51Q: How do the 76ers manage all their bigs?
We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.
Thought experiment: Consider how many minutes per game each 76ers’ rotation-caliber player should get – in a vacuum – at power forward and/or center if the primary goals were winning and development. You can tinker with the numbers, but here’s my rough outline:
- Nerlens Noel:32
- Ben Simmons:32
- Jahlil Okafor:29
- Joel Embiid:25
- Jerami Grant:20
- Dario Saric:16
- Richaun Holmes:12
That’s a grand total of 165 minutes with just 96 minutes available between power forward and center – obviously unworkable.
Even if you move all Simmons’ minutes to point guard and all Grant’s and Saric’s minutes to small forward that would leave 98 minutes. That’s not far from 96. It just requires exclusively using players at suboptimal positions. Not playing Embiid on back-to-backs will help some nights. But for him to meet Philadelphia’s lofty expectations, he’ll have to work toward carrying a larger load. And there are still far more games after an off day.
This is Philadelphia’s most imminent dilemma, and general manager Bryan Colangelo knows it. Until he fixes it, it’s coach Brett Brown’s problem.
The 76ers inherited this uncomfortable position from Sam Hinkie, whose Process was tormented by draft redundancies.
Noel (No. 6 in 2013), Embiid (No. 3 in 2014), Okafor (No. 3 in 2015) and Simmons (No. 1 in 2016) all made sense at their draft slots. But, collectively, they’re unplayable together. It’s too much size. The NBA’s small-ball trend has also pushed Saric and Grant toward the power end of the combo-forward spectrum.
And to a certain degree, so what? The greater sin might have been passing on the best prospect for a better fit on a team going nowhere anyway. Throwing good money after bad was not a fix.
If the 76ers have too many valuable bigs, that’s not a bad problem.
But they’re not there yet, and solving that puzzle requires three difficult steps:
1. Identify talent.
Simmons, Saric and Embiid have yet to play in the NBA. Okafor might not fit in the modern NBA due to his lack of rim protection and jumper, and his off-court issues are a red flag. Noel has been up and down, potentially due to injury. Grant and Holmes might just look like overachieving second-rounders in the backdrop of a historically bad team.
Each of these players needs minutes to prove himself one way or the other.
2. Preserve trade value.
This roster was assembled to stockpile talent, not jell together. In other words, it was built for trades.
But Philadelphia doesn’t want to sell low on anyone – which requires showcasing talent. Good luck with that.
Okafor and Noel fit awfully last season, and it’s difficult to construct a rotation of complementary big men without cutting out some entirely – which defies step one. That’s part of Brown’s sometimes contradictory mandate, regardless.
3. Make a trade.
The 76ers might prefer to trade Okafor rather than Noel, but Noel probably carries more trade value. Colangelo can’t simply dump the bigs he likes least. He must also consider the return.
So, this could take a while to suss out – which makes step two even more difficult.
There’s just no magic bullet for untangling this far-reaching web of complications.
It’s on Colangelo and Brown to work through it.