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Jun 26 2015

5-on-5: Can an Okafor-Noel-Embiid Frontcourt Work

 1. Odds Okafor is wearing a Sixers uniform on opening night?

Eric Goldwein: 65 percent. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where a frontcourt of Okafor, Embiid and Noel can coexist on a contending team — especially given Okafor’s lack of versatility, and Noel’s offensive shortcomings. But the Sixers don’t need them to fit well right now. All they need is for them to continue showing they’re promising players. If there’s an offer on the table, then certainly the Sixers will be listening. But for now, I think they’d be content letting the three bigs share the frontcourt.

Bryan Toporek: 35-40 percent? It all depends on what doctors say about Joel Embiid’s foot. If it’s serious enough to keep him sidelined for a portion — or all — of the 2015-16 season, Okafor won’t be going anywhere. If Embiid is healthy by opening night — or if his foot isn’t a long-term concern — it’d be pretty shocking if Hinkie kept all three of Okafor, Embiid and Nerlens. Barring a huge trade offer, though, the Sixers might as well keep Okafor through summer league to see whether the concerns about his defense were overblown.

Benjamin Smolen: Around 75-80 percent. The Sixers will be open to a trade, as is their responsibility, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sam Hinkie it’s that he’s patient. He will take all the time he needs before dealing one of his bigs, and I assume that will mean starting the season with all three. And to editorialize a little, I know a lot of people are split on this pick, but I think it was absolutely the right one. We are obligated as a team to take the best player available at this juncture. Despite all the heat Okafor took during the pre-draft process (unfairly I think), he was that.

Daniel Christian: 70 percent. I’m pretty confident Okafor will be with the Sixers at the start of the season, just because he fits next to both Embiid and Noel better than they fit together. He’s probably the best offensive player of the bunch and that opens up the possibility of trading one of the other two. The only reason the percentage isn’t higher is because someone is going to be shipped off eventually. I’m not sure who it will be, but it makes more sense to keep Okafor for the time being to see what you’re working with.

Marc Nemcik: 75 percent. I don’t see anyone creating an offer intriguing enough for Hinkie to move Okafor. Aside from all of the Boogie trade rumors, which are probably more smoke than fire, does Boston really have the firepower to make a “Godfather offer?” My guess would be that Nerlens Noel is the one getting shipped out, particularly with Embiid’s value at an all-time low. Hinkie has time to make this decision with no pressure to be a good basketball team next season and Embiid potentially missing.

2. Can an Okafor/Embiid/Noel frontcourt work?

Goldwein: It’s certainly not ideal. Though a healthy Embiid could theoretically play at the four and five, Noel and Okafor are more limited; the former being an offensive liability, and the latter being a defensive liability. That said, there’s 96 minutes to go around. Embiid, I suspect, will be on a minutes restriction, and it can’t hurt to keep the mileage down on the other two. Given the focus is still presumably on development — and not Ws — this can work for now. Down the line there may be some tough calls.

Toporek: Unless Noel and/or Okafor extend their shooting range significantly, I don’t see how it could, especially when you throw Saric into the mix. Okafor would work best with a 4 like Serge Ibaka — a weak-side shot-blocker who stretches the floor offensively. Nerlens doesn’t have the shooting range to make that pairing work, and I’m not convinced Embiid is laterally quick enough to guard 4s defensively. Brett Brown was already stressing about the Embiid/Noel fit… I feel even worse for him now.

Smolen: Remember all the positive things I said to answer the first question? Well, I (almost) take them back. No, it can’t work. And that sucks. But it won’t need to long-term. If Sixer fans are willing to adopt “Optionality” as a catch-phrase six months ago, they need to hold onto it now. Okafor gives us options. I’m disheartened, because this was anti-climactic and next season may not be much fun, but I am certain that this gives us the best chance to be better down the road.

Christian: No, it can’t, and that’s why one of them eventually will have to go. There just isn’t enough space on the floor for everyone to operate. But there is no rush to make this work. The Sixers can take their time and see who actually fits best together and move from there. I don’t think we’ll see Hinkie’s resolution for this conundrum for a good while.

