It's been a hot topic of debate since the summer, and it's almost become much like a debate of ideology, kind of like when you debate politics or religion, no matter what, at the core of whatever side you take, you're going to be buckled into your point of view. The Nerlens Noel vs Jahlil Okafor debate has been exactly like that. Each point of view has been explained thoroughly, both sides have fair arguments, but one thing I'm sure each side can agree on is that it's really surprising that the 76ers went into training camp not having traded one of the two players to alleviate the front court logjam.
Having Okafor, Noel, Joel Embiid, and now an emerging backup big in Richaun Holmes, (To go along with Dario Saric and Ben Simmons) most of the team's young talent is clearly in the front court, and it's one of the reason's why it was so puzzling a trade hasn't happened yet. Having that many bigs wont work, and Nerlans Noel had said as much before training camp even started. Instead, thanks in part to the injuries that have occurred during the preseason, the front court logjam has unintentionally alleviated itself, the Ben Simmons injury was the first thing to fall into place, Jahlil Okafor played his first minutes of NBA action in the very last preseason game against Miami last Friday, after nursing his surgically repaired knee from March, and now Nerlens Noel is on the mend for 3-5 weeks because he had surgery in some part of the knee that I never even heard of. Have you ever heard of the Plica?
The Irony in this is that what was such a heated topic of discussion among Sixer fans, whether it be on Reddit or other platforms has now been unexpectedly answered, at least temporarily. Okafor will come off the bench to work his way back in NBA shape and adjust to game speed, which means Joel Embiid and Dario Saric will be starting at the Center and Power forward position respectively. More importantly however the Noel injury has opened the door for Richaun Holmes, who had a stellar preseason.
The second-year player showed potential as a nice rotational big man, he has extend his shooting to mid-range and has been active as a 6'10, athletic big man. He finished the preseason averaging 10.8 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks while shooting 53% percent from the field and 84% from the free-throw line, all while coming off the bench. Although he needs to continue to improve his instincts and learning the technical side of defense, he is active on that end of the floor, and on offense he has shown to be a very good roll man off the pick and roll, and can pop out to shoot the mid-range jumper, in the Summer league he was a favorite passing target for Ben Simmons running the pick and roll, and in the preseason Sergio Rodriguez has been his main dance partner as well.
Despite the great preseason Holmes had, where was he going to find room for his minutes? That was the question until Noel's knee Surgery, and now that Okafor will most likely see some minutes at the power forward spot next to Joel Embiid as Brett Brown tries to see if that line-up can work, (I don't see it) that opens at least 15-18 minutes for Holmes as the backup center, where he can showcase he belongs on this team as a rotation player for the future at a much cheaper price.
My opinion has flipped-flopped many times on this question but if you made me choose which big man I think General Manager Bryan Colangelo might be more inclined to trade, it would most likely be Nerlans Noel, because while he's an elite defensive player by every metric and the eye test, he is every bit as bad as an offensive player. He can roll to the rim and catch the alley-oop above the rim, but he struggles to catch the ball on the move, much like an NFL receiver who struggles with drops, and he is not a great shooter, free throw shooter and doesn't have even effective post moves. In the 2015-2016 season he shot 58/208 on shots between 5-19 feet (27%) and from 15-19 feet he shot 19%. Compare that to Holmes who shot 37% from mid range that year and has shot 40% from that range this preseason, 65% in the restricted area, and 54% in the paint, it seems clear to me that Nerlans will be traded, especially when you consider he is going to command a large amount of cash this summer when he is a restricted free agent. Holmes isn't the elite defensive player that Noel is, but he is a much more effective offensive player, who doesn't need the ball in his hands.
All of this hinges on if Joel Embiid can put together a full season of health. If Sixer fans could travel in a time machine, go to the future and know if Embiid will have a full 12-15 year career, none of this would matter as both Okafor and Noel would be gone right now as Holmes would be the perfect backup, at a much cheaper price.
At the beginning of training camp it looked like a solid NBA player in Holmes was going to be buried under the giants playing in front of him, and now it seems a pathway has been manufactured for his chance to build on what was an impressive preseason.