The Philadelphia 76ers entered a new phase of their years-long rebuilding process when coach Brett Brown elected for the first time to start two of the team's young big men, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, in Wednesday night's loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The experiment is expected to continue Friday night, when the Sixers (6-19) host the Los Angeles Lakers (10-18). Nerlens Noel, a third highly drafted center-forward, is also expected to be available after missing all but one game this season due to injury. If he does in fact suit up, it would be the first time all three will be active for the same game.
Okafor started at center and scored 17 points in the 123-114 loss to Toronto, but Embiid, who leads the Sixers and all NBA rookies in scoring (17.6), rebounding (7.5) and blocked shots (2.5), was limited to a season-low nine points while starting at power forward. He attempted just six shots from the floor, making three. They were both season lows as well.
Afterward he said that for the first time this season he didn't "trust the process," a pet phrase he likes to insert into every interview, and one a segment of the Philadelphia fan base has adopted ever since former general manager Sam Hinkie tore down the franchise in an attempt to build it back up again.
Embiid's larger point was that he wasn't active enough on either end of the floor. He and Okafor shared the court for approximately 17 minutes, and Okafor, for his part, thought it was a promising arrangement.
"There's a lot for us to figure out," he said, "but overall it was a positive thing, us playing together."
Hinkie used the third-overall pick in 2014 to take Embiid, who then missed two seasons while recovering from a pair of foot surgeries. He is regarded as the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award, while there continues to be speculation that the Sixers will trade Noel, the sixth-overall pick in 2013, or Okafor, the third-overall choice in 2015.
Noel missed the first 23 games this season following knee surgery in late October. He played 10 minutes Sunday in Detroit against the Pistons, then sprained his left ankle and sat out the Toronto Raptors game, Philadelphia's seventh straight home loss.
After a promising start the Lakers have dropped eight straight games, including Wednesday's 107-97 defeat at the Brooklyn Nets. Former Sixer Lou Williams scored 16 points off the bench for Los Angeles in that one, and leads the team with a career-best 19.2 average.
Second-year guard D'Angelo Russell, who missed 11 straight games after getting platelet-rich plasma therapy on his ailing right knee, has struggled since returning three games ago, averaging 10.3 points on 32.1-percent shooting.
A sidelight to this game is that due to a prior trade the Sixers receive the Lakers' first-round pick next June, should Los Angeles finish outside the top three in the draft lottery.