Landing the #1 pick doesn’t mean goodbye to Nerlens Noel

Updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 08:50 AM

One of the common themes heading into tonight’s NBA lottery is that landing a top-2 pick, leading to a presumptive selection of either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, would mean that Sam Hinkie and the Sixers would look to ship out Nerlens Noel, fresh off of an incredible 2nd half to his rookie season, and that this would continue the trend of “kicking the can down the road” that was started by trading MIchael Carter-Williams this past trade deadline.

(Note: I don’t believe that trading Michael Carter-Williams was kicking the can down the road. But that’s an old argument).

And to be clear, I don’t necessarily think that trading Noel some time over the next 3 years is an impossibility. So much of the Sixers future is, in my mind, centered around Joel Embiid, and if the two cannot co-exist, moving Noel for an equally talented piece that does fit better may make sense.

But that future, to me, is predicated on Noel’s long term fit with Embiid. It’s about whether or not Noel can develop a consistent 17 footer to give Embiid room to operate in the post, and whether Noel can improve his defensive instincts on the perimeter, not what happens tonight.

First, it needs to be said that Sam Hinkie’s big board doesn’t necessarily match our own. Hinkie may not have Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor as his top two targets.

Hinkie may also be willing to trade down out of the 1st or 2nd pick, dropping back to 3 or 4, getting the guy who fits, while also getting additional assets in return.

But, perhaps most importantly, even if the Sixers do draft Karl-Anthony Towns on June 25th, there’s enough minutes for all 3 of them to play. With 96 minutes to split between the power forward and center positions each of the 3 can play starters minutes, especially when the inevitable injuries and missed games are factored in.

It’s Karl-Anthony Towns’ versatility that really makes this possibility real. While Towns spent much of the season playing in the post for the Kentucky Wildcats, he has legitimate skills on the perimeter, both as a passer from the foul line area and as a jump shooter.

That skill was most evident in his free throw shooting, where the 19 year old connected on 81.3% of his attempts. It also showed up in game action as well, with Towns shooting 40% on midrange jump shots. It was on a very small amount of attempts, as dictated by John Calipari’s desires and the Wildcats style of play, but Towns has that skill.

Coming out of high school, that inside-outside threat was one of the factors that made Towns so intriguing. If anything, it was preventing Towns from falling in love with his perimeter shot that was the concern, since he had the potential to be so dominant in the post, not whether or not he had the skill to stretch the floor.

It is this inside-outside game, and ability to dominate on both ends of the court, that makes Towns’ fit with Embiid so intriguing. Towns has the post skills to attack mismatches down low, mismatches that he’ll frequently see as a result of teams putting their stronger post defender on Embiid. But Towns will also be enough of a threat from 17 feet out that he’ll help open up the paint for Embiid.

With both Embiid and Towns being good passers, good post scorers, and able to hit from the perimeter, the Sixers will have no problem regularly exploiting their available mismatches, and will give Brown the ability to impose his style of play on the opposition, with limited weaknesses that the other team can expose as a counter. It’s downright exciting to think about.

But it’s this versatility that also makes Towns’ fit with Noel so enticing. That ability to hit from the perimeter, and also move his feet relatively well on the perimeter (in relation to, say, Okafor’s lateral mobility) will give Towns the versatility needed to play with either Embiid or Noel. Because of this versatility, finding minutes for all 3 shouldn’t be a problem.

And the defensive potential is simply too incredible to disregard the possibility. The thought of having 3 elite shot blockers, thus virtually guaranteeing that there is a game changer on that end of the court playing at all times, is a luxury few teams have. It would be fascinating what Brett Brown could do with that trio.

PlayerBlocks per 40 minsBlock %
Nerlens Noel5.513.2%
Joel Embiid4.511.7%
Karl-Anthony Towns4.311.5%
(During their freshman season at college)


Despite the incredible improvement that the Sixers made defensively this season, jumping from 26th in the league defensively in 2013-14 to 13th this past season, they were a pretty bad defensive team with Nerlens Noel on the bench. In fact, their 107.7 defensive rating when Noel was on the bench would have ranked 24th in the league. Depth on that side of the court, and in that role specifically, is actually an area of need for the Sixers, and something that is almost impossible to waste.

ConditionDef RatingLeague Rank
With Noel on court103.16th
Without Noel107.724th

Ultimately, doing anything but going best player available at the top of the draft is almost always a mistake. This is especially true when the best talent available has the skills to play alongside your current centerpiece(s), and when you have the ability to play all of them starters minutes. As long as one of them can check their ego enough to play starters minutes, but start the game coming off the bench, there’s room in the rotation for 3 dominant big men.

That doesn’t mean Noel is absolutely here for the long term, or that it may not make sense to move him for an equally talented perimeter prospect down the line. But, to me, that’s more dependent on Noel’s ability to fit with Embiid long term than it is on what happens tonight.

Give me the best prospect. To me, that’s the #1 pick and Karl-Anthony Towns.


Derek Bodner

Derek Bodner is a credentialed reporter covering the Philadelphia 76ers independently for He is also a college basketball scout for, and an NBA contributor for The Ringer. Contact Information: / @DerekBodnerNBA

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  • Derek

    Thanks for spelling this all out clearly. It’s always bothered me that so many folk think that if you get the top 2 you gotta get rid of Noel. It doesn’t make any sense for a variety of reasons – but for the me the most basic thing was this, 96 minutes, 3 players, 32 minutes a piece. Not like that’s small minutes.

    Gotta say tonight is going to be interesting to me. If you are someone who has held onto the Patrick Ewing lottery is fixed conspiracy, tonight’s your night. 1-2 Lakers Knicks with the sixers falling to 5 (the farthest they could fall if the Knicks stay in the top 3) would be a conspiracy theorists wet dream.

    Listening to 97.5 right now, they’re lamenting the possible outcome as not only being a referendum on whether or not the ‘plan’ is right but somehow indicating that if they end up with a lower (#5) pick it means they’ll stink again next year.

    If Joel Embiid is healthy next year he’s a rookie of the year candidate. If Joel Embiid is healthy, the sixers have one of the best ‘first year playing’ players on any roster next year. Plus a top 5 pick, plus a second year with Noel, plus a guy who seems to know how to coach the best out of anyone (Brown is like Chip Kelly with QB’s).

    I’m not sure why people seem to think that this lottery is the make or break kind of thing…it’s a process that isn’t decided on one move or one moment. As there is a matter of luck involved you can’t dismiss the process because the outcome that you have no control over (the lottery) screws you over.

    Oh yeah, one more thing, the sixers don’t have enough talent to care about position…so many mainstream media folk are focused on point guard right now, like the sixers are set at other positions. They’re really not. It’s still a BPA type situation, even if the BPA is a year away due to a rehab or sitting in Europe.

    Now, do I know who the BPA is? Absolutely not, but I’m presuming the sixers have some scouts and such to figure this stuff out

  • PS – strong radio hit on 97.5 today – thanks

  • No surprise to me that lakers jump into the top 2
    It could have been worse I guess – could be the knicks

  • Rev it up D-Bod. Sixers beat emergency session.