Ah yes, the backup center position. A spot on the Philadelphia 76ers roster that has monumentally held the team back in recent years. Whether it was Greg Monroe starting a playoff game or Mike Scott having to act as a “small ball five”, it’s pretty safe to say the Sixers desperately need to find a long term solution to the position.
Considering the fact that Joel Embiid regularly misses 15-20 games a season due to load management and/or injuries, the backup center position is arguably just as important as a starting spot when it comes to the Sixers. With the 2020 offseason looming, here are five options the 76ers could go with to address the position moving forward.
The NBA Draft
The first option, and in my opinion the best option, is to find a backup center during this year’s NBA draft. Last year, Elton Brand and the Sixers opted to trade away a majority of their draft picks, instead choosing to rely on cheaper veterans in the free agent market. After seeing guys like Trey Burke, Raul Neto, and Kyle O’Quinn all essentially flop this season, the 76ers would be wise to utilize their picks this go around.
Elton Brand himself hinted at the Sixers desire to use a majority of their draft picks during a conference call earlier this month: “Did GM Elton Brand reveal the Sixers’ draft plans?“
The 76ers have three picks in the top 40, and spending at least one of those on a young and athletic center makes a ton of sense. During Zach Ciavollela’s (@ZCiavoPSN) “Sixers-only mock draft”, he had the team taking a center at pick #34: “Sixers Only 2020 Mock Draft 1.0: A first round steal“.
Norvell Pelle may not be as developed of a player as the Sixers want at the backup five spot, but he no doubt provides some serious energy coming off the bench.
After spending just over five years in the NBA’s developmental league, Pelle finally made his official debut in late November of 2019. Since then Pelle has appeared in 20 games for the Sixers, averaging just 2.1 points per game and 3.0 rebound per game.
However, Pelle is a borderline dominant force when it comes to protecting the rim. He’s already recorded 25 blocks this season and routinely disrupts shots inside the paint. The Sixers would likely prefer to keep him as a third string big man, however if he makes serious developmental leaps this offseason he could find himself competing for the full-time backup job.
Yes, THAT Nerlens Noel. The same Nerlens Noel who very infamously flopped as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Drafted with the 6th overall pick in 2013, Noel would go on to have a mediocre at best career with the Sixers. Traded away once the team settled in on Joel Embiid, Noel has gone on to have a respectable career as a backup with both the Dallas Mavericks and the OKC Thunder.
Noel is currently on a one-year league minimum contract with the Thunder, and has had an adequate 2019 season averaging 7.7 points per game. While Noel would no doubt like another shot at a marquee free agency contract, it’s unlikely teams around the league are looking to pay that.
Bringing Noel back to Philly adds an athletic option off the bench who knows the system. He’s still on good terms with Joel Embiid and has now better adjusted to playing the role of a backup. At just 25 years old, there’s also a chance Noel can continue to develop.
Noel has had his differences in the past with the Sixers organization, and would likely not even entertain the possibility of returning if Brett Brown was still around. However, with Brown on the final year of his coaching contract and Noel genuinely fitting the description of what the 76ers need off the bench, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.
It’s already been reported that the Sixers plan to openly shop Al Horford this offseason, and there’s no reason not to believe that. After signing a massive $100+ million contract this past offseason, Horford has done nothing but disappoint during his first year with the team. He’s averaging career lows almost across the board, and his fit with Embiid and Ben Simmons has been miserable.
However, Horford’s contract will by no means be easy to get rid of. With another $81 million still remaining on his deal, the Sixers may very well be stuck with him for another few years.
If this is the case, abandoning the idea of using Horford in the starting lineup is the only option moving forward. While it would obviously hurt to have a $80 million dollar player come off the bench, it would no doubt give the Sixers one of the better true backup centers in the league.
The last few free agent backup centers the Sixers have signed have all been borderline disasters, however that doesn’t necessarily mean the team won’t try one last time. With limited cap space entering the 2020 offseason, Elton Brand and the 76ers front office may turn their attention to another league minimum type free agent.
Since being selected in the top five by the Phoenix Suns back in 2013, Alex Len has performed extremely poorly. Averaging right around eight points per game, Len found himself settling into a backup role as his career progressed.
Despite signing a two-year/$8.5 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks back in 2018, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings this past trade deadline. After only playing 9 games with the Kings, it’s unlikely they’ll be seriously invested in trying to retain his talents this offseason.
If the Sixers find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel once more for depth at the center position, Len is a prime candidate for a league minimum contract.
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David is a 20 year old college student at the University of Maryland. A lifelong Philadelphia sports fan who started covering the teams back in late May of 2019. After just a few months of writing for fun on a personal blog, he now reports on the 76ers for PhillySportsNetwork.com and the Phillies for Fansided.com.