Over the past three years, the Philadelphia 76ers have established a bit of a franchise tradition: always go for the most talented player in the draft, no matter how much talent the team has at that player’s position.
After acquiring Nerlens Noel in a draft-day trade with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013 and Joel Embiid last season, the Sixers selected Duke superstar Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. Okafor, who was not supposed to fall to the 76ers at 3rd overall, joins the quickly-improving Noel and perpetually-injured Embiid in what could be the best big man trio…well, ever.
I can’t recall the last time three centers with so much talent and potential joined forces. Maybe Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in their primes, but even then it was only two. Then again, at this rate, the Sixers will be lucky to have two of these three available at any given point.
Noel missed the entire 2013-2014 season with an ACL tear he suffered before the draft. He came back strong this season and rapidly improved throughout the year, but he is still in no position to be able to lead this team. Embiid, on the other hand, missed this entire past season, and recent developments suggest that missing the entire 2015-2016 season is still not off the table for the big man.
Okafor now has a very important job in Philadelphia: he is expected to lead this trio (or duo) of potentially-dominant centers in a league where most teams are starting to give the nod to smaller lineups. The Golden State Warriors just won an NBA Title with a small lineup, and even the Los Angeles Lakers showed a smaller preference by selecting D’Angelo Russell over Okafor at No. 2.
While there is no guarantee that the Sixers’ strategy will result in 20 wins this coming season or a single All-Star, pairing the dominate post scoring of Okafor with a defensive leader like Noel has a clear and enormous potential upside.
Who knows, maybe when Embiid comes back, the 76ers will revolutionize the game, forcing other teams to seek out powerhouse centers in order to compete. Or, maybe they’ll fall flat on their face. Either way it should be interesting to watch.