With the NBA Draft rapidly approaching, the Philadelphia 76ers will reportedly explore trades for both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. A report from ESPN last week suggested that the 76ers could move both players but will likely trade “at least one” of them.
At this stage, the 20-year-old Okafor seems like the more likely of the two to be traded. Despite his solid rookie campaign this past season, averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, the former No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft still has maturity issues.
Okafor’s several off-the-court scuffles got him in trouble last season as the 76ers organization feared for his safety. He was suspended in late December, and his name constantly floated in potential trade rumors; which has carried over into the offseason.
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As for Noel, the 22-year-old made great strides in his second season in Philadelphia, averaging 11.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. There are several people believe that the 76ers prefer Noel to Okafor despite the latter being the more talented player. NBA insider Chad Ford corroborated those claims in a recent appearance on 97.3 ESPN (via CSN Philly).
“I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of those two players doesn't necessarily work,” Ford said.
Since the 76ers own the first overall pick in this year’s draft – something they haven’t had since they used the first overall pick to draft Allen Iverson in 1996 – the possibility of moving either Okafor or Noel to get another top pick is enticing.
It’s even more enticing when the X-factor of Joel Embiid is considered. Much like Okafor, Embiid is a former third overall draft pick (2014) but injuries have kept the Cameroon native from suiting up for an NBA game. While he’s busy trying to recruit Kevin Durant to come to the city of brotherly love via Twitter, Embiid’s realistic teammates next season may be a lot less polished.
Many have said that Embiid and Okafor’s skill sets are similar and having both men on the roster would be redundant. It may be true, but counting on Embiid, a man who has yet to play a game in two NBA seasons, to be a force upon his hopeful debut is wishful thinking.
If Philadelphia drafts either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, the two most highly-touted forwards in the draft, Ford adds that the team will need to strengthen its backcourt. It will not be easy to do by plucking fringe-level prospects from later in the draft.
“Then they're gonna need those assets to start to fill out their backcourt, because the 24th pick and [the 26th pick], you're not finding starters.”
Following their third straight historically poor season, the 76ers are in a prime position to upgrade their roster for years to come. In addition to the first overall pick and a bevy of trade chips on the roster, the 76ers are simply thinking positively for the first time in a long time.
"Think about these types of resources," 76ers’ coach Brett Brown said during a recent interview with ESPN Radio's Russillo and Kanell.
"We have the first pick. We have the 24th and 26th pick. On our current roster, we have Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant [and] Robert Covington. We had a  draft class that effectively redshirted in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.
"For the first time in my four years, we're going to enter a legitimate approach to free agency."
It’s certainly not going to be easy to recruit players to a team that has won just 47 total games the last three seasons. This past season, The 76ers went just 10-72, nearly the opposite of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA-record 73-9 campaign.
However, the team can sell itself a hotbed of young talent, missing just a veteran superstar who can coach, mentor, and guide the young thoroughbreds to success. With that said, Noel would make the most sense as a trade candidate. He’s versatile, talented, and improving; but does not offer the all-around skills that Okafor does.
It’s clear that Okafor has some maturity issues at this point. But that may be more a byproduct of his age and not his basketball skills. Embiid, as good as he was in college, has not played in an NBA game and there’s no reason to believe he will be a difference-maker when/if he does suit up.
Noel, as productive as he can be, does not wield the same talents. That’s not to say he can’t develop into a superstar, he was a sixth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, just four spots ahead of the oft-injured Embiid.
Yet, while keeping Okafor makes sense because of his talent, keeping Noel because of his demeanor is the smarter option.
"I am definitely excited,” Noel told GiveMeSport about 76ers’ season earlier this year. “We are heading in the right direction, just continuing to develop players, we are still young, it is going to take time to get to where we want to be, so it is just patience."