Nemcik: No, not at all – but the Sixers don’t need that frontcourt to work. At least one of these three will get traded eventually, although I’m concerned about drafting for value to this extent. Okafor was clearly the best player available at that point, but other teams know that Philadelphia will eventually have to move one of their big men. Does that hurt their value? Maybe.

 

3. What grade would you give the draft?

Goldwein: C+. It didn’t go how some might’ve hoped, but they didn’t screw up, and they very well might’ve come away with the rookie of the year.

Toporek: C. Despite the fit concerns, Okafor was the right pick at No. 3 once the Lakers took Russell second. He was the best player on the board — the presumptive No. 1 for much of the year — and if Embiid’s foot is a long-term concern, he’s about the best contingency plan the Sixers could ask for. That said, it’s hard not to feel at least somewhat deflated after Towns and Okafor looked like the clear-cut top two for much of the draft process. Trading Guillermo Hernangomez gets two thumbs up from me, but I’m extremely bummed Hinkie couldn’t move into the 20s and get a guy like Jerian Grant, Delon Wright or RJ Hunter to round out the perimeter rotation. Lady Luck was not on the Sixers’ side tonight.

Smolen: C+. It’s not all doom and gloom–Okafor is still a hell of a prospect–but, more than any other time, this feels like kicking the proverbial can down the road. The Sixers essentially have a mission statement to improve through the draft, and this draft, while giving them a great talent, didn’t do much to help build their roster in the short term. We weren’t able to get back into the first round, we still have no guards, we still are just collecting and waiting. All in all, even if individual decisions were mostly alright, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from this draft feeling anything but a little deflated.

Christian: C. The Sixers really needed a nice guard prospect for their vision to take the next step, and Russell seemed like the perfect guy. Watching LA take him after weeks of penciling in Okafor at number 2 was certainly a swift kick to the gut, but the 76ers were right taking him third. This certainly delays the process. Where is Philadelphia getting backcourt real, useful backcourt talent? Probably not free agency. Maybe via trade of one of the bigs, but it’s going to take some time to determine what big needs to be traded. If anything, this draft only raises more roster questions, but I don’t think there was anything the team could have done about it.

Nemcik: C. Not many things went right for the Sixers – but that really isn’t all their fault. If the Lakers take Okafor instead of Russell the outlook would be different. I think it’s easy to get distracted by fit, but Philadelphia still got one hell of a prospect that realistically could have gone first overall.

 

4. What’s next for the Sixers?

Goldwein: Free agency. At some point they’ll have to start spending, and what better time than now. A player like Danny Green would give a lot of credibility (and more importantly, floor spacing) to a team that’s been one of the NBA’s worst the last couple years. The Sixers have the cap space and roster spots to pull off that type of move.

Toporek: First and foremost, figure out what’s up with Embiid. If there’s no reason to worry about his long-term health, sort out this frontcourt logjam, presumably by trading either Nerlens or Okafor. From there, use free agency to load up on guards and wings. Point guard is still a glaring hole that needs to be addressed — maybe throw an offer sheet at Cory Joseph, who Brett Brown should know well from his San Antonio days? The Sixers clearly aren’t gunning for a playoff spot next season — nor should they be — but they’ll need to begin making some tangible progress or they’ll be on the outside looking in during the 2016 free-agency bonanza.

Smolen: Forgive the unoriginality, but Bryan really nailed it. The major thing is to figure out, as soon as humanly possible, what Embiid’s outlook is. If healthy, he still has the highest ceiling out of our….Triplet Towers (?). If he is healthy, I mean, I start looking for trade partners for one of them. There’s no rush, but you never know what opportunity might present itself. From there, I suppose it would be hard to have a basketball team without any guards? So, yeah, let’s sign some of those why not.

