Noel-Okafor pairing the start of something big?

GALLOWAY, N.J. - One lump or two? Surf or turf? Shaken or stirred?

Most importantly:

Whip or Nae Nae?

After only one training-camp session together, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor could not answer these questions about each other.

They'd better know by Easter.

With skillful tanking and blind luck, the Sixers today find themselves in a nearly unprecedented position. Noel and Okafor were the two most coveted post players of their respected draft classes; each nearly 7 feet tall with wonderful athletic gifts, though slightly different; each hungry to prove he was more valuable than the slot in which he was drafted.

Ralph Sampson, the Virginia gentleman, and Hakeem Olajuwon, the Nigerian project, were drafted first overall a year apart by the Rockets, but they played only two full seasons together. Both No. 1 overall picks, they never had the extra incentive of being snubbed.

Charismatic Midshipman David Robinson had cemented his Hall of Fame berth by the time the Spurs added dour islander Tim Duncan in 1997.

"They were very different people," said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who worked with Duncan and Robinson briefly as a Spurs assistant.

Those pedigreed pairs had less in common than Noel and Okafor.

Both Noel (Boston) and Okafor (Chicago) are products of big American cities; AAU-groomed, highly touted, one-and-done products of elite college programs expected to lead their drafts.

Both also are still upset that other teams passed on them. Each was projected as the No. 1 overall pick but slipped; Noel, injured, to fifth two years ago; Okafor, his unmatched skill set out of vogue, to third this year.

So, they are angry.

So much common ground.

So much time to grow.

It shouldn't take long.

By Thanksgiving, Noel, the slasher, should be able to tell whether Okafor's fadeaway in the post is going in or will be short, long, or left . . . as soon as it leaves Okafor's hand.

By Christmas, Okafor, a selfless passer with fine instincts, should be able to sense the angle from which Noel will come crashing in.

By New Year's Eve, Noel should be able to see Okafor heading for a rebound and break out, with his insane speed, to fill a lane; by the way Okafor fires an outlet pass, Noel should be angling toward the rim.

They should be finishing each other's sentences and sandwiches.

Brown must be eager to cultivate that, right?

Side-by-side lockers? Roomies on the road?

Maybe not.

"If you'd asked me that five years ago, I'd have said, 'Of course.' I don't think it's as important as I used to," Brown said. "If you gave me a choice, I wish they'd hang out."

It sounds as if Noel is on board.

"It's still early for both of us. We're still getting to know each other, but we have great chemistry already. Our relationship will only continue to grow from now on," Noel said. "We'll be around each other, no matter what. Going to the movies."

. . . Where Nerlens should learn whether Jah thinks Iron Man's J.A.R.V.I.S. is cooler than Thor's Mjolnir.

"We'll be spending a lot of time in the locker room, as well," Noel continued.

. . . Where Jah should know whether Nerlens likes orange Gatorade or that greenish stuff.

"It's just going to grow from here."

Certainly, growth on the court trumps friendships away from the game. To that end, Brown paired the two for most of the drills yesterday instead of having them pound on each other. He wants to create synergy, not rivalry.

"I see them talk to each other," Brown said. "Any big-big relationship starts with a partnership, an understanding."

That understanding should create 45 points and 25 rebounds a game for the next decade. No tandem should combine for more offensive rebounds. No big-man duo should account for more assists.

"It's unusual; an outlier, almost, in the NBA, to roll out two bigs like that. There's an excitement of what can happen growing this," Brown said. "Two or three teams have had something like that."

None has had exactly this, though; two selfless, skilled 7-footers without cultural barriers, each a franchise player in his own right, committed to conditioning, learning, precision and professionalism.

It starts now.

By Halloween, Noel should know whether it's Snickers or Milky Way for Jah; and Jah should know Noel's favorite Chinese takeout spots.

Downwind, they should recognize each other's cologne, and toothpaste, and, especially, deodorant.

For the record:

Noel, the superior dancer, is a Whip guy, but he'll Nae Nae, too. He likes steak more than lobster. For now, he drinks neither coffee nor martinis.

That little primer should get them going.

Because this, indeed, should be the beginning of a beautiful friendship . . . and a dominant run.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch