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Nerlens Week: The Power Forward Project, One Year Early

If they're trying to make the twin towers work, they might as well start now - looking at the Noel pairings with the incumbent centers.

Henry Sims should be taking this shot often next year, especially with Nerlens Noel on the court.
Henry Sims should be taking this shot often next year, especially with Nerlens Noel on the court.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Nerlens Noel-Joel Embiid twin towers frontcourt sounds like a dream defensive pairing. Other than health, the largest impediment is the potential offensive fit issues Rich Hofmann discussed yesterday. These problems likely won't be encountered until the 2015-16 season as the smart money on Embiid taking an extended break or joining City Year. I'm not sure they could find one of those puffy coats that fits Joel. though

In that regard, for the healthy of the two towers, next season should be about expanding his game in preparation. That includes playing more as a practical four alongside other true centers than he would if the team were trying to win next year.

This requires the 76ers kicking whichever of Thaddeus Young or Anthony Bennett ends up starting the season with the team to the bench or to a weak position for both (the three). In another season where wins don't matter and progress and process are the goals, this seems like an easy move to make. Instead, two less heralded centers, both somehow too good for summer league, will be flanking the young franchise big.

Henry Sims and Jarvis Varnado don't have the franchise-changing abilities of an Embiid. Neither should amount to more than a backup long-term, and neither should be considered a true compliment. But Noel's playing with both should ease his transition to playing with Embiid, if only because it cannot be harder to play with a more talented player.

Brett Brown will have some useful traits to work with when combining the two, however. I'll start with Sims, who showed some offensive skills in a short time frame at the end of last season. Sims features a couple of post moves and solid mid-range jumper. While he doesn't spread the floor to the three point line, he can make a defense pay a little for sagging off of him. Offensively, the pairing shouldn't be different, in terms of the defense's reactions. With offensive rebounding, and Embiid's greater floor spacing potential, and being a bigger target and better finisher, this isn't entirely true, but here Sims is the best substitute there is (but not was, or ever will be).

Nerlens Week

Defensively, Sims doesn't match up well with basically anyone. The best description I can think of for Sims is "plodding" - lead-weighted feet stunt his athleticism enough that he's not a mobile defender or rim protector. Despite solid effort, he averaged less than a block per 36 minutes last year while primarily playing center. With Sims on the court, Brown could be tempted to assign Noel the simple task of staying in the paint, playing the 2.9 game, and not doing anything else. And that's fine too - especially since he's going to spend significant time playing center as well alongside smaller players.

Jarvis Varnado doesn't bring the offensive talent that Sims displays. Varnado took just 21 shots outside the rim area last year, so forgive me for not falling for his absurdly high conversion percentage on those shots. His wacky form and poor free throw shooting show his lack of touch. But he brings rim protection, and you can be sure Varnado can protect the rim, freeing Noel to be more aggressive away from the rim. Varnado can stay behind, which will allow Noel's pick-and-roll defensive skills, most notably his long-armed steals, to shine.

While sharing time with Varnado on the court, Noel will need to focus on play-making, shooting, and finishing around bigger defenders. The mechanically rebuilt jumper is key here - until Noel proves he can hit the midrange jumper consistently, alongside Varnado defenses will focus on keeping two defenders in the paint, making scoring difficult not just for Noel but for anyone else that attempts to score close to the basket.

The problems with these pairings are obvious, and common in two-center lineups, which is why most teams have strayed from playing them. Time will tell whether ours will work. Combine the two incumbent centers, and you have something resembling what Embiid can provide on both ends of the court. Prioritizing playing Noel with the two - while not being Embiid - should help prepare him for the project to come.

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