You don’t want your players upset, no matter how much or how little you’re utilizing them.
Being able to offer minutes to players has really not been that much of an issue for the Philadelphia 76ers over the last few years. As they were one of the worst teams in the league for the last several years, and one of the teams with the least talent, there really wasn’t any reason to play or not play anyone.
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Now, however, the Sixers have stockpiled a decent amount of former NBA Draft Lottery picks, and those players are generally expecting to get minutes and be able to prove themselves in the NBA. So far this season, though, that’s not exactly how things are panning out.
The Sixers started this season with two healthy big men, but one big issue in the frontcourt. Although Nerlens Noel would not be with the team for the first month and a half due to recovering from a knee surgery, there was the issues that were clearly going to arise when he came back.
How will the Sixers be able to play all three big men at the same time? There’s no way they can even play two on the court together, can they?
No, they can not, they’ve proven that much.
The Sixers have experimented with a multitude of lineups. Last season the Sixers tried Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor on the floor together. Although it might have been worth trying again this year, it wasn’t anything that worked right away.
Close to the beginning of this year, the Sixers worked Embiid and Okafor together. The combination wasn’t terrible in its first showing, but proved to be clunky later on. Embiid was doing most of the defensive work, and most of Embiid’s positive qualities were hurt by Okafor’s presence.
Finally, once Noel returned — and this is what the team has been working with most as of late — the team has tried him and Embiid. It’s a combination that works well on defense, but isn’t too special on offense. It’s enough to make fans think that the best idea is to have Embiid plus one other center, with that other center coming off of the bench. The Sixers will need to trade a big.
But until Philly figures out which big to trade, and figures out where to trade them to, the team is stuck playing two centers a night, and usually giving the other center a scratch for the evening, or less than 5 minutes of action.
When all three bigs were healthy, Noel was getting the short end of the stick. As he recovered from injury, Noel was coming off of the bench and not playing very much. He did not play at all in two of his first seven available games, and averaged 7.8 minutes per game in the other five.
Since then, however, things have switched. The team is using Okafor less and less, and Noel more. Over the most recent five games, Noel is averaging 20.4 minutes per game, while Okafor has not appeared in three of those games.
How is Okafor handling this benching, despite having less than a full season of NBA games to prove himself thus far? Pretty well, actually, especially for such a young player who hasn’t had to deal with much benching at any point in his life yet.
It wasn’t all peaches and cream for Okafor though, when speaking on his role.
“I know I’m not the type of player that’s DNP. But that’s what it is right now,” he followed up with.
But as far as his view on the team, the situation, and when he will ultimately be able to play, Okafor seems to be handling his cut in minutes much better than Noel was handling it before the season began. Noel came out before even giving the three-man frontcourt a shot and said that there was no way it would work. Now, Noel and Embiid are getting the opportunities, while the situation is not working for Okafor.
It’s not a great situation for anyone, but Okafor seems to be understanding and seems to have settled with the cut in minutes — for now.
“Coach Brown has been phenomenal with communicating with me. I know in the long run, I’ll be fine.”
Perhaps that “long run” is Okafor eyeing another team that can better cater to his needs as a big man. Or perhaps it’s with the Sixers. At this point, it’s really a guessing game with all three of the Sixers’ big men.
While Okafor seems to not have caught on with anyone in the league as a player deserving of a starting center role, many people believe his scoring mentality off of the bench would be great for a competitive team looking for a little extra offense.