Jahlil Okafor should be the starting center for the Sixers when the 2016-17 season opens, but not for the reasons you may think.
Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor? Which one should be the starting center for the Philadelphia 76ers during the upcoming season?
That is the question Sixers fans have been debating for a few months now. When the season opens on October 26 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who should head coach Brett Brown select as the starting center? Okafor or Noel?
Most analysts agree that, for the most part, it doesn’t really matter. Both will be starting at center for a decent number of games this season. Some nights it will be Okafor and on other nights it will be Noel.
Each brings a number of pluses and minuses when they are on the court. Noel knows Brown’s system like the back of his hand at this point and plays much better defense. However, his offensive game is still a work in progress.
Unlike Noel, there is no question about Okafor’s ability to score. He averaged 17.5 points per game last season which put him in the conversation for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. But as good as his offensive game was, his play on defense was just as bad. He also seemed to struggle at times with the accelerated pace that Brown runs his system.
So why do I think Okafor should get the nod over Noel? For two reasons that have nothing to do with what I just talked about.
The first can be summed up in two words: Joel Embiid.
Embiid is eventually going to be the regular starting center for the Sixers, of that there is no question. But due to the fact it has been more than two years since he played any kind of meaningful basketball, he is going to be on a minutes restriction for most of this season.
That said, if Embiid turns out to be half as good as his potential seems to indicate, as soon as he is ready, the center position will be his for keeps.
Which leads up to reason two for starting Okafor.
Given that Embiid could be the starting center as soon as next season, either Noel or Okafor has to go. There is no way the Sixers can possibly keep both on the roster once Embiid is off any kind of playing time restrictions.
If I had to guess, I would think that Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo is well aware of this. Trade rumors have swirled around both players all summer with Okafor in particular receiving a lot of attention. If you know you need to move a player, why not give him a showcase to demonstrate to the rest of the NBA what he can do?
That way by the time the NBA trade deadline rolls around, Okafor will have had more than enough time to show what he can bring to a roster. Maybe one that needs a center with his skills. Might be enough to pry a first round pick from a team that is looking to make a deep playoff run.
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So why trade Okafor over Noel? Because odds are you can get more for Okafor, who has a better offensive game, that for Noel, whose strength in his defensive capabilities and who fits in better with what Brown is trying to do.
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to trade any of them and Brown could somehow make it work. But as we all saw last season, both Okafor and Noel play better when the other isn’t on the floor. So one has to say goodbye to South Philly.
In order for that to be Okafor, he needs playing time to show off his skills. What better way to do that than to make him the starting center for the Sixers on opening night?