Should the Celtics Go After Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor?

Jan 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) react after a score against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and center Jahlil Okafor (8) react after a score against the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The 76ers want to move either Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor this off-season and the Celtics will be able to offer more than any other team, so who should they go after?

The Philadelphia 76ers have stockpiled big men over the past couple of years and are finally looking to move one of them. Dario Saric is expected to join the 76ers after playing overseas the past couple of years and Joel Embiid is finally going to return from a two-year injury. That leaves Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor on the trading block, according to CBS Philly who said that there is a very high likelihood that one of them gets moved this off-season.

While many people may want the Celtics to go after Embiid, the 76ers already made it clear that they’re looking to build around him and would rather move Okafor or Noel.

The cost of either Noel or Okafor is pretty well-known when it comes to the Boston Celtics. It would cost them a couple of draft picks and players like Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter. It would allow the 76ers to have two of the top-three picks and also another pick in the middle of the first round to select a wing player.

Making this trade would also be very beneficial to the Celtics as it would give them a young big man with a lot of potential. The Celtics have looked for someone who can score in the paint or be a rim protector, but right now they don’t have either on their roster.

Obviously, the Celtics have been rumored to be interested in Jahlil Okafor since the trade deadline but Nerlens Noel is new to the rumor mill. They have enough fire power to land either. It’s just a matter of which one they should pursue as both would give the Celtics different styles of play.

Jahlil Okafor is still developing on defense but he’s already a very good offensive player. On the other hand, Nerlens Noel looks poised to be one of the best defensive big men for many years but isn’t as polished on offense.

Okafor would provide instant scoring down low with an improving mid-range game. He finished second among rookies by averaging 17.5 points per game and finished eighth best in field-goal percentage as he shot 50.8 percent from the field. It was mostly due to his incredible 67.5 field-goal percentage from inside of three feet. Okafor also shot 46.3 percent from 3-to-10 feet out, showing he has the potential to develop a jump shot.

Okafor’s mid-range game is still far from a finished project but he’s one of the best back to the basket players in the league already, and the Celtics need help down low, not another shooter. A big reason is his footwork is among the best in the league at only 20-years-old.

While Okafor is already a polished offensive player, his defense is what causes him the most problems. His 6’11” frame helped him average 1.2 blocks per game last season – fourth among rookies – but he’s far from a great defensive big man.

His 110 defensive rating is not promising and his athleticism and leaping ability limits him on defense. Although, you can’t teach height and Okafor knows how to use it well. It’s not to say that he can be the anchor Boston needs down low but he is more than serviceable, especially if they’re able to land a good defensive player to put next to him.

Oddly enough, Nerlens Noel’s biggest strength is his defense. It was weird that their different styles of play weren’t able to co-exist.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

In just two years, Noel has become one of the best defensive big men in the league. He’s quick, athletic and is very good at blocking shots. In fact, he averaged 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, a little down from his rookie season when he blocked 1.9 shots per contest.

Noel finished 17th in blocks per game this past season and Paul Millsap was the only power forward/center to average more steals per game. As you can see, it’s very rare for a seven-footer to be as versatile as Noel on defense. He could step in right away and become the rim protector that the Celtics need.

He was able to be a force down low on a 76ers team with average back court play, so he should thrive in Boston with wing players such as Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart leading the way. Also, his ability to step out and guard the pick-and-roll while being able to recover, due to his long arms and athleticism, is a rare quality in big men these days.

Despite Noel being one of the best defensive centers in the league, he still has a lot of work to do on offense. He is a lot farther along than I expected but his 52.1 field-goal percentage can be misleading.

Noel shot 71.6 percent from inside of three feet but he’s not a back to the basket player like Okafor. He mostly scores on offensive rebounds (2.3 offensive rebounds per game) and alley-oops. He’s not a player you can feed the ball to down low and let go to work. Also, his mid-range game is atrocious right now and probably won’t ever develop into anything more than average at best.

He hovers around 30 percent from outside of the paint. Having an offensive rating of under 100 during both NBA seasons and shooting around 60 percent from the free-throw line aren’t great signs for his future development on offense.

Still, he’s very athletic so he can run the floor on fastbreaks and will grab around 10 rebounds per 36 minutes, compared to Okafor’s 8.4 as a rookie. It goes back to Noel having a longer wing span, better leaping ability and being more athletic.

More from Hardwood Houdini

It came as a little shock that Nerlens Noel was also available. The rumors have mostly been based around Jahlil Okafor but now the Celtics may have a new trade target. Noel may never become the offensive player the Celtics are looking for down low, however, his defensive ability for a second year player is unbelievable.

He’d quickly fill their need for a rim protector and he would also help on the glass, which was one of Boston’s biggest weaknesses last season.

Being able to trade for either would instantly make the Celtics a better team, however, Noel offers more upside as an all-around player and fits the Celtics’ fast-paced offense better. He could clog the lane on defense during the playoffs and strike fear into opposing players driving. Also, Noel was also able to play either position down low while Okafor is more suited as a power forward and struggled as a center.

Next: Joakim Noah and Al Horford, A Florida Reunion in Boston?

The Celtics have the fire power to pull off a deal, now they need to convince Philadelphia.