Christian: The first thing the Sixers need to address is their non-existent backcourt. It’s painful on the eyes to keep trotting undrafted free agents and second round picks out there in starting roles, so I wouldn’t be against the 76ers looking to sign some legit NBA players.The team’s current construction is still in such disarray, however, that it would be difficult to attract even average role players. The reality of the situation is that Philadelphia will continue to rely on project players to handle the guard duties. It’s probably not what most fans want to see, but this is the biggest remaining hurdle in Hinkie’s build-through-the-draft plan. The 76ers were supposed to find the young balance in this draft through D’Angelo Russell. Instead, things are more confusing than ever. Everything takes time, whether it’s awaiting Saric’s arrival, Embiid’s healing process or figuring out which heralded center will be traded, but eventually things have to begin to take shape. The backcourt is the furthest behind in that regard.

Nemcik: The abundance of second-round picks is clogging the roster. Guys like J.P. Tokoto may have to endure the same fate as Jordan McRae last season, so signing an abundance of players in free agency realistically isn’t in the cards. It’ll be difficult to convince players to sign for the Sixers unless they overpay, which isn’t something that Hinkie would do. Despite that, this free agency may provide a great opportunity for Philadelphia to pick up solid players on deals that will look like grand theft in a year or two. As previously mentioned, figuring out the frontcourt logjam will be a pressing concern.

 5. What does this draft say about the value of 1st- and 2nd-round picks?

Goldwein: That their value fluctuates year to year. The Hardaway for Jerian Grant (No. 19) trade suggests that mid/low first-round picks didn’t have a ton of value this draft. Is that because of this particularly draft class? Is it because of the expiring CBA? None of that’s clear, but Hardaway and Greivis freakin’ Vasquez just netted first-round picks .. Robert Covington could’ve probably gotten the Sixers into the lottery.

Toporek: I don’t know that we learned anything we didn’t know already. Some teams will always make panic trades — see: the Atlanta Hawks punting No. 15 for Tim Hardaway Jr. and two future second-rounders — so, theoretically, teams that have compiled a bunch of assets stand to benefit. The fact the Sixers couldn’t capitalize on Thursday is somewhat surprising — I, for one, expected Hinkie to package OKC’s first-rounder next year with either 35, 37 or 47 to move into the 20s — but the potential of having four first-round picks next year, two of which figure to be top-10 selections, remains insane. Let’s just hope we don’t have to endure another lost year before enjoying that prospective scenario.

Smolen: Far beyond picking Okafor, this is what upset me the most tonight. You’re telling me that the Raptors can get a first rounder for one year of Vasquez, the Knicks can get the 19th pick for Hardaway Jr., and the T-Wolves can get 25 for two early seconds, but the Sixers couldn’t make any noise? I guess what it shows me is two-fold: One, Hinkie HIGHLY values his future picks; and/or Two, he just didn’t think too highly of the talent in the tail-end of the first round this year. Either way, woof.

Christian: I think it reinforces ideas we’ve always known to some degree. Teams looking to make a leap will sacrifice assets for what they perceive to be an immediate benefit. I think when you have teams who don’t necessarily need that first round pick like Atlanta and Milwaukee, you get some funky, if not irrational, deals from their end. That’s always been the case on some level. I, like everyone else, am surprised that Hinkie couldn’t match the seemingly skimpy offers that netted the Knicks and Raptors first round picks. But it could just be that none of the remaining prospects within reach enthused Hinkie enough to lose anything. Not surrendering any of his plethora of future first rounders shows that the team places immense value in them, and that’s because this team really does need those first round picks. But the fact that teams were likely rejecting offers full of second round picks left and right might reveal some waning value in picks after 30.

Nemcik: The value of draft picks swings on a year-to-year basis. Hinkie couldn’t capitalize on teams trying to trade their way into the second round – other than the Knicks. Fewer teams were willing to part with higher relative value to grab a player this year, resulting in a number of draft-and-stash selections. The trades resulting in the affluence of picks were opportunistic and didn’t hurt the team in the long run, but it still indicates lower overall second-round value.

  • robbybonfire23

    The developments Thursday night give a different slant on the MCW trade which now looks like a rock of a deal for Philadelphia. You would think Hinkie would somehow have come up with a workable solution to the void the MCW trade actually created. It looks like a crater, now.

