On Christmas Eve, the Philadelphia 76ers made a move that I had waited since the off-season to hear. The Sixers went out and acquired Ish Smith, the journeyman point guard that they had failed to re-sign last season, from the New Orleans Pelicans When they made the move, I was ecstatic. I was so thrilled to hear about this move because of how well Nerlens Noel played when Ish Smith was the point guard. Last season, Nerlens Noel averaged 22.6 points per 48 minuites and had a true shooting percentage of 56 percent with him. Without him, he only averaged 13.7 points per 48 minutes and had a true shooting percentage of 46.7 percent. Noel even went on to say that Smith was “the first true point guard that I have ever played with.” This is the thing that had struck me the most. Here is a player in Nerlens Noel that had played with Michael Carter-Williams for most of his rookie season and during AAU basketball in high school. But Noel elected to give the undrafted, 27 year-old point guard the nod when it came to being the best that he has played with. This spoke volumes to me. At the beginning of the 2015-2016 campaign, Noel seemed to miss Smith. Noel just could not get any easy looks and was struggling to score. It looked as though Noel had taken a step back from the great finish to his rookie campaign. Then, the second Ish Smith era began.
Through four games, the Sixers are 2-2 and the Ish Smith and Nerlens Noel pick and roll has been a thing of beauty. Since coming to the Sixers, Nerlens Noel has averaged 16.75 points per game on 72% shooting. This is up from his season average of 10.8 points per game on 49 percent shooting. Noel has also continued to play great defense, making him their best player right now, which I will get to later. If you don’t buy into these crazy stat increases caused by Ish Smith, let me show you what he did for Anthony Davis. With Ish Smith this season, Anthony Davis was averaging a staggering 36.4 points per 48 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 60.2 percent. Without Smith, he has been down to 28.2 points per 48 minutes and a true shooting percentage of 51.8 percent. When the best power forward in the NBA in Anthony Davis has such a drastic change in stats, it validates the importance of a guy like Ish Smith to me. Ish Smith is also averaging 18 points per game on 42 percent shooting while dishing out 8.3 assists per game. With the way the Sixers have played, along with the fact that he makes his teammates better, I would like to see him get a long-term contract in Philadelphia.
Now on to the lightning-rod topic of Jahlil Okafor. He is one of those guys that you talk about with a group of friends, and they are either pro-Okafor or against Okafor, there is no in-between. Personally, I am pro-Okafor and I think that he is a really good player. In a perfect world, I would love to keep all three centers but that is just not realistic. With the way that Brett Brown runs his team, Nerlens Noel is a much better fit than Okafor. Noel runs the floor better and is a much more versatile defender which is perfect for Brett Brown’s system. With Jahlil Okafor, you get great offense but you have your worst defensive player in the most important defensive position, center. He is also a much bigger guy and cannot get out in transition which hurts what the Sixers are trying to do. To top it all off, Okafor and Noel do not play well together. Having said all of that, we still need to see if Joel Embiid can stay healthy and see how good he is, but he easily has the most upside of the three centers. Embiid would also seem like the ideal fit next to Noel because you wouldn’t have a clogged up paint since Embiid can space the floor and hit a 12 foot jumper which the others cannot do. Because of all of these variables, Okafor would seem like the odd man out, and would get traded for a guard that would help the team out a lot more. In my ideal world, I would have Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel starting with Okafor coming off of the bench as an “instant offense” guy. I hope it plays out that way, but we will have to wait and see.