PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Sixers kicked off preseason action on Tuesday night in the nation’s capital. While the Wizards handled the Sixers 129-95, it wasn’t due to a lack of flashes from the Sixers. In fact, the most important thing to watch for last night stood out as a very bright spot.READ MORE: Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Says He'll Be Happy When He's Not Mayor Following Fourth Of July Shooting
Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel look like they can actually play together on both ends of the floor.
Defensively was not so much of a surprise. Okafor proved to be a decent defender in that he’s a big body that can clog up the lane while slowing down and altering shots. He is a tad slow when it comes to his reaction time to opponent’s first moves.
Noel was Noel protecting the rim when he could. He also showed off a wrinkle to his game as he now a permanent four man and has to defend away from the hoop. He gave up a few jumpers, but showed he has enough lateral quickness to defend away from the hoop.
What really surprised was what we saw on the offensive end from this pair.
Okafor came in with a reputation for being a first option scorer and that was on full display very early in the game as Okafor erupted within the first few minutes.
He showed he has great hands, great footwork and a nice touch around the lane that players much older than him are still trying to nail down. Nerves could have easily been a factor for Okafor, but he looked very comfortable going up against some very good Wizards big men.
He finished the night with 12 points in just over 17 minutes of action on 6-10 shooting.READ MORE: Sources: Authorities Investigating Whether 2 Police Officers Struck By Stray Bullets On Ben Franklin Parkway
One of his most important contributions to the team came not in the form of points, but in the space he provided his teammates. Look at any pass into the post to Okafor from last night’s game and you will notice that not only was his defender focused on him, so too were the other four players on the Wizards who had to be ready to help.
That created opportunities for the offense to shift and made room for shooters and cutters to get open.
An unexpected recipient of that open space was Noel. Last year, Noel was relegated to being a pick and roll lob option at the most on the offensive end.
Now, with a big on the floor that defenses can’t leave, Noel has much more space opposite of Okafor to work with. Who knew Noel could face up against NBA bigs and beat them off the dribble, get into a quick post move and finish over the top.
That is a new, high percentage wrinkle that Noel can take advantage of with Okafor on the floor. Noel finished the night with 13 points (tied for the most on the team) on 4-8 shooting, while adding a 5-6 performance from the free throw line.
Okafor and Noel produced a combined 25 points, in just 39 minutes between them while making 10 out of 18 shot attempts. In the regular season, the pair will play somewhere between 60 and 70 minutes on a nightly basis.
They proved one thing — There are signs they can play with one another and be effective and efficient.MORE NEWS: Kyle Schwarber Homers Twice In Phillies' 11-0 Romp Past Nationals
Sixers fans should be excited about watching this pair grow together this season.