Richaun Holmes is making the Nerlens Noel trade palatable — but that doesn’t take away the fact that Jahlil Okafor should have been traded, too.
The general consensus on the day of the trade deadline was unanimous among most Philadelphia 76ers fans. With the team opting to trade away center Nerlens Noel for what would boil down to wing Justin Anderson and a pair of second round picks, many felt that management — in some form or fashion — had botched the process.
And, in a sense, that’s true. Noel’s value clearly depreciated as time wore on, meaning that Bryan Colangelo likely had more valuable trades within reach earlier on in his tenure. There was likely more tangible value to be had on a draft night trade, rather than being forced into a midseason deal after a few months of failed experimentation between centers Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor-headed lineups. Making Noel seem more like the odd man out, rather than the second best big man on the team, was a mistake — but not necessarily the one that hurt the Sixers most at the deadline.
Noel Trade Valid
The reasoning behind the Noel trade was still sound. With him heading into restricted free agency, the contract he’s likely to receive far exceeds the monetary allotment that the Philadelphia 76ers would be willing to match for a backup center.
Richaun Holmes has been stellar of late, and had shown flashes all season of providing, for the most part, many of the same benefits that Noel does when on the floor. Holmes is only a year older as well, and is now — as many should have foreseen — offering stellar production on a far more affordable long term trajectory than Noel.
Joel Embiid, assuming health, figures to be the Sixers’ cornerstone moving forward, meaning the Sixers don’t need another max-level center on the roster — and shelling out Noel for some form of compensation before he becomes that is wholly within reason.
Okafor Still Odd Man Out
That leaves Okafor as the odd man out, though. And that’s precisely why, in hindsight, the Sixers are all-too-predictably hindered by the retainment of their formerly-prized third overall pick. He doesn’t fit the system, nor the team’s rotation — and he still should have been dealt at the deadline, regardless of who else was traded.
There’s obviously no guarantee that Okafor had a bevy of suitors at the deadline — and he likely didn’t — but it feels almost as if Bryan Colangelo was holding out for a better deal that was he had on the proverbial table, something that would be woefully misguided. Reports detailed that the front office’s main selling point on Okafor was his status as a former top-tier draftee — something that, in the days of analytical analysis and pace-and-space regimes, is easy to shrug off as unimportant in regards to Jahlil Okafor.
Do Discount Deal
If the front office was willing to accept a downgrade in value for Noel, even heading into free agency, their reasoning for holding out on an Okafor trade that would never materialize under the current circumstances is outright unacceptable. As of right now, Okafor is the third best center on a team that won’t need interior depth in the coming seasons. He limits what the Sixers can do on both sides of the ball when he’s in the game, and likely won’t see any upwards movement in regards to his trade stock down the road.
The Philadelphia 76ers have consistently missed on opportunities to trade Jahlil Okafor — including the potential to grab a lottery pick from Boston in the 2016 draft — and now are left with a unique logjam with no clear solution. He hasn’t earned a spot in the rotation, and that doesn’t bode well for his trade prospects moving forward.
On the basis of play-style alone, Okafor’s decline wasn’t that difficult to predict given the sheer mass of indicators that were given, both leading up to the draft and during his rookie season. The league nowadays is driven by floor spacing and ball movement, a phenomena that has revolutionized the talents needed to succeed at the NBA level. You need proper rim protection defensively, but also need to have big men who can move their feet outside of the paint.
Yesteryear’s NBA No More
It’s also difficult to work around bigs who can’t shoot or pass, and that becomes all the more difficult when their primary form of production is the ever-inefficient isolation post-up — something Okafor has patented since his days as the number one recruit coming out of high school. Okafor’s old-school, bully-ball game is tailor-made to a stylistic trend that no longer finds itself relevant in today’s NBA. That, combined with his defensive woes, makes him somebody whose value is difficult to pinpoint in any one facet of the game.
He has also combined that with consistently lackluster effort on the boards. A big man who slows down the pace of the game offensively, limits efficiency, defends poorly and struggles to rebound is difficult to sell high on.
This isn’t to say Okafor is a bad player — because he’s not. His footwork is still extremely impressive, and something you rarely see from 21-year-old 7-footer with his muscular framework. There’s just not much opportunity in today’s league for a player of Okafor’s ilk to find consistent success, and that’s made even harder when forcing him into a bad situation on a Philadelphia team that — in all likelihood — doesn’t ignite his work ethic all that much.
Richaun Holmes Simply Better Suited
There’s no denying, at this stage in the season, that Richaun Holmes is exponentially more valuable than Okafor in the Philadelphia 76ers’ long term plans. His hustle-based defensive efforts and commanding presence on the boards is a valuable sparkplug to wield behind Embiid in the rotation, while his offensive game doesn’t interrupt the flow of the offense like Okafor’s does. He’s also a more reliable pick-and-roll threat, and somebody who doesn’t rely on isolation production in an offense that will be spearheaded by a pair of core pieces whose best production is derived from moving the ball and upping the pace of the game in Simmons and Dario Saric.
The Philadelphia 76ers have dug themselves into a bit of a rut with their mishandling of the Jahlil Okafor situation, and Holmes’ success is simply highlighting that fact that Okafor doesn’t have a spot in Philadelphia’s rotation — even with Noel now departed.