Solving the Sixers’ Big Man Problem

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The future of the 76ers depends heavily on how they decide to solve their big man logjam.

It is often said that you can never have too much of a good thing. In practice though, even an excess of a perceived strength can ultimately lead to weakness. This philosophy seems to be occurring for the Philadelphia 76ers. While the Sixers feature three stellar centers, plus rising Richaun Holmes as a fourth option, many pundits are seemingly eager for the Sixers to give up at least one of their players in a trade.

But is trading away a fine young player the best for the Sixers’ future? It may in end up being best for the Sixers to hold on to their bigs as a sort of insurance policy for the time being, and then making a move when the time is right.

Let’s take a look at each of the individual players that the Sixers have. First things first, there’s no way that the Sixers will be getting rid of Joel Embiid. After waiting patiently for over two years, Embiid has taken the city of Philadelphia by storm with his play on the court. Embiid is the total package. He can drive to the basket, shoot like a guard, defend the best in the business, and has the looks of a future superstar.

Of course, Embiid’s lone downfall is his health. Once again, Embiid has missed significant chunks of the season due to injury, this time due to a meniscus tear in his knee. Add in his chronic foot problems, and some Sixers fans are understandably frustrated with Embiid.

However, it would be rash and ill-advised to trade Embiid. Sixers fans have waited many years for a player of this caliber, and after years of trusting the process, why would anyone want to give up now?

This leaves Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Richaun Holmes. Each player has unique strengths and weaknesses. Noel is a top-notch defender as well as an improving scorer, Okafor is a polished offensive presence but a defensive work in progress, and Holmes is the most raw, but can play both center and power forward.

The opinion on who to trade has also wavered over the course of the year. Early on, when Okafor and Embiid showed chemistry while Noel was hurt, everyone wanted Noel gone. But since his return, Noel’s resurgence has been undeniable. He provides a distinct dynamic that the Sixers need, and the team seems better whenever he’s on the court. Thus, Okafor has taken a seat recently and has been the subject of trade rumors.

Other teams have been interested in Holmes, but the 6’10” forward seems content with his role in Philadelphia and is a much-needed secondary scorer without an attitude or off-court antics.

So where does this leave the Sixers? Due to Embiid’s knee and various minor ailments that have had Okafor and Holmes dinged up, the Sixers have sort of solved their own problem. In recent games, the playing time among the bigs has been split evenly between two players, while the other one has taken a seat or played at forward.

This is one reason why Holmes is so crucial. The second-year player is an ideal bench player: he has the size to play center and the skill to succeed at power forward. Holmes’ versatility is something that is unmatched among his counterparts, as well as the main reason why he should remain the third big man.

And seeing how Embiid is of course safe, this leaves Noel and Okafor to duke it out for one spot as the second center. And right now, I think the Sixers should stand pat at the deadline and keep them both. Don’t forget that Noel is a free agent to be after this season. What if the Sixers were to trade Okafor now and then lose Noel in free agency? Maybe the best course of action for the Sixers is to wait and see and let the market play out in the summertime.

When the time comes though, the Sixers will ultimately have to choose between Noel and Okafor. In the long run, it is more likely that Noel becomes an effective scorer than it is that Okafor develops into a shutdown defender, making Noel the safer bet long-term.

NBA insider David Aldridge is reporting that it is very likely that the Sixers will trade Okafor by Thursday, and if the price is right, the Sixers would be foolish not to pull the trigger. If the Sixers can get a reasonable return that will improve the team, they should absolutely make a move.  I’m just saying that the Sixers shouldn’t make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. It is inevitable that the Sixers will have to trade one of their big men, but GM Bryan Colangelo will have to make the right decision rather than an impulsive one.

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