Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid-Jahlil Okafor pairing the same old problem

AP Photo/Chris Szagola

Ever since June 25, 2015, the Philadelphia 76ers have been stuck in an infinite loop. In computing, an infinite loop is when a computer program repeats indefinitely because the coding lacks a functional exit. Well, ever since the Sixers drafted Jahlil Okafor with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, it sure feels like the problems surrounding the team’s roster construction lack a functional exit.

Okafor, who hasn’t played at all this preseason after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired knee during the last day of training camp, returned to 5-on-5 scrimmaging Monday. Beyond the “injured player returns to action” narrative, Okafor’s return generated a lot of buzz because he played alongside Joel Embiid, prompting Brett Brown to discuss the possibility of the two centers playing together.

In a sickening case of deja vu, the Sixers community is right back to discussing whether a twin towers situation can work, exactly like last year with Okafor and Nerlens Noel. Brett Brown even pulled out the same line about going back and watching tape of David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

The problem is that the Admiral retired 13 years ago. In the interim, the league has gone from two traditional big men being the norm, to the majority of clubs sliding up a bigger wing up to the power forward position. Philadelphia already has months worth of game tape from last season showing that the retro, two centers arrangement is a disaster.

Now, sure, an Embiid-Okafor pairing could work slightly better than Noel-Okafor. At least offensively, Embiid already has opposing defenses respecting his range out to the three-point line. Embiid even joked that playing with Okafor would give him a chance to work on his perimeter game.

Still, even though it’s great that Embiid is a threat anywhere in or around the arc, the last thing you want is your 7’3″ center–who some reasonably compare to Hakeem Olajuwon in terms of his potential skill set around the hoop–spotting up on the perimeter just to accommodate Okafor.

Of course, defensively, having either of these guys chasing around modern-day 4s is asking for trouble. Okafor doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of such opponents, and as great as Embiid has looked switching onto guards in the preseason, asking him to do it regularly is tempting fate in terms of re-injury.

On multiple occasions, Coach Brown has explicitly referred to Embiid as the team’s “crown jewel”. If that’s really the case, he needs to do everything possible to let that jewel shine. Place him on the court with teammates best suited to fit around his game, rather than trying half measures to keep as many guys happy as possible.

Really, the center situation all comes back to what Nerlens Noel was honest enough to point out at the beginning of training camp, saying “I don’t see a way of it working.” He’s right. To paraphrase Regina George, stop trying to make twin towers happen. It’s not going to happen. The sooner the Sixers come to grips with that, the sooner they can hit CTRL+C and break this infinite loop for good.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Allan Perez

    October 18, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    The one big problem with the Noel and Okafor pairing was the offense stalled because Noel has no offensive game to speak off…if you put a small ball four on Okafor or Embiid they are gonna get mauled in the post…also Embiid and Okafor have respectable jumpers, Noel doesn’t…I think the pairing could work in certain situations.

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