The Sixers have moved to resolve their glut of bigs, albeit not in the way many reports suggested. Philadelphia traded Nerlens Noel to Dallas on Thursday in exchange for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a first-round pick so protected that it’s very likely to convey as two seconds, according to reports from Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com.
Let’s grade the trade.
Noel’s entire NBA career has been clouded by rumor. He was drafted to a Sixers team with only nebulous plans for actual roster construction, only to be joined by two top-three picks at his best position in subsequent drafts. The possibility of Noel being traded was always in the air, and finally made explicit by Noel’s own preseason request to be moved. The prospect of drafting all three of Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jahlil Okafor only ever made sense as a value play. Select all three, take advantage of the fact that Embiid was slated to miss his rookie season (and would eventually miss another), and eventually shuffle some along as the team susses out their incompatibilities.
It seems the Sixers waited too long to move on that surplus, not to mention misplaying their leverage in essentially sending Okafor home in the middle of the season. That left Philly to deal Noel, a clearly superior player to Okafor, for what amounts to two second-round picks and a young wing who could never stick in Rick Carlisle’s rotation. Andrew Bogut is reportedly not long for Philadelphia; meager bonus points could be had if the Sixers are able to flip his contract for something—anything!—before the deadline, though it seems more likely that Bogut is bought out after the fact and freed to sign with a playoff team.
Finding any direct course to a championship from a Barnes–Noel starting line would require some considerable imagination. But an outright tank never seemed to be in the Mavericks’ plans, and with this move they think forward while only facilitating their push for the eighth seed. The only real risk involved is the possibility—more abstract than based on any empirical trend—that Anderson pops in a new setting like Jae Crowder did. Noel and Anderson are far enough apart in current and predicted value for the Mavs to find comfort in the margin.