Joel Embiid has a pretty good idea of what a twin-tower pairing with Nerlens Noel would look like.
“I think because I have some type of relationship with him, I think I’m going to get him going, especially on the defensive end,” said Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise player and starting center. “Being aggressive, blitzing every pick-and-roll, just flying around all over the place. I think we can really do that while we are on the court.”
Offensively, Embiid is sure the Sixers will figure something out for the two centers. He has been paired with another center, Jahlil Okafor, in the starting lineup during the Sixers’ past four games. After Tuesday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Embiid made it known that he also wants to pair up with Noel, who is his best friend on the team.
Noel, a former University of Kentucky player, is a rim protector, which would enable Embiid to focus less on protecting the rim. The two could cheat a little more, knowing that the other player has his back in the post.
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That hasn’t been the case with Embiid and Okafor. Embiid has been playing power forward in that pairing and opponents have been scoring at will in the paint when Embiid is away from the basket.
“Playing the four (power forward), I don’t think I had a hard time guarding fours and chasing point guards all over the place,” Embiid said. “I enjoy it stopping someone defensively.
“But like, it goes both ways, if we switch and I’m guarding the four. I know that back there I can go for steals because I know that (Noel) is a proven rim protector. So he’s got my back.”
“I think defensively we will be something to reckon with,” he said.
The two were paired together some during Wednesday’s practice. Noel said they communicated about blitzing pick-and-rolls. There was also a large defensive presence.
“I think it was really tough for the opposing team to score,” he said, “and me and him are even able to switch on the fours and fives and ones and twos, as well. So I think it presents a major opportunity for the defense of this team if it does happen.”
Embiid doesn’t play in both ends of back-to-back games. So the Sixers will rest him either at the Utah Jazz on Dec. 29 or at the Denver Nuggets the next day. He is expected to be paired with Okafor in the starting lineup in the game he does play, as well as Friday’s matchup at the Phoenix Suns and Monday’s game at the Sacramento Kings.
The Sixers will reassess the Embiid-Okafor pairing after the four-game road trip.
“The bottom line is we have these three bigs. We need to experiment. We need to try different things,” said Sixers Coach Brett Brown, who wants to see how the Embiid-Noel pairing works. “It’s on Nerlens to get himself back in shape and learn what we are actually running.
“It will be on the group of bigs to find ways to co-exist to manage it. I think they are great. . . . We look forward to seeing those two amongst other combinations.”
The Sixers have three starting caliber centers in Embiid, Noel and Okafor. And they have a capable backup center in Richaun Holmes, who also deserves minutes.
“We are going through one of the most challenging times that I have had since I have been here,” he said. “I can see that.”
He told the Sixers (7-21) players that. Brown said they speak freely about it.
The Sixers were unable to move Noel or Okafor in a trade this summer. Noel even called having three starting caliber centers “crazy” before the team reported to training camp in September. He later voiced displeasure after playing barely eight minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.