For 24 minutes tonight, I saw the future of basketball and its name was the Philadelphia 76ers. For 24 minutes, Nerlens Noel was Kevin Garnett-lite, Jahlil Okafor brought post-scoring back from the dead and Nik Stauskas was Klay Thompson 2.0. For 24 minutes, it was lit. I took a nap at halftime, waking up in a daze and saw LeBron James catching alley-oops from near the rafters of The Center and yamming it down through the rim in the ball boy's mug. Repeatedly.
For one brief half, the process made sense and there was an abundance of instant oatmeal.
Okafor reverted Timofey Mozgov to his pre-Cavaliers form early, the version whose name became a verb (Mozgoved) after an arial assault at the hands of Blake Griffin years back. Okafor dropped 24 points with an array of baseline spin moves, jumpers off the dribble and brute force. He needs to improve his conditioning, his propensity for fouling and his rebounding numbers, though that last point might be due to exerting so much effort offensively, but, man, he's going to be a problem in the paint for years. He did it efficiently tonight as well, shooting 11 for 21 from the field.
Big Jah's the 11th center to score at least 60 points through his first three career games since 1963-1964, the year Basketball-Reference's PlayIndex records go back to. There are no Michael Carter-Williams-esque outliers on this list:
Here's the list of centers who've dropped 60 points over their 1st three career games. Jah joins that list tonight. pic.twitter.com/g37UH0BAhv— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) November 3, 2015
He meshed well with Noel for stints where they shared the frontcourt once again, much like he did during the team's short-lived moments of excitement in their season opener against the Celtics. Noel continues to be a singular talent in this league with his combination of length and athleticism, though that gangly frame sometimes leads to awkward moments like this:
The handle is improving though. The jumper is improving. The defense that endeared him to Basketball Twitter junkies and hipsters last season is still there. Okafor's racking up the points, but Noel might be the most enjoyable Sixer to watch since Allen Iverson.
The newly christened third member of the Sixers Trinity of Core Players (I'm trademarking this) is Nik Stauskas, who looks to have finally found a home in Sixers stars and stripes after a dysfunctional rookie campaign with the Kings. He only shot four of 10 from the field (three for nine on three-pointers), but still stretched the field enough in tandem with Robert Covington in his season debut to give Okafor the room to work in the paint.
His ball-handling skills and ability to create off the dribble, something that led to Anthony Capelli and I creating the hashtag #NikStauskasIsAPointGuard over the summer, were on display as well. While he may not be capable of handling the point full time, Brett Brown would be wise to run some pick-and-roll plays with the ball in Sauce Castillo's hands.
On the Cleveland side of things, LeBron had ZERO intention of playing basketball tonight. He needed 21 points to reach the 25,000-point milestone, becoming the 20th and youngest player ever to do so, but he seemed content to coast through this game, as he frequently has done in Philly, and hit that benchmark later this week. With the Sixers leading at half and staying scrappy throughout the third quarter, they forced King James to duel, as LeBron eventually threw down an array of dunks in the Sixers' face on his way to 22 points. The silver lining for a team so overmatched in terms of talent and experience is that they made the greatest basketball player on the planet try.
The Sixers' bench unit, led by future net rating wunderkind Christian Wood, orchestrated a backdoor cover in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, ultimately losing the game 107-100. It was an encouraging evening overall though, reminding those who've watched and covered the Sixers during the Sam Hinkie era of how far they've come in resembling a competent basketball team and what the future holds between Nerlens, Big Jah and Sauce.