Philadelphia 76ers: Q&A with The Inquirer’s Marc Narducci

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 /

HoopsHabit’s Jake Hyman got to talk about the Philadelphia 76ers with The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Marc Narducci, one half of the Sixers Insiders.

With general manager Sam Hinkie at the helm, the Philadelphia 76ers have become more prominent figures at both the the trade deadline and NBA Draft. The Sixers have brought in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant and Richaun Holmes, all who look to be key rotational players for many years. They have also jettisoned three starters in Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes.

Instead of building through trades, Brett Brown has had to utilize a roster mostly comprised of drafted players and free agents teams passed over. He’s done a commendable job as a head coach, instilling a strong work ethic in his players and remaining close in games lately. With a trio of Ish Smith, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia has become more than an automatic victory for other teams.

However, at 8-45, moves could be facilitated in order to find upgrades to the roster. Anything is possible Thursday, the day of the 2016 NBA Trade Deadline. With a sense of unpredictability and uncertainty around every player on the roster, the Sixers are arguably one of the more exciting teams in the NBA to cover.

Marc Narducci, who appears on the weekly “Sixers Insiders” with Keith Pompey and covers local college athletics for The Philadelphia Inquirer, was nice enough to discuss the Sixers’ current state and what to expect for the future. You can follow Marc at @sjnard.

Jake Hyman: Outside of Ish Smith, who has surprised you the most this season?

Marc Narducci: T.J. McConnell. I didn’t think he’d make the team but he has not only done that but averaged 4.8 assists in about 20 minutes of playing time. Many assumed that when Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall were healthy, that McConnell would be cut, but he has forced the Sixers to keep him.

JH: Has Jahlil Okafor lived up to his billing as an NBA-ready interior presence?

MN: Offensively, he has. With averages of more than 17 points and seven rebounds, he has enjoyed a strong rookie season. He has also shown a good ability to score while facing the basket and as his medium range jumper improves, so will his entire offensive game.

Defensively, it is a another question. He is not strong enough to handle the bigger centers inside. Lately the Sixers have been playing him at the power forward spot on defense and the results are mixed. He’ll never be a dominating defender, but has much improvement to make nevertheless.

JH: What has surprised you the most about this 76ers team as we approach the All-Star break?

MN: That Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor don’t have great offensive chemistry together. Noel is the one who has had to sacrifice his game more, but until he can improve his game facing the basket, it could be difficult fitting these two together.

JH:  How do you think the rest of the season will shape up for the team?

MN: More of the same. The Sixers will play as hard as any team (which is a credit to coach Brett Brown) but will continue to have trouble closing out teams. To have eight wins by the All-Star Break is probably a few more than were envisioned. I look to see who will be the real keepers in the future and that might include more minutes for the likes of Jerami Grant and Nik Stauskas.

JH: Who could be on the trading block?

MN: Anybody on the team and that includes Noel and Okafor. Probably the only untouchable is Joel Embiid because the Sixers want to see what they have after seeing him lose the first two seasons of his career due to injury. The Sixers eventually have to get better backcourt help and they appear to have the frontcourt pieces to make that trade.

JH: Who could the 76ers target?

MN: We have heard the Blake Griffin rumors, but I’d be wary, especially since he has a player option after the 2016-17 season. The only way I could consider somebody like that is if he agreed to an extension before as part of a trade. As my colleague Keith Pompey wrote, the Sixers have discussed Atlanta’s point guard Jeff Teague, but his contract expires after the 2016-17 season.

Still, these are the type of veterans the Sixers need to think about acquiring. This is not a young man’s league and teams win with veterans and the Sixers need not only increase the talent level but to serve as an example to these young players.

More hoops habit: NBA Trade Rumors: 10 Landing Spots For Blake Griffin

JH: Will they trade one of their centers for either a need or long-term compensation like a draft pick?

MN: I don’t think they will trade one of the centers at the deadline and maybe not even in July, but eventually I think they will. So much rests with Embiid, but also who they get to draft. I am not sure how much trade value Noel will have due to his limited offensive ability, so I think they could get the better return for Okafor, but if he develops into a 20 and 10 player, and he’s not far off from that now, then they better be sure before sending him packing.