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Sunday Discussion: Debating Nerlens and Jahlil

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The LB gang discusses Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and whether it's time to move on from one of them.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After I tweeted about a hypothetical trade involving Jahlil Okafor and Ryan Anderson that sent everyone into a tizzy, I emailed my fellow Liberty Ballers writers to discuss Okafor and Nerlens, and their struggles to fit within the team.

Wednesday, December 16

Jake Pavorsky: Two things I learned today: a) don't say bad things about Okafor and b) don't let people know you like Ryan Anderson.

Sohil Doshi: I'm friggin' dumbfounded that we're talking about PPG and other counting stats as something other than counting stats. Good grief.

Sean O'Connor: Third thing: do not let my dad take incriminating childhood photos and upload them to Twitter.

Jake: I don't know why it's so hard for people to understand that what Nerlens brought to the table last year is so much more valuable than what Jahlil is doing.

Sohil: Because POINTS!

Max Rappaport: Jake, is it that you also don't think Okafor can improve defensively or as a shooter from midrange enough to make his style of play palatable? I don't see why he couldn't bring to the table something sort of like what Boogie does, and what Boogie does is valuable .

I'm a big Nerlens guy, but I'm kind of shocked how down on Okafor a lot of you are. It seems really premature, especially with him looking so good these last few games.

Sohil: I was also thinking that because I haven't watched as much pre-Sixers Okafor as some of y'all, I had a different baseline and expectation for him. I echo Max, as well.

Wesley Share: I'm pretty down on him because I'm not confident he'll become a much better help defender or defender in space. I feel like those awareness/IQ issues don't tend to come together for guys all that often.

I've been really encouraged by this past week or so. That jumper could be huge, and he's killing it from the line too. If I had to choose though I'm always taking rim-protecting + rim-rolling big over someone with Jah's skill-set just for the sake of building a team. If you need the ball to be effective like Jah does you better be really, really dynamic, and he's not (yet). I'd just hedge my bets elsewhere.

If his outside game becomes comes together consistently I guess I could talk myself into him being Boogie esque. *shrug*

Max Rappaport: I get those concerns, but at the same time Nerlens is an equally flawed player (but the inverse) who's almost two years older than Jah and less than a year away from an extension decision.

Michael Levin: I agree with points on both sides but the difference between them is that it's easier to hide Nerlens on O than it is to hide Jah on D.

Jake: I'm not even out on Jahlil. I think there's a chance that once they add better players they can possibly make it work with him.

But he's redundant if you still consider Joel to be in the fold and statistically he hurts the team every time he's on the floor. Nerlens is a much easier guy to fit around than Jahlil is. He could become a good rebounder and this has been a good week for him, but he's never going to be able to defend the rim and they're going to get killed because of it.
Nerlens looks awful right now, but the production he gave last year in decently low usage is worth so much more than anything Jahlil is doing right now. And you can't get that kind of production if you keep them together. All I've been trying to say, but a lot of people just don't want to hear it.

Max: Totally agree with that. The problem with Jah is that unless he develops a jumper (hopefully the last few games are a sign that he can), he's a player who's hard to build around and might do more harm than good for that reason. While Nerlens is at worst a specialist. It's tough, I just don't think it's a slam dunk in either direction, nor is it something that needs to be fixed ASAP.

Wesley: Yep. Don't even have to "hide" Nerlens necessarily either. Can just clean up around the rim/dive in pick-and-roll/catch oops. What he brings on defense is being actively hurt by Okafor too; scheme is significantly more conservative to accommodate Jah's lack of ability to help (or at least that's my read on it).

Marc Whittington: I have two thoughts on this debate that I hold very strongly, and I don't think much else matters beyond them.

1. Center is, at this point, a defensive position. If you get offensive production from it, that's a positive, but you NEED good interior defense to compete for a championship. The reverse is not true. You don't need good interior offense from that position to compete for championship.

2. That last sentence would be more accurate if you swapped out "good" for "skilled." Nerlens' O is totally not problematic to me because he literally doesn't need to develop any more skills to become a productive player on offensive. With the advent of the spread pick and roll, all he needs to do is rim run and dunk. His passing is an added bonus, as would free throw shooting be. But neither are needed to become a positive. All that is needed is for his shot selection to become better by only ever dunking, a la Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan.

That's all there really is to it to me. Nerlens doesn't need to improve his skill all that much to become a pass-able player on O. Jah has to improve quite a few aspects to do the same on D, and I don't think his O brings nearly as much value by virtue of his position.

Derek: I'm not on board with [number two]. Spacing is a 1-through-5 affair, and painting Noel as a rim-runner when he can't catch is problematic. He's absolutely a liability on that end right now. Not as big of a liability as Okafor is on D, but I think we underestimate how much development Nerlens needs to not be a negative on offense.

Wesley: I don't know, I think we've seen a good enough amount of productive Nerlens on offense spanning last year and flashes this year. I wouldn't say he has nothing to work on, but his hands seemed to fall off a cliff after that wrist injury, which could have definitely been related. Hasn't put it all together yet but I have much more confidence in his offense being productive than I do in Okafor's defense being even passable.

Derek: I think we're putting a little too much stock into 20 games after the all-star break when he wasn't an abject failure offensively (and still shot like 26% on shots > 5'). He's never shown the ability to keep his turnovers, or efficiency, in check consistently.

As you can see, those who weighed in are pretty split on what to do with the two of them. Feel free to weigh in below.