It was no secret, the Sixers had four capable centers that are at least solid backups for every team in the NBA. Joel Embiid is a special talent and perhaps on his way to stardom barring serious injury. Nerlens Noel is quick, athletic, plays above the rim, and is a high energy guy. Jahlil Okafor gets it done on the offensive end, as a viable post scorer in the league. The forgotten man of the bunch, Richaun Holmes, is a poor-mans Noel. Holmes is more of an offensive weapon than Noel, with better touch around the rim and ability to hit the occasional outside shot.
One, if not two of these players were going to be traded before the deadline. Embiid was safe (although he didn’t think so), and the jury wasn’t out on Holmes, thus giving him no value. So, it boiled down to two, Nerlens Noel, who is a restricted free agent after the season, and Jahlil Okafor.
In a game against the Lakers on Dec 16, Noel played just eight minutes and voiced his displeasure afterwards, saying, “I’m not an eight minute player.” From that point on, the third year player was out of the rotation. The Sixers experimented Okafor and Embiid together. It didn’t work, to no one’s surprise. Brett Brown called Noel’s number four nights later for a six minute run, and the Philadelphia faithful greeted Noel with a standing ovation.
Once the Okafor-Embiid experiment failed, Noel worked himself back in the rotation and Okafor fell out of favor.
The 22-year old then became Embiid’s primary backup, and a funny thing was happening to the Sixers: they were winning basketball games. The Sixers went 10-5 in January, equalling the number of victories recorded all of last season. Most of those wins were thrilling, and Noel, not Okafor, had a lot to do with it.
Okafor, the third pick in the 2015 draft, is a viable post threat, as mentioned earlier. But that’s about it. He’s not a high energy guy, he’s slow to react on the defensive end, and is not a good rebounder. His defensive woes and lack of speed are well-documented.
But offense is supposed to be Okafor’s forte and Noel thrives on defense, so we thought. The only way Okafor scores is in the post. He needs the ball to be effective. The game has to be slowed down for the Chicago native to be effective in the NBA, and that’s not how the Sixers or much of the league plays. Noel scores most of his points in transition, alley-oops, and by way of the offensive glass. Okafor’s per-36 numbers come out to 17.9 PPG and 7.5 REB a game, similar to his regular averages last season. Noel’s numbers, who doesn’t have the skill Okafor has, is averaging 16.4 PPG and 9.2 REB a game.
That tells you lot. With Noel’s lack of skill on the offensive end, he only averages a point and a half less than Okafor per-36. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. Also, Noel’s offensive rating (an estimate of points produced or scored per 100 possessions) is 119, compared to Okafor’s 102 rating. Noel’s rating is even higher than Embiid’s, which sits at 103. It’s a testament to uptempo style Noel excels in.
The plus/minus statistic, at times, can be taken with a grain of salt depending on matchups. But in the case of Okafor and Noel, they don’t compare. The second year player has recorded a -10 or lower in 14 games this season. He has recorded a positive rating in just six games all season. Noel has been -10 or lower just four times. It’s evident, the Sixers are better on the floor with Nerlens Noel.
Aside from stats, Noel has more intangibles than Okafor. The time Noel had played eight minutes, he wasn’t happy, and he let everyone know. He wanted to play in the worst way and if kicking and screaming did it, he got his way. Okafor on the other handled the situation like a soldier, to his credit. But I didn’t get that feeling he wanted to be out there at all costs, after the way the Sixers jerked him around.
Give me the guy who’ll fight for playing time and back it up when he gets it. That’s why the Wells Fargo Center was on their feet for Nerlens Noel.
Noel would have been the perfect insurance policy for Embiid over the next several seasons. The probability of Embiid staying healthy for an entire season is not favorable. Matching an offer sheet in the offseason, as lucrative as it may be (between $15-$20 million per season), would have been worth it. On the days Embiid is healthy, he can could still play upwards of 30 minutes per night, including pairing the two for a eight-to-ten minute stretch. And for the nights Embiid will be out, Noel is more than capable of holding the fort down with Ben Simmons.
With the departure of Noel, the team has the feels of it being stripped down, yet again. Something Philadelphia fans are far too used to. It sure was a disappointing deadline for Sixer land.
What the Sixers got back for Noel is an article for another day.
[jbox jbox_css=”margin-bottom: 20px; margin-top: 20px;” color=”yellow” radius=”1″] Editor’s note: This work was not written or edited by PhillyViews staff. It is an entry as part of our Write for Us contest to give independent writers a platform for their work. [/jbox]