The 76ers are planning on returning to the world of competitive basketball as quickly as possible, with General Manager Bryan Colangelo saying, "Everybody is thinking about winning as opposed to prolonging the rebuilding process," during an interview with Bleacher Report last week.
Part of that process may involve moving the assets that former general manager Sam Hinkie acquired during his time with the team. Okafor was selected with the third pick in the most recent draft, and averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds per game in nearly 1600 minutes of action in his rookie season. Noel saw his minutes decrease in his second season, and put up nearly identical numbers from his rookie season with averages of 11 points and 8 rebounds per game.
The 76ers won the top pick in the 2016 draft after finishing with a 10-72 record, and have the privilege of selecting Brandon Ingram or Ben SImmons with the No. 1 pick. They are also expected to have Dario Saric and Joel Embiid available as well, giving them a lot of options for post players.
Okafor and Noel should be able to net the 76ers a nice return - if Okafor had waited a year to enter the NBA draft, he'd likely be a top-3 pick again this year in a weaker draft. Despite being selected in the 2013 draft, Noel is younger than projected lottery pick Buddy Hield, and still has room to grow to reach his ceiling.
Why should this be interesting for the Nuggets? Because they should be crazy interested in trading for Noel, that's why.
The Nuggets had a growing season in Michael Malone's first season, finishing 22nd in points per game and 24th in defensive rating. They gave up 27.6 points per game on 3-point attempts, according to Team Rankings, good for 24th in the league. Opponents shot 59.2 percent on field goal attempts within 5 feet of the rim, according to NBA Stats. Opponents shot 39.9 percent on field goal attempts from 20-24 feet, according to NBA Stats, which would be the worst mark in the league if it wasn't for the aforementioned 10-72 Philadelphia 76ers finishing the season at 40.8 percent.
All that adds up to the fact that the Nuggets defense needs improving.
When I was in the public education system, one of the things I thought was super cool was these adjustable erasers. They came in a plastic case that made it look kind of like a pen, and there was a slider that made it so you could let out a ton of the eraser and then retract it back in the case. I always had dopey wooden pencils, and I never ended up with one, but man they were cool for this middle school dweeb.
Nerlens Noel is the basketball equivalent of that eraser. In his first year in the league, a season where most rookies struggle to adapt to the rigors of NBA defense (see the 2015-16 Nuggets), Noel ranked in the top 10 in the league in per game steals and blocks, finished in the top 10 in defensive rating, and helped the 76ers finish 13th in defensive rating.
He struggled to play alongside Jahlil Okafor this last season, but you cannot disrespect the caterpillar and rave about the butterfly. The tools to be an impact defender are there, regardless of what happened this season.
In my opinion, the Nuggets would be able to start Noel next to Nikola Jokic in the frontcourt and he would help the team improve. His quickness and agility would allow him to guard power forwards, and Jokic's ability to make plays from the elbows out would alleviate concerns about spacing with the two players on the court.
The Nuggets experimented with Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic playing in the frontcourt together, and there isn't a large enough sample to declare whether it can be successful in the future. Playing Noel and Jokic together is not the same as playing Nurkic and Jokic - Noel has more physical tools than either of the Nuggets two big men.
The Nuggets could offer Jameer Nelson, Will Barton, and the No. 19 pick to the 76ers for Noel and see if Colangelo would be willing to bite. Nelson has roots in Philadelphia, and could help fill the role of a backup point guard on the team as they continue to look for a starter at that position. Barton has roots in nearby Baltimore, and proved himself to be a talented scorer on the wing as well as a reliable rebounder at his position.
If the Nuggets found themselves in a position to draft Kris Dunn at No. 7, the Nuggets could take Dunn and swap him in a package with Barton or Nelson and the No. 19 pick for Noel and the No. 24 or No. 26 pick. That trade package would give the 76ers a franchise point guard, a valuable backup, and they'd be able to move up in the draft for another role player.
Nerlens Noel is younger than Buddy Hield.— Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan) May 28, 2016
For the Nuggets, Noel would likely be a better addition to their team than any player that would be available at No. 7 in the draft. If they moved Nelson, they could go forward with signing D.J. Augustin to a contract once free agency begins. If they moved Barton, they could guarantee the contract of JaKarr Sampson or Axel Toupane and fill the roster vacancy with a player already on the roster.
If Tim Connelly wants to give Michael Malone the pieces to improve the Nuggets defense next season, taking a good long look eastward at Nerlens Noel would be worthwhile decision.