It's a brave new world with Jahlil Okafor in the fold, and his addition has brought both excitement and doubt.
Sean O'Connor and I debate the Sixers win total this season, and just how Jahlil Okafor fits into the equation.
Sean O'Connor: Jake, I'm trying to find the best over/under to use for this predictions post. Bovada has nothing posted as of yet, and the one site I can find has a preliminary over/under (from July!) of 17.5 games.
I know the Sixers will still be terrible, but that seems a bit low, right? Where would you set the over/under? I'm curious as I'm the resident non-existential pessimist at LB.
Jake Pavorsky: Before we get into the nitty gritty, I'd like to point out when we had this conversation last year, you thought this team would win less than 15.5 games, while I was confident they would win more. But I did citeChris Johnson as a reason the team would shoot 35% from three-point range, so we all have our flaws.
Yeah, 17.5 wins is pretty low for a team that won 18 last year and only got better. I think 24.5 is a modest place to set the bar at, and I'm actually going to take the over on that too.
I'm really excited about a potential starting lineup of Kendall Marshall, Hollis Thompson, Robert Covington,Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor. That's a group that is going to shoot the ball well from beyond the arc, and play above average on the defensive end.
These guys may still be the youngest team in the league, but most of them have been playing with each other for the past two or three years, and I think some of that chemistry is going to shine through this season.
I'm confident people are going to start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What say you? Can you get down with 25-plus victories?
SOC: Three emails in and I think we've already reached our first disagreement.
The Sixers have a lot of fit and sacrifice issues, and it starts with the big combo of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Noel will have to spend time every game that Okafor is healthy playing out of position on offense, and Jahlil Okafor will have to learn how to play NBA defense and compensate on the block for all the negative effects Noel's offensive limitations.
Add in the roster turnover - even Nerlens Noel expressed amazement at him being the longest-tenured Sixer during media day - and there's just not enough continuity for me to think a seven-game leap is in the cards. I think 20.5 is a reasonable over/under, after the signing of Marshall and drafting of Okafor (who I'm not positive will be a net-positive next year, but we'll see). I've been at 21 or 22 since the Marshall signing but thought others would be less optimistic. 25 isn't too far from where I'm at, but I don't see them being better than the five NBA teams they'd need to exceed to reach that win threshold.
I think what little continuity from last year will be disrupted by the changes in the lineups, and the win totals will suffer. I also really disagree about the lineup you posted - Marshall and Okafor will be major defensive liabilities, and Covington and Thompson will be average at best. Nerlens is awesome; I think he's going to have a monster defensive season. But if he can make chicken salad out the chicken feces of defense that Marshall and Okafor bring in, then he'll be a DPOY candidate. I think he's a darkhorse as is. The Sixers ranked 13th last year by playing big lineups with lanky defenders. They're going to depend on Kendall Marshall - who might as well be an orange traffic cone - and Okafor for heavy minutes. Any offensive gains would be mitigated by those two, and I guess that's why I'm not as optimistic.
Talk me into moving up, Jake.
JP: Maybe 21.5 wins is a better number. I'm ambitious. You disagreed with a lot. That's good, let's talk it out.
So I think Noel and Okafor are going to work out pretty well offensively. I envision Okafor being able to attract the eyes of an entire defense while he posts up, then proceeding to feed Nerlens on cuts to the lane. Nerlens moving around frequently off ball and trying to exploit holes in the paint will be key to the success of this offense. He's certainly going to be able to create a lot for three-point specialists like Covington, Thompson, and Nik Stauskas.
Marshall's definitely not a good defender by any means, but I think one area where Marshall is going to really help in comparison to Tony Wroten the team is taking care of the ball. When you play like a bat out of hell all the time like Wroten does, that allows for more turnovers, which equate to a lot of fast break opportunities. Slowing things down on offense and being smart with the ball will make things a whole lot easier defensively.
Not to mention, they really survived most of last season without a good defender at point guard, I don't think Marshall makes things that much worse.
My biggest concern defensively is how much the addition of Okafor will keep Nerlens Noel out of the paint. Rim protection is definitely going to be a struggle, and Okafor is really going to have to put in extra effort rebounding.Brett Brown is going to have to do some experimenting to try and get Noel some more time at the five.
But for the most part, they have still have those lanky guys that made them one of the better defending teams in the league, now it's about finding which lineups work together.
Do you think they'll still be in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency this season?
SOC: Your visions and mine I think ultimately match. The timelines for those visions that we each have in mind. I can envision a Sixers team, fully-functional, pulling off exactly what you're selling on offense. But that takes time.
The team's "success" last year boiled down to two years of Brett Brown and staff drilling players on how to play one kind of NBA defense, with tweaks here and there, and that hard work over two years manifested itself at about the 30th game of last year and through the end of the season. It succeeded in part because the team was such an afterthought - lightly scouted, rarely taken seriously by the competition - that much of the time their core sets were effective enough. The Sixers' defensive execution isn't high-concept - their length and teams' tendencies to go one-on-one really helped in competitive games and in late situations, but at most other times when games were competitive, the Sixers were a bottom 10 defensive team, as I wrote last season. So I think there's a lot of improvement to be made, and three new core players to integrate, all of whom come with less-than-sterling reputations.
Even then, because of what I mentioned above with competition and whatnot, I still expect them to be a decent defensive team. Some of the personnel downgrades will be overcome by individual player development, specifically for guys like Noel, Jerami Grant, and JaKarr Sampson. They should still be something like a top 16 to 18 team at the end of the season if they stagger minutes like I expect, with Noel playing a lot of backup five and the team using the bench to bring in more athletic lineups and create chaos.
What you said about Noel being out of the paint is interesting - the Henry Sims-Nerlens Noel lineups didn't function well on either end of the floor. Are you more concerned with Noel being more of a Serge Ibaka-like rover or with Okafor being a turnstile in the paint than him being a complement for Okafor's post game? Because I think the opposite.
JP: I'm just concerned teams are going to be able to stretch Noel out far enough that he really won't be a factor in the paint with Okafor on the floor. Power forwards only contest 41.8% of shots around the rim, while centers contest 60%, according to Nylon Calculus. Teams are going to be able to isolate Okafor and take advantage of him.
Above all, one of the biggest flaws in Okafor's game which we'll see exposed this year is just how bad he is defending the pick and roll. He was basically bunkered in the paint at Duke, but isn't going to be able to get away with that in the NBA. That's going to send the Sixers into a rotational nightmare.
I'm really hoping one of the wings on this team can make the jump in terms of one-on-one defending, because they're not really sending guys towards imminent doom if they get into the paint anymore. You're looking at a 6' 11" 275 lbs. teenager who can't jump.
In the top 16-18 is a fair place for them to be, although definitely a well sized step backwards from the year prior. If you want a better defense then Okafor is going to log some serious minutes on the bench (and maybe we'd see a Grant-Noel frontcourt?) but Philadelphia's not going to do that.
SOC: Yeah, benching Okafor is not what's best for business. It'll be interesting how much they compromise their defense for Okafor. Part of the reason why he was so far down on so many lists for Sixers fans was because with him you're attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole. It's not going to be a smooth transition. It's... ahem... a process.