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February 23, 2017

The Sixers didn’t get enough in return for Nerlens Noel

The Sixers did their trade deadline work early, shipping Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for a return that we’ll say is less than inspiring. Let’s not waste any time and get right to it.

The trade

Mavericks receive: Nerlens Noel

Sixers receive: Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, Dallas’ Top-18 protected 2017 first-round pick

When you look at Dallas’ record, it’s not hard to figure out that the Sixers won’t land that pick this season. So then you have to look at what the pick protections are after this season…

Oh, boy. Basically, the Sixers traded Noel for Anderson and two second-round picks. That’s the same haul they essentially got for Ersan Ilyasova last night, plus Justin Anderson.

Why the Mavericks did the trade

I mean, did you look at what they gave up?

Dallas will now have the right to match any offer sheet for Noel in restricted free agency. And like we got to see the past 2.5 seasons, he’s a very unique defensive player with some of the quickest hands you will ever see from a big guy. Noel’s steal rate (3.7%) would rank above everybody in the NBA if he qualified for enough minutes. Not just big guys, either, as Noel is ahead of ball hawks like Chris Paul and Tony Allen, too.

Noel’s rim protection has taken a bit of a step back since the 2014-15 season, when he, Luc Mbah a Moute, and a bunch of rookies and guys off the scrap heap miraculously cobbled together an above-average NBA defense. It’s still an asset, though. And offensively, Noel has improved every season while learning how to exploit his ability to slip the pick-and-roll and catch lobs at the rim.

All of this, and Noel turns just 23 in April. Mark Cuban makes plenty of deals on Shark Tank, and this is one Mr. Wonderful would be jealous of.

Why the Sixers did the trade

Simply put: With a potential extension for Joel Embiid looming next year, the Sixers didn’t want to pay two centers big money.

Let’s dig a little further into that thinking, though. With the cap projected at $102 million for next season, a max offer sheet for Noel would roughly start at around $25.5 million per season. That is a lot of money for a backup center, and Zach Lowe reported that “near-max offer sheets are expected” for Noel:

The trade market for big men has been, in a word, terrible. DeMarcus Cousins was dealt earlier this week for 20 cents on the dollar, and he’s a much better player than Noel. My question is, if the market for Noel wasn’t really there, could he settle for a good bit less than a max deal in restricted free agency? It’s hard to know from the outside, and to be clear, all it takes is one team and one offer sheet to mess everything up.

It should be noted that the Sixers went into the day with only $34,380,533 in guaranteed salary for next season, per Basketball Insiders. They had plenty of space to sign Noel if they wished.

From the front office’s point of view, they were wary of committing in the area of $50 million to a couple of traditional big men. Health risks and all, Embiid has the talent that makes max money worth it. But when you look at most of the top teams in the NBA, they don’t have those type of long-term dollars committed to two traditional big men.

Basically, Bryan Colangelo is betting “Embiid and Noel” won’t equal as much in the long run as “Embiid, Anderson, Richaun Holmes, and whatever money you save by not paying Noel.” We’ll see if that works out.

Oh yeah, Justin Anderson. I haven’t watched the Dallas Mavericks play all that much this season, but ESPN’s Kevin Pelton noted his defensive potential:

Though he could never seem to win Carlisle's trust, Anderson is a physical wing defender with an excellent combination of steal and block rates. In fact, Noel and Anderson (who just sneaks over the bar) are both among the 21 players in the league who have averaged 2.0 steals per 100 team plays and blocked 2.0 percent of opponent 2-point attempts or better in at least 500 minutes.

Offense is another story. Anderson is shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc for his NBA career, and if the Sixers can get that to improve, maybe he can become a decent two-way wing a la Jae Crowder or Khris Middleton (wings who improved after being traded). His on-off splits in Dallas are pretty terrible, though, and Anderson is certainly a long way away from the level of those players.

The Sixers will have to waive or trade a player to complete the two-for-one trade, but they reached the salary floor by acquiring Bogut’s contract according to cap guru Albert Nahmad. The front office will continue to save the ownership money (in this case, about $5 million) like they routinely did when Sam Hinkie was in charge:

Another potential effect is that with Embiid and Ben Simmons’ health status uncertain, the Sixers could lose a lot of games down the stretch.

The Verdict

I understand the logic of not wanting to pay two big guys in the long run, especially when one has transcendent talent like Embiid. Still, this is just not a great return for Noel. So, what else could the Sixers have decided to do? I see a couple of possibilities:

     • The Sixers might have been able to flip Noel for better value at a later date by simply re-signing him this offseason and letting him play with Embiid as the team and he both theoretically improved. Looking at the trade return, I would have preferred this course of action. As we noted last night, Noel and Embiid played just eight minutes together. And what an eight minutes they were!

     • The Sixers could have received better value for Noel by trading him last offseason. Liberty Ballers is reporting that Boston was offering a first-round pick.

Again, I do understand the logic of not wanting to pay both Embiid and Noel. The Sixers still aren’t in a bad position moving forward if Richaun Holmes can step in as Embiid’s backup, either. Heck, as long as Embiid is healthy, everything else is window dressing. If the front office can effectively allocate more money on the wing and in the backcourt in the future, the decision to move on from Noel might even seem like a wise one.

I just don’t like the trade itself. Colangelo has said time and again that he wouldn’t make a bad deal, and from a value standpoint, for a player of Noel’s caliber, this is just that. GRADE: C-

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann