The Philadelphia 76ers are using a extreme rebuilding strategy, amassing high draft picks and young assets by being as bad as possible in the short term.
Three key pieces of this plan are Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric — who were all high draft picks in the last few years.
Already there seems to be a complication with how these three players will fit together, particularly Embiid and Noel.
Noel, after missing all of his rookie season with a knee injury in 2013-14, has shifted to center this season and played well. In 30 minutes per game, he’s averaging 7.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game.
Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged that Noel is doing well at center, saying “I think right now [Noel’s position is] a five. He’s gone from being a four man playing alongside Henry Sims to a five man, which is going to be a challenge for us when Joel gets healthy next year.”
Brown also noted that in today’s NBA, where spacing is key, Noel was getting lost as power forward:
“Look at what a lot of teams do with their four men. They’re away from the basket. Most of the fours nowadays can almost shoot threes. If that’s your world, naturally you’re pulled away from the basket. That was Nerlens’ problem when we played him at four. He’s so used to just running to the rim, he’d lose Dirk (Nowitzki), he’d lose perimeter people. It wasn’t natural for him. Maybe he can guard a five player (better). I don’t know. I think it’s all a work in progress. But he really is a presence at the rim.”
Noel is smaller and slighter of frame than Embiid, who has the build and skill set of a traditional center. Historically, the two could combine to form an intimidating frontcourt, but in the modern NBA, they would have spacing issues, and, like Brown says, Noel would get lost defending smaller, quicker power forwards who space the floor.
The toughest part for the Sixers is there’s no quick, easy solution. They’re getting an idea of what they have in Noel, but Embiid is out for the year with a foot injury, and Saric is playing internationally for the time being. It would be foolish to trade Noel or Embiid without first seeing how Embiid plays and how the two fit together. As of now, Noel doesn’t look to have the necessary skills to thrive as a power forward.
Brown added that when Embiid is healthy, it will be a “good problem to have” and “it’s just something we’ll figure out.”
Perhaps Noel and Embiid can both adapt their skills over time to become compatible, but it’s a rough start to rebuilding plan for the Sixers when their two centerpieces look like a bad fit.
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