Thanks to Ben Simmons' status as the draft's highest-rated prospect, speculation has engulfed the Sixers. Their already crowded frontcourt would be bursting at the seams if it added the Aussie point-forward, so everyone is looking for indications as to what their next move would be.
In this week's Morning Tip column from David Aldridge, the veteran NBA.com reporter relayed some nuggets on the team's thinking heading into June's draft. First, on the players in consideration at No. 1:
The 76ers didn't get three of the top 11 picks, as they could have, but they got the top pick. They will not trade it.
Simmons and [Brandon] Ingram, the Sixers believe, are "blue-chip people," one source said, who are both well-known already inside the organization -- Brett Brown coached many years in Australia and knows Simmons' family, and the Colangelo family's ties to Duke through Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski provide them with all the inside dope they'll ever need on Ingram.
And, more to the point -- either player could help immediately, depending on how Philly addresses the redundancy on its current roster.
Nothing out of the ordinary there. The details about fit, on the other hand, are a bit more interesting (bold emphasis mine):
Simmons is a four, the Sixers believe, but they see him at that position the way the San Antonio Spurs utilize Kawhi Leonard at the three -- a forward who initiates the offense, and through whom the team can run its offense. They also remind you that when Leonard was first drafted, very few believed he'd ever be a good perimeter shooter. The same kind of improvement is possible for Simmons, who shot just 33 percent on 3-pointers in his lone season at LSU.
Yet the Sixers already have Okafor at the four, and possibly Saric next year. Taking Simmons wouldn't make sense unless they were determined to trade Okafor, whose up and down rookie season hasn't adversely affected his value around the league. And trading Okafor would be the easiest and best way for Philly to get another high first-round pick, which the Sixers covet.
There is strong support within the organization for Nerlens Noel, who provides defense and rebounding that none of Philly's other bigs provide. Keeping him would give Philly the flexibility to keep another offense-dominant big. But the Sixers tried playing Okafor and Noel together last year, with terrible results. And can Noel play in the modern age of basketball, when centers are increasingly shorter and more versatile offensively?
But until Embiid shows he can play regularly, Philly has to keep a center like Noel on the roster. They can't take the risk of Embiid breaking down again.
Aldridge appears adamant that Noel has backing from important members of the organization and isn't likely to go anywhere until Joel Embiid's future is clearer. As suggested over the weekend, Aldridge believes an Okafor trade would likely command the best return in addition to clearing the glut in the paint for Philadelphia, and dealing him matches their apparent desire to grab another high-value pick.
Beyond the headline-worthy stuff, there are some curious notes within that blurb.
It's hard to tell whether this is his personal view or the organization's, but D.A. seems to indicate the team views Okafor as a four. Personally I think that's a mistake because I generally only care about positions/labels in the NBA as they relate to who players can defend, and Okafor is not defending modern fours. It seems a bit off to view players like Dario Saric and Simmons as fours while also assigning the label to Okafor.
By the same token, asking whether Noel can fit in the modern NBA because of changes in frontcourt style is puzzling. Teams are going small, sure, but thinking every team can replicate Golden State's "Death" lineup with Draymond Green as the fulcrum is pretty ambitious.
If the team wants to keep Noel because he "provides rebounding" they have to be hoping he has plenty of untapped potential there. His raw totals are iffy but his underlying numbers are nearly identical to Bismack Biyombo's, who made a huge leap as a glass cleaner despite similar issues with his hands and whose emergence has altered the trajectory of the Eastern Conference Finals. Noel is a superior defender by nearly every concievable metric, so even a mini-leap would make a massive difference as to his value.
In any case, the "Which bigs will they keep?" debate will likely not rest until somebody is moved. Based on this report, Noel figures to be part of the team's plans for at least a little while longer.