CAMDEN, N.J. — Just as the experimental phase of one bigs pairing seems to be closing, another could be beginning.
The Sixers took a look at the combination of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor for six straight games. They went 1-5 with the two centers in the starting lineup together and there were evident struggles on both ends of the floor.
Now that the Sixers are working Nerlens Noel back into the rotation, they are interested in seeing how he can play with Embiid.
“We want to see Nerlens and Joel a little bit,” Brett Brown said. “I think the Jahlil-Joel pairing we’ve seen. ... I think it’s fair to say, mostly, there’s nothing 100 percent certain with all of this.”
The Sixers initially planned to pair Embiid and Okafor for a total of eight games and then evaluate when they returned from their recent road trip. They ended up doing it for six after both players sat out a game at the end of the West Coast series.
During that time, Noel received an increase in minutes on back-to-back nights in their absence. He jumped from a season high of 10 minutes to averaging 20.5 in the last two games. The Sixers have a new look to examine with Noel in the mix again.
“I think over the course of the year, you’re going to see different things,” Brown said. “To do it (with Embiid and Okafor) maybe as much as I have done it, I don’t believe that will be the case. But there will be times you’re going to see them paired up just through situations or foul trouble or injury.
“I feel like the mistake we could all get into, led by me, is to categorically stamp off on anything. It is incredibly fluid still and will be while we have all these bigs on the team.”
Noel and Embiid played together for 1:47 against the Suns on Dec. 23. Their skillsets are compatible to pose challenges on the defensive end, which they may test out Tuesday against the Timberwolves.
“Defensively, it’s obviously going to be to our advantage,” Noel said. “It has its hits and misses with playing big lineups like tomorrow. Maybe it’s beneficial because they have Gorgui (Dieng) and Karl (-Anthony Towns), so it evens out a little bit. I think we’ll be able to play just fine.”
After Monday’s practice Brown said the Sixers were still determining if they would pair Embiid and Okafor in Tuesday’s matchup.
“We are looking at that,” Brown said. “It’s all right now being assessed.”
Embiid is ready to take the floor with whomever he is paired. He has made a case why he should play with both Noel and Okafor. He is also realistic about the learning curve of two centers sharing the court when one is shifted from his natural position.
"I think we can be really good," Embiid said of he and Noel. "I’m excited to see it, especially defensively. Offensively, we’re going to figure it out. It goes with everybody — me playing with Jahlil, me playing with Nerlens, me playing with Richaun (Holmes). We’re still learning how to play with each other. It doesn’t mean that me playing with Jahlil is going to work, it doesn’t mean that me playing with Nerlens is going to work. We like each other, we want to play with each other, and hopefully we see what we get on the court. It’s just a matter of us playing hard and giving our all and figuring it out."
While the lineups are still uncertain, one thing the Sixers know is the interchangeability of their bigs will help them fill the void when Embiid sits one night of a back-to-back. The Sixers have three sets of back-to-backs this month alone.
“I’m thrilled to have those bigs under those circumstances,” Brown said. “It really gives you depth and you can see where you rotate that.”