To Nerlens Noel Two Is Company, Three Is A Logjam

Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel Did Himself No Favors By Voicing Displeasure, as current tone suggests he may be the odd player out going forward

Honesty is the best policy, unless you are an NBA center in the last contract year, and you are frustrated with the outlook of your playing minutes in competition with two other very talented center.  Then you should hold your tongue ever so slightly.

Seasoned veteran Elton Brand has been working with Nerlens Noel this summer, but his sage wisdom may have come too little too late.

Philadelphia is a city that gets the frustration from players, and even sympathizes when they want to compete, to give their all.  But the city, and her fans, draw the line when it becomes a distraction.

Right now, that is what Nerlens Noel is becoming.

I do not consider myself the most observant person in the world at times, but there is a definite trend forming with the Philadelphia 76ers.  As time moves forward, we are seeing more of Joel Embiid, and we are seeing the pairing of Embiid with Jahlil Okafor.

Nerlens Noel? Not so much…

Dec 11, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (R) and center Jahlil Okafor (M) greet Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (L) prior to game action at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I Saw The Sign

The first sign is the fact that neither the Philadelphia 76ers nor Nerlens Noel have begun any vestige of contract extension talks per Keith Pompey in a recent article on In his narrative, Bryan Colangelo was somewhat evasive on the topic when asked:

“It’s not really something that we’ve discussed given some of the concerns that I think Nerlens has had right now,” said team president Bryan Colangelo. “There’s been very little, if any, discussion with his agents about any extension scenarios. But, I’ll just leave it at that.”

If that were the extent of it, it would not be enough to raise suspicion.  But this is in the wake of Noel’s outburst over the team’s center situation… an outburst where he questioned the logic of the team’s front office.

The problem with that gaffe is two-fold.  While his assessment was correct, he publicly called the team’s executives to the carpet… a new regime that has not been in office for even a year.  The second thing is that his complaint was about playing time before the season began.  In short, his discontent happened before he was shorted playing time.

Meanwhile, the team has begun to explore the synergy of placing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on the basketball court simultaneously.

Okafor Is Embiid’s Wingman

While Noel is distancing himself from the team, the pair of Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid are embracing the concept.

Will it work? Right now all the chips of the team’s future seem to be placed on Joel Embiid. So will that work out? It will if Embiid says it will. Right now, that seems to be the case. On a team plagued with injuries, the scramble to find a healthy core of players to build upon moving forward in paramount.

And so, the shift begins. While Okafor is a center whose offense can dominate the post, Joel Embiid’s game is part post, part perimeter.  Noel and Okafor did not work because neither player had a perimeter game.  Joel Embiid has one.

And without the presence of Ben Simmons, the team must determine who works with whom.  For now, the two best players on the team appear to be the potential of Jahlil Okafor offensively and the two-way dominance of Joel Embiid.

Jun 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers number one overall draft pick Ben Simmons (R) is greeted by center Joel Embiid (L) during a press conference at the Philadelphia College Of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Tall Ball Is Close To Reality

Right now, the team is flexible.  Head coach Brett Brown is eager to find the right fit for the lineup, and with so many players injured, his task is consuming far too much of his time.

What he is doing is finding out who works where, with whom, and in what role.  Right now, there is a promising outlook of pairing Joel Embiid with Jahlil Okafor.

Would that evolve into a power forward role for Embiid, much like that shift of Ralph Sampson to power forward to accommodate the arrival of center Hakeem Olajuwon?

With Okafor at center, Embiid at power forward, Dario Saric would shift to small forward, and when a healthy Ben Simmons returns, he slots in at point guard.  The remaining shooting guard role is then between Gerald Henderson (6-foot-5), Robert Covington (6-foot-9), and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (6-foot-6).  In the midst of the off-season, that seemed like a remote possibility.  Embiid was assured he would be center. Simmons was slotted as power forward. Even Dario Saric was projected as a reserve. But right now, it appears that the team is heading for Tall Ball.

Apr 5, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks with forward Nerlens Noel (4) during the second quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Brown Innovator, Noel Naysayer

While not the intent, Brown believes he needs to place his best five on the court.  Originally, that did not include a tall ball lineup.  But times change, and team needs outweighs conventional logic.

Of the group, Nerlens Noel is the least discussed.  He is not extended.  He is not happy.  He is not even playing now, having injured his groin after the first preseason game.  While I have no doubt that Nerlens Noel can be a significant starting center for an NBA team, I see his window of opportunity closing with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Its no longer that he cannot get significant playing time.  Right now it feels like his heart is no longer in it.  In Philadelphia, regardless of the professional sport, discontented players land on another team.  That is simply how it rolls in Philly.

And so, Nerlens Noel named the nemesis of the Philadelphia 76ers, and in doing so, may be the victim of the fix to that situation.  Bryan Colangelo had a history of working with a big man who he felt had lost the desire to play for the Toronto Raptors in Chris Bosh.  Nerlens Noel would benefit more by studying NBA history, than complaining about the future.

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