    • Evan

      Robby, you’re going to throw up in you’re mouth a little, but we just traded for Nic Stauskas. Fortunaltly we didn’t give up anything for him, but I imagine you are pretty disappointed.

      • NoJNoProb

        You beat me to it! I wanted to break the news to him… I actually heard a source or two say that we had to give up Dario Saric to finish the deal but others say the opposite. Either way, we have Stauskas #luckyus

        • robbybonfire23

          Thanks, NoJNo. This is extremely disturbing news.

      • robbybonfire23

        Thanks, just posted my comment below the new column posted at this site.

  • robbybonfire23

    Like to see some staff evaluation as to the winners and the losers, yesterday. I did o.k.,last year so I will try again, in random order…

    WINNERS….. Brooklyn with Hollis-Jefferson.
    Denver with Mudiay.
    76ers with Okafor.
    Miami with Winslow.
    Toronto with Delon Wright (Surprise!)
    NY with Jerian Grant, with Porzingis a big question mark.
    Chicago with Bobby Portis.
    Charlotte with Frank Kaminsky.
    MINN – KAT The Man. (But Tyus the little boy.)

    50-50….. Boston – Yes on RJ Hunter; resounding NO per Terry Rozier.
    Orlando – Super Mario or Mediocre/Over-rated Mario?
    LAkers – Russell The Journeyman Lunch Pail Guy finds a home.
    HOU: Dekker and Harrell – barely above the loser category.
    OKC: Cam Payne and Dakari Johnson.
    SAC: WCS

    JURY STILL OUT…. Dallas – Justin Anderson; G.S. – Looney; Washington: Oubre; Indiana – Myles Turner.

    LOSERS…. Phoenix: Devin Booker and anybody named Harrison = Clueless City.
    Utah: Trey Lyles
    Detroit: Taking Stanley Johnson over Bobby Portis and Ron. Hollis-Jefferson,
    at #8 is crazy man, crazy!
    Cleveland: Rak Xmas (what’s in a name?)
    Portland: P. Connaugton

    Biggest Loser Award: Tie between Phoenix and Detroit.

    ********

    • NoJNoProb

      I actually thought Houston had a good draft night in terms of who they picked. They needed someone other than Harden to actually create a shot, and Dekker is a dynamic if not efficient playmaker. Harrell, in my opinion, was a solid pick given his draft slot. He’s athletic and a great rebounder/hustle player. Although undersized, he could be efficient in the mold of Kenneth Faried. What’d you think about San Antonio’s picks?

      • robbybonfire23

        I didn’t put anything up re SAS picks because that would just be throwing a dart at a dartboard, for me. Really can’t say what to expect from the UMass guy, or anyone else?

        Dekker, like Winslow and some others, really made his presence felt in the Tournament, after playing like chopped liver in the conference (Dekker, not Winslow). These players are difficult to analyze because their late-season performance may be for real – where the maturing process meets pressure-packed skills they already have. For some reason I am buying into Winslow’s late season heroics, but not so much Dekker’s. Not sure why that is?

    • Evan

      Detroit also took Stanley Johnson over Winslow! Couldn’t believe how far Winslow fell, I kept expecting the Sixers to trade up and get him, but they don’t have many desirable assets, and apparently Charlotte wanted a haul for the 9th pick.
      Additionally, lets think about how unlucky we got this year. If Miami wins one more freaking game, we have a coin flip for the 11th pick. If they win two more games, we get their pick. The Indiana pacers would have picked 11, and they sure as hell weren’t taking Justise Winslow with Paul George already on their team. So, hypothetically, if Miami had won a game or Indiana had lost a game, we would have ended up with Justise Winslow at the 11th pick! The Sixers could just not catch a break this year, hopefully that changes at some point in the future, but with the Embiid setback I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

      • robbybonfire23

        Getting Winslow along with The Big Oak Tree would have given us bragging rights for the entire draft. Yes, IF is the biggest little word in the dictionary, but IF the Saric NBA entry 2015 had been finalized, along with getting Winslow, now we are looking at Saric, Noel, Okafor, Winslow, and maybe Embiid, but even if not, FOUR pieces to the puzzle would be in place, and I guess Tony W. runs the PG in sort of a Mudiay Lite kind of way.

