Nerlens is the best. Swipe right. The end.
In all seriousness, if there is one player who deserves, absolutely, to be kept after the last three years with the Sixers, it's Nerlens Noel. He is the best player on the team at 22 years old, and he has the potential to be one of the best centers in the league.
Here are the starting centers for the last 15 NBA champions:
2015 Andrew Bogut
2014 Tim Duncan
2013 Chris Bosh
2012 Chris Bosh
2011 Tyson Chandler
2010 Pau Gasol
2009 Pau Gasol
2008 Kevin Garnett
2007 Tim Duncan
2006 Shaquille O'Neal
2005 Tim Duncan
2004 Ben Wallace
2003 David Robinson
2002 Shaquille O'Neal
2001 Shaquille O'Neal
The players have had a lot of different skillsets over the years. Shaq dominated on the low block in pretty much unstoppable fashion; Garnett scored effectively in the post but also had a knockdown mid-range shot; Gasol was one of the best passers in big man history; Chris Bosh turned into a spot-up 3-point shooter during his time in Miami; Tyson Chandler shot 70% for the season on field goal attempts that were essentially only dunks.
The one thing that every single center has in common is that they were dominant defenders.
You can win a championship if your center isn't providing any offensive value. Ben Wallace and Andrew Bogut are evidence of that. However, no team can win a championship without a defensive rock in the frontcourt.
This is the fundamental concept underpinning any discussion to me about whether Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor should be moved to enable a more rounded team roster. If you're serious about constructing a championship-caliber team, you need to have an All-Defense caliber defender. One of our two young centers has that potential, the other, to me, decidedly does not.
Just to be clear, Noel's first two seasons in Philadelphia were historically great. Only 13 players have put up seasons with a DBPM of 3 or better in their age 21 or younger seasons. Nerlens' rookie year was the highest of all such seasons, at 4.5 DBPM. Even more remarkable, only two players have ever had two such seasons before turning 21: Nerlens Noel and the criminally underrated Andrei Kirilenko.
Furthermore, his blocks and steals per game put him rarefied company, with David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only two players to match his ability in the minutes he has played.
Admittedly, Noel took a small step back this year, but even so, he was hugely impactful on the defensive end of the court. More importantly, it is completely understandable for him to have taken a step back, given that he was asked to play out of position for the first three months of the season.
Many people point to Noel's putrid offense as evidence that he won't ever be a productive player in the NBA. On the one hand, he has been bad. On the other, he doesn't need to develop post moves or a jump shot to become a championship-caliber starting center. Ben Wallace, Andrew Bogut, and Tyson Chandler could never do much beyond dunking the ball on rolls to the rim, and yet the anchored defensive squads. The Sixers' have sacrificed team production on offense by attempting to improve Noel's offensive skillset, but they can easily improve his and the team's offensive contributions simply by asking him to do less. We've all seen how destructive he has been as the finisher in a competent pick and roll.
The only reason I would move on from Noel this offseason is if I had complete confidence that Embiid was going to have a healthy career from here on out. Noel is Embiid insurance. He will likely never be the seminal superstar Embiid could become, but he'll at least be a cornerstone center who can be a building block for a team for a decade.
Nerlens is awesome. He's my favorite player on this team. And I'm swiping all the way right for him.