia 76ers lost 100-89 to the Lakers on national television. “F–k out of here.”

Noel was upset with his playing time; he racked up only 8 minutes in the loss, during which he scored 2 points and had 5 assists. It was a completely forgettable game for the center, and if it were not for his postgame comments, it would have been just that: forgotten. Instead, Noel, who has pointed out in the past that three centers is far too many, voiced his frustration after the game, culminating with the simple “I’m too good to be playing 8 minutes.”

Noel is complaining about the logjam that exists on the team’s roster, which includes Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and Joel Embiid all lined up as centers.

In the Sixers’ game against the Nets, Noel didn’t play at all, and head coach Brett Brown has announced that Noel has been completely taken out of the rotation. Brown assured us that this has nothing to do with Noel’s comments, which wouldn’t be less believable if the coach’s nose literally grew before our eyes.

Predictably, some fans were upset with Noel’s comments. He was arrogant, they said, and certainly there was a better way to get his message across than an angry press conference.

While this may be true, there is no doubt about something else: Noel is right. He is far too good of a player to only see 8 minutes of action per game (now he’ll be seeing basically 0). Three centers is far too many for this team. It is obvious that the Sixers have a serious problem at the 5, and this problem will only get worse as time goes on.

The current problem is born out of what is known as “The Process”, former GM Sam Hinkie’s plan to acquire as many draft picks as possible, and to use these picks to eventually pick a superstar. Hinkie had a different mindset going into drafts than most GMs do. Since he was so prepared to trade players away for draft picks later down the road and the teams he did have were so much a random assortment of should-be D Leaguers and almost-retirees, he didn’t worry about how his picks would mesh with the team on the court. Instead, he focused on picking the best players available.

This is how the Sixers ended up with three centers. (It is also how they ended up with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and an actual future for the program, and I will defend The Process until my death.)

Now, Sam Hinkie is gone, the team actually has some good players, and the front office/coaching staff has no idea what the hell to do. Below are some options the Sixers have to try and fix this all up.

Do Nothing: This is the easiest option, but it won’t help the team at all, and will ultimately hurt the team more. For this exact reason, I could totally see this being the plan of action. The Sixers could continue to play Embiid and Okafor, with Noel on the bench. This current situation is horrible for a number of reasons. Under this scheme, Noel is a complete non- factor, whose talents are wasted. Currently, Okafor is a starter alongside Embiid, an obvious attempt to keep the former Blue Devil happy. This is atrocious. Okafor is hardly deserving of this spot: he scored just 3 points in 28 total minutes of play in the Sixers’ win over Brooklyn on Sunday. Embiid also plays significantly worse when he is on the court alongside Okafor, since the second center seems to just take up space that Embiid could use down low.

Trade Okafor: The Duke standout has struggled this season, averaging 11.7/4.7/1.0 per game, and occasionally dropping an egg like he did against the Nets that make Sixers fans wonder why he is still in the league. Because of this, Okafor is not the most desirable player for most teams. Still, there are a number of teams in need of a big man, and there is no reason to think that Okafor will be a bad player in the league. In his rookie season, he averaged over 15 points per game, proving that he can be an adequate scorer. Trading Okafor would open up breathing room for Noel and Embiid, with Embiid being the starter and Noel playing significant minutes off the bench.

Trade Noel: This seems the most likely if the Sixers were to choose to just trade one of their centers. While Noel said in the preseason that he wasn’t specifically asking for a trade, there is no doubt that he would want out if the option presents itself. The biggest struggle in moving Noel would be convincing other teams that he can stay healthy. He missed the entire 2012-13 season due to a torn ACL, and has only played in 3 games this season due to a knee injury. Still, he has a strong skillset and the potential to be one of the better centers in the league. The biggest issue with moving just Noel is that it still leaves Okafor and Embiid on the roster together. The two would need to figure out how to play together on the court better or Okafor would have to come off the bench, something he would probably not be too happy about.

Trade Embiid: I never want to see or hear those words ever again.

Trade Okafor and Noel: Doing this would maximize the payout for the Sixers, and is probably the best move in the long run. In reality, the Sixers don’t need either of these players coming off the bench, especially with the quality of play that they’ve seen from Embiid thus far. Of course, that is assuming Embiid can stay healthy. The Cameroonian center, who was the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, missed the entirety of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons due to a broken foot. If Embiid can stay the dominant, healthy player that he has been thus far in the season, then the Sixers should do everything they can to move both Okafor and Noel and maximize their returns. If, however, they do this and Embiid becomes injured, they are, as Noel would say, “f–ked”.

Trade Options: A number of teams would be interested in either of Philadelphia’s big men. The Celtics are lacking at the center position, although Okafor would have to make amends with the city’s fan base first. Portland is also in need of a center, with news that Festus Ezeli is likely out for the remainder of the season. While there is no doubt that the Trailblazers aren’t willing to give up Damian Lillard, they may be open to moving C.J. McCollum. Another option would be the Phoenix Suns, who have an aging center in Tyson Chandler, and are in need of scoring. Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo was a member of the Suns’ front office in the past, and his ties with the organization could help him in making a move. There are rumors that Colangelo wants Eric Bledsoe from the Suns, who would almost certainly be willing to give him up for a strong big man.

Build a time machine to go back and trade them when they had more value and could maybe get Kris Dunn: Yeah. I wish this could happen.

 


Chris Dunn
Chris graduated from the SFS in 2019. He is the Voice's former executive opinions editor, and is pretty sure the 2008 Phillies could beat any team in any sport ever.


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