76ers Future for Okafor, Embiid & Noel
Tom Moore today was a guest on The Sports Bash with Mike Gill spoke about the future for 76ers big men Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, and Nerlens Noel. Interesting to hear Moore speak about how Okafor fell into the Sixers lap on draft night, how another year with Embiid recovering from injury raises even more questions about his future, and how Noel is playing the Forward position instead of Center out of necessity.
Looking at each player individually instead of in relation directly to the team has not been done often enough. While there are a variety of scenarios that have been projected about who may stay or go from the Sixers roster, I want to take a deeper look at each player's individual skill set:
When Jahlil came out of Duke he was like many other players who come out of the basketball powerhouse in Durham, North Carolina in that he was ready to play in the NBA. Okafor low post offensive skills are among some of the best we have seen from a rookie in the last 15 years. He has fluid footwork on offense, an underrated touch on his mid-range jump shot and he has the awareness on offense to look around for his teammates when he is double teamed.
But like many NBA Rookies his defense is sub par, especially for a player his height and wingspan. There are times on defense he looks lost, as if he was never taught at a young age how to properly play defense. Okafor has the athleticism and footwork to become a better defender. Also we have seen when big men become better defenders at the NBA level their Rebounding statistics increase as a direct result. This is because when a player is in good defensive position its puts them in between the basket and their opponent, which is exactly where a good rebounder needs to be at.
If Jahlil commits himself to become a better asset on the defensive end he could potentially become a perennial All-Star in a league with a dearth of well-rounded big men. Not bad for a player that fell into Sam Hinkie's lap on NBA Draft night.
Noel's development has been exponential from his time in college at Kentucky until this his second year playing in the NBA. Noel has gotten stronger, more physical and develop better Basketball fundamentals. When Noel was at University of Kentucky he was a raw athlete who was considered too skinny and too offensive deficient to play in the NBA.
Noel now has grown into a big man who would start on many teams in the NBA with his defensive prowess, improved offensive game, and proficiency as a rebounder. Noel's offense still has potential to develop him into a double-double machine with points and rebounds per game. His natural position is a Center but he has been playing more often at the forward position as Sixers have been playing Okafor at Center instead of Noel.
Embiid is the true wild card in this trio of big men. Joel has not played in any live basketball action in a couple years since his time at University of Kansas. Coming out of college the NBA comparisons for Embiid ranged from Tim Duncan to Marc Gasol to Nene. Since being drafted by the 76ers Joel has gone through two surgeries on his right foot, pushing back the debut of Philadelphia lottery pick for two years.
In college Embiid displayed great footwork on offense and defense along with good touch on his mid-range and low post shooting. Embiid was an average rebounder for a player his size and length because his knowledge of the game was still at the intermediate level. Since his time at Kansas, Embiid has grown taller and cultivated a good long range shooting game based around the old school set shot technique.
Whenever Embiid gets healthy enough to make it back to live basketball action, it is expected he would start by coming off the bench as a primary backup Center. The combination of his footwork, range, length and unique skills it is expected he could become an NBA Starting Center. If he is paired with Okafor or Noel the expectation would be either of those players would be forced to move to the Power Forward position.
While I do not discount the possibility of Embiid, Okafor, and Noel co-existing on the same roster, the likelihood is at some point the 76ers will need to make a decision of which skill sets they value the most for the present and future. The NBA is a league that demands its teams find ways to score and score often. Even famous defensive squads such as the Pistons had very talented players on offense. The safe bet would be that Okafor will be in Philadelphia for the long term and either Embiid or Noel will eventually be moved out of town. Jahlil is only a rookie and he is already averaging 17.4 points per game along with a 49 percent field goal percentage. We know Okafor has the potential to get even better which should be exciting for Sixers fans. Embiid and Noel have uncertain talent potential since one man has not played an NBA game yet (Embiid) and the other plays more like a raw DeAndre Jordan than anyone else. The unknown of how Embiid and Noel will develop as offensive players makes them less of a guarantee for the future compared to Okafor.