Can Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel Play Together Effectively?
Selecting early in the NBA Draft can be exciting, but it can also be a hectic, can't-win situation.
Look no further than the Philadelphia 76ers this past offseason.
After stockpiling pick after pick year after year and already having power forward/center Nerlens Noel on the roster, the Sixers' third overall pick seemed destined for a backcourt player such as D'Angelo Russell -- if only for the fact that Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor seemed a lock to be off the board by pick three.
Towns went first to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the Los Angeles Lakers twisted us all and snagged Russell second.
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 25, 2015
Oh, yeah. Don't forget about Joel Embiid, a center whom the Sixers drafted third overall in 2014. He still hasn't played an NBA minute.
With Embiid still out indefinitely, there's -- theoretically -- enough production for Noel and Okafor, but can they really function together?
Based on the start to the season, no. But here's how bad it is.
Put nicely, the combination of Okafor and Noel has been terrible this season.
Per NBAWowy.com, the duo has played 808 possessions together over 426 minutes. While paired, Okafor's Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) is 46.3 percent; Noel's eFG% is 46.4. Okafor's points per possession is 0.99 (meaning his Offensive Rating is 99). Noel's Offensive Rating is 82.
When playing without the other, Okafor's eFG% over 1,161 possessions is 47.0%, and Noel's (970 possessions) is 53.5%. Okafor's Offensive Rating jumps slightly to 101, and Noel's spikes to 100.
Unsurprisingly, this combination has dragged down the Philadelphia offense (which is saying a lot because their Offensive Rating of 95.3 is worst in the league and no other team is below 100).
When both are on the floor together, Philly has an Offensive Rating of 88; it's 96 with Okafor on and Noel off and 93 when Noel is the lone man of the duo. This means that when trying to play the two young frontcourt players together, the Sixers are operating at about 12 points per 100 possessions worse than the 29th-ranked Los Angeles Lakers' offense (100.1 Offensive Rating).
That's about 17 points worse than the league average Offensive Rating of 104.8, which of course includes Philly's 95.3.
The team's eFG% is 44 percent when both are on, 45.9 percent with just Okafor, and 47 percent with just Noel. The Lakers are last in the NBA with an eFG% of 46 percent.
It's not just an efficiency thing, either. It's a spacing thing.
Alone, Noel attempts a higher percentage of shots from this distance (55.3 percent) than with Okafor (50.0 percent), and he makes them at a higher clip: 72.7 percent compared to 69.1.
WIthout Noel, Okafor is attempting 41.8 percent of his attempts from within 3 feet of the hoop, and he's converting on 58.3 percent of them. Without him, those numbers are 47 and 64.3.
Okafor is also attempting 23 percent of his shots from between 10 and 15 feet with Noel -- and converting just 32.6 percent of the time. With Noel on the bench: 17.4 percent of his field goals come from that inefficient area.
Remember how the Sixers are 30th in Offensive Rating? Well, they're 23rd in Defensive Rating (107.3). That's still not good, but it's a number to keep in mind.
Why? Because when Noel and Okafor play together, the team's Defensive Rating is 113, the same number it is when Okafor plays without Noel. The worst Defensive Rating in the league belongs to the Milwaukee Bucks (109.6). They're 4 points per 100 possessions worse than the worst squad when the two play together.
Noel's individual Defensive Rating is 103, proving what we already knew: he isn't the defensive issue.
In fairness, though, Noel is allowing a field goal percentage of 51.4 percent at the rim on 7 attempts per game, a higher rate than Okafor's 49.4 percent on 7.9 attempts per game, per NBA.com.
Among 51 players who face at least 5 attempts per game and who have played at least 15 games, Noel ranks just 38th, and Okafor ranks 28th. Neither have been great, but Noel's 2.6 percent Steal Rate obliterates Okafor's 0.5 percent mark.
He also holds the edge in Block Rate: 3.4 percent to 2.9 percent.
While it seems like the Sixers are never progressing, time always is (we don't have time for a philosophical debate; just go with it).
So head coach Brett Brown can either pick one and try to phase out the other or try to force this ill-fitting pair to work together.
He's choosing the latter, ensuring that there's still something to watch for in Philadelphia, even if they don't get to 10 wins by season's end.