Feb 18, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel (4) during warmups prior to the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel Is Worth The Wait—Until the 2014-15 Season


Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

“Whether we ever get to see him in a game this year, it really is who knows,” Brett Brown told a group of reporters today, when speaking on Nerlens Noel’s continued rehab process from an ACL tear that is over a year in the making.

It has become clear that the Sixers have absolutely no intentions of doing anything productive on the court this season, which is why they are babying, for lack of a better term, Noel’s rehab.

The Sixers are in second last place in the Eastern Conference, sitting at 15-46. Whenever I discuss the team with other fans, I get the sense that a lot of the fanbase (usually the ones who refuse to get on-board with tanking) is disgusted with the team’s lack of effort and performance on the defensive end.  However, a majority of the Sixers  defensive struggles come courtesy of their lack of NBA talent, rather than the whole “not caring”thing, which is all part of the long process of correctly rebuilding in the NBA.

In last years draft, the Sixers traded all-star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans and acquired Nerlens Noel (the number six overall pick out of Kentucky) and a protected a top-five first-round pick in this year’s draft.  They replaced Holiday with their original pick at 11, by selecting Syracuse point-guard Michael-Carter Williams. Carter-Williams is having himself quite a rookie season, while Nerlens Noel has yet to play in an actual game—perhaps for good reason.

Again, Noel is coming off of a season ending ACL injury, which he sustained during his first- and only -year at the University of Kentucky. Even with the injury, Noel was projected by many to be the number one pick, before the Cavaliers shocked the world and selected Anthony Bennett (how’s that going?) with the number one overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft. Noel fell to the six spot where he was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans and later traded to the 76ers in the Holiday deal.

In mid-January, Noel’s surgeon-Dr. James Andrews-cleared him for, as general manager Sam Hinkie put it, ‘limited on-court work.’

January, nearly 11 months after he tore his ACL, was by no means rushing Noel back. But, it was fair to wonder if the team couldn’t take the type of approach that would allow Noel to continue to build strength, and work on his raw offensive game, so he could return next season at an elite level for a rookie.

Given the current 15 game losing streak, it would make more sense to me to let Noel sit out the entire season and work on his offensive game, rather than playing meaningless games and really not gaining much of anything. There is no rush to get him on the court this year and it would be much more beneficial to the Sixers to have a healthy star center next season (and going forward) than to risk re-living an Andrew Bynum type situation in Philadelphia.

While it makes sense to me to sit Noel the remainder of the season, I have had heard arguments for both sides.

Pros:

  • If Noel does play this season, hopefully in a limited role, it would provide him with live, in-game activity. He has done a very limited amount of work in practice and hasn’t had any NBA game experience, so playing could give him some experience down the stretch. Also, Noel would be able to play against other NBA competition as opposed to playing against teammates (many of whom aren’t NBA talent) in a limited fashion.

Cons

  • Some argue that they would like to see Noel play this year, so if the Sixers land two top ten picks next year, he is ready to play on a competitive team next year. The problem with that idea is that even if the Sixers land Jabari Parker and another top-10 pick, this isn’t going to be an overnight turnaround. Building depth, and allowing that depth to grow as grow as individuals and gel as a team, will take a couple seasons, at least.
  • We don’t need a reminder of what happened with  Andrew Bynum. The Sixers took a major risk and clearly, it did not pay off. Noel’s health situation is eerily similar to Bynum’s, and no one in Philadelphia wants to relive that disaster. If Noel tries to come back too fast, he is putting himself at risk of possibly re-injuring himself and ruining his entire NBA career.
  • Given that Henry Sims is on the court at times, Noel coming off the bench (even if he isn’t 100% physically, or in terms of how polished he is offensevely) represents an improvement, that could lower the chances that the Sixers land the number one draft pick.

As everyone in Philadelphia knows, this year is all about the upcoming draft. Holding the second worst record, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Noel continues to sit.

As Brett Brown put it back in November, offensively, Noel is a ‘complete rebuild’, particularly his free-throw shooting. Noel has been seen shooting one handed free throws throughout the course of this season, and you would begin to think that as he gets more ability to bend his knees, he will be able to take that to the next level.

If it were my decision, I would continue to rebuild Noel’s entire offensive repertoire. Coming out of Kentucky, he was known as a major defensive presence, with a sub-par offensive game. Brown is taking his time with Noel and completely rebuilding him, something that the Sixers front office is doing with the franchise as a whole. Seeing as Noel seems to be a long-term face of this franchise, it only makes sense to sit him out and let him get as much practice as he needs to get healthy and become a better player on the offensive side of the ball.

With the trade deadline having just passed, everyone expected to see new general manager Sam Hinkie make major moves involving any mix of Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes or Thaddeus Young. Any trade (besides moving MCW or Tony Wroten) made sense for a  franchise that is looking to acquire fresh, new talent in this years upcoming draft, that has been touted as “loaded”. And as expected, Hinkie came through in a big way, by moving both Turner and Hawes, and landing an abundance of picks (unfortunately most picks aren’t until next season) and cap space. While the Sixers couldn’t add any picks in this year’s first-round, moving Turner and Hawes, made the Sixers a worse team, which gives them a better chance to be picking number one overall in June’s draft.

For a rebuilding team, draft picks are very important. The picks acquired for next year’s draft, and specifically this years, will likely affect the entire future of the franchise. Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel are the clear faces of the franchise at this point, but I am extremely excited for what this draft can bring to the team. With a young and fresh new team, I expect the Sixers to be a playoff team and eventual title contender in the next four to five years. And in the long run, making sure Nerlens Noel is healthy then, and doesn’t hurt the team’s chances from landing the number one pick this year, is more important than throwing him in with a group of players that he really isn’t going to be playing with long-term anyway.

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