        Hey, we are getting there, and the pace is starting to accelerate. What I like best about Sam Hinkie is not only the exceptional level of talent slowly coming on board here, but, damn, do you realize in a couple years we could be the best team in the league AND the youngest team in the league? Don’t let me get ahead of myself, but the word “dynasty” may not be that far around the corner.

        • Evan

          Haha, well when the losses are piling up mid season and our back court looks like a high school backcourt we’ll forget about this dynasty talk rather quickly. This team is still far from becoming a contender–if ever–under Sam Hinkie. We sure could use a little luck though, beginning with the Lakers striking out in free agency, and keeping our pick at a respectable level.

          • robbybonfire23

            No argument, there. When I refer to slow progress, well, one piece, Noel, was in place last year; two pieces will be in place this year in Noel and Okafor; and this progression is now solidly under way. Next year one or two more championship caliber pieces coming in, plus Saric may be here, too, although I think “super star” is a stretch for him, but he will add depth and quality, all around.

            Just with Noel and Okafor, I like us for 30+ wins this coming season.

  • NoJNoProb

    I agree with picking Okafor given the circumstances. It’s completely in line with taking the best player available and trusting #theprocess . Really concerned with fit issues though…

    I think that Okafor and Noel would actually be a good combo, with Noel’s defensive prowess masking Okafor’s weaknesses, and vice versa on the other end of the court. However, as Mark pointed out, trading Embiid would get the Sixers pennies on the dollar at this point and it makes more sense to wait it out.

    Trading Okafor or Noel still leaves us with a hole at the other big man spot given that Embiid seems unlikely to reach the court anytime soon. I guess that’s not really a huge deal since we aren’t exactly in win-now mode, but it’d still hurt to keep kicking the can down the road.

    Okafor and Embiid both have the potential to be transcendent. I think Noel could be an NBA all-defensive player, and an above average starter, but his ceiling isn’t as incredibly high as the others. It would probably be the most palatable to part with him, but he’s also the only one of the 3 that has proven himself at all on a professional basketball court.

    Maybe they should keep all 3 players. The Suns had 3 starting-caliber point guards last year in Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe. Granted, that didn’t work out. But I think having multiple good players at one position is a good problem to have; it would keep minutes low for everyone which keeps them fresh, and gives theSixers more lineup flexibility based on the opponent. Hopefully we can pick up the other players we need with the 4 first round picks we have next year.

    Another possible solution might come from one of our biggest rivals. I’d heard rumblings prior to the draft that the Sixers were strongly considering trading down in the scenario where Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell went off the board 1-2, which is of course how things actually played out. The Celtics were interested in moving up for Okafor.
    Also, Terry Rozier is a very similar player to Marcus Smart, and the Celtics also have Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. Marcus Smart is reportedly on the trading block. I’ve sung his praises on here before, and at the very least I think Smart is sixth-man quality if not a starter. If the Sixers are offered a decent point guard as well as extra young prospects or future first round picks (of which the Celtics have more than a few) for any of their big men, then they should be seriously listening.

    • robbybonfire23

      Smart would work in here as our SG, maybe even for the long term. Wonder if we have a forward Boston might like to have in exchange, like Covington, for instance? Or Jerami Grant? That might even be considered a fair value trade, given all the raving over Grant’s far from realized “potential.”

      • NoJNoProb

        I really like Covington, but I’d be totally fine giving up Grant or Sampson. Even trading Hollis Thompson for Smart straight up would probably be a good deal. Celtics seem to be hunting for a big man, so maybe we could do one of our older vets like T-Rob or Henry Sims a solid by executing a sign-and-trade for Smart. Lord knows we have the cap space

    • robbybonfire23

      Rozier is so awful, offensively, I don’t expect him to last, long term, in this league. I do think Smart has a shot at getting up to par, offensively, which would make him an overall valuable asset, wherever he plays.