76ers see Nerlens Noel as a center, which creates a Joel Embiid-sized problem

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For all the talk about the 76ers tanking to get high draft picks, they have just three of the 120 top-10 picks still in the NBA:

  • Joel Embiid (No. 3 in 2014)
  • Jason Richardson (No. 5 in 2001)
  • Nerlens Noel (No. 6 in 2013)

Richardson hasn’t played in years, and he’s clearly not in the 76ers’ long-term plans. So, you’d think they’d want to get the most from Embiid and Noel.

The 6-foot-11, 228-pound Noel is in his rookie year after missing all of last season due to injury while the 7-foot, 250-pound Embiid sits out his first professional season with his own injury. It’ll be a while before we see how they fit together, but we can begin to analyze. Embiid definitely projects as a center, and Noel has swung between both big-man positions.

Can they eventually share a lineup?

Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:

Coach Brett Brown was asked whether Noel is a better fit at power forward or center and said, “I think right now it’s a five” and that “He’s gone from being a four man playing alongside Henry Sims to a five man, which is going to be a challenge for us when Joel gets healthy next year.”

At another moment, it’s “Look at what a lot of teams do with their four men. They’re away from the basket. Most of the fours nowadays can almost shoot threes. If that’s your world, naturally you’re pulled away from the basket. That was Nerlens’ problem when we played him at four. He’s so used to just running to the rim, he’d lose Dirk (Nowitzki), he’d lose perimeter people. It wasn’t natural for him. Maybe he can guard a five player (better). I don’t know. I think it’s all a work in progress. But he really is a presence at the rim.”

And what of the eventual position conflict with Embiid, since there isn’t much appeal in taking his defense away from the rim?

“We’ll deal with it,” Brown said. “I think it’s a good problem to have and it’s not one that we’re shying away from. We still do all of our deliberate practice work with Nerlens from 18 feet. We still work on his form. Nothing really changes. It’s just with what we have right now, he’s been slid over to a five spot. We’re happy with his progress. I think it’s just something that we’ll figure out as time unfolds.”

Noel needs to add either bulk to play center or a jumper and awareness to defend on the perimeter to play power forward. I suspect bulk will come much easier for the 20-year-old.

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At best, it’ll be a while before Noel or Embiid has the skill to complement the other as a power forward. At worst, it’ll never happen, and that possibility leaves Philadelphia in a bind.

The 76ers can experiment with the talented and tall duo once Embiid gets healthy next season, and if they don’t work together, that could help Philadelphia tank for another high pick. And if bigs click better than expected, great, the 76ers would be pretty good.

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Complicating matters further, four of the top five prospects for the 2015 draft are big men, according to both ESPN and DraftExpress. A frontcourt with two ill-fitting pieces could add another if Philadelphia drafts the most valuable player available.

I suspect the 76ers are in the talent-acquisition phase of their rebuild. Add quality players and then later sort out how they fit, trading those who don’t. So, having both Embiid and Noel is no problem right now.

But if Noel’s best position is center, that speaks to how long the 76ers will delay their ascension up the standings – and what they must do to get there.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.