Four for Four: Inaugural Edition

4 of 5

Philadelphia 76ers

Nerlens Noel Update

Unlike the previous page’s entry, this will be the first of many Nerlens Noel Updates. One of the team’s two first round selections in the 2013 NBA Draft has yet to play a game this season, but his recovery from offseason knee surgery as well as the refining of his game has provided intriguing fodder on what was supposed to be a lost season for the 76ers.

The young Sixers have proved to be much more formidable that once thought, and their recent four-game road win streak has people adjusting expectations. That said, the development of the team’s future rim-protecting big man continues to be intriguing theater.

Dec 14, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown and center Nerlens Noel (4) shoot baskets during warmups prior to playing the Portland Trail Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite things about 76ers coach Brett Brown is that, when he took over, everyone would be starting from square one. This includes Noel who, prior to his injury, was widely considered the top overall prospect for the draft after being the nation’s number one overall recruit. The former Kentucky Wildcat probably had very few authority figures pick apart his game the way that Brown did. In addition to the extensive rehab associated with recovering from ACL surgery, Noel would have his game broken down and built up from the basics.’s Dei Lynam, who does fantastic work covering the team, has chronicled the teacher-student relationship between Brown and Noel in addition to the 76ers season. Specifically, Lynam has highlighted the insistence on not allowing Noel to use more than one hand in his shooting motion until just recently. Noel, who has made leaps in bounds in his recovery from knee surgery, faces off with Brown before the team’s games in showdowns of H-O-R-S-E.

After apparently struggling in some of their earlier showdowns, Lynam’s most recent update should be welcome news to 76ers fans. Before the team’s game against the Denver Nuggets when asked about the night’s contest, Noel apparently shot a confident grin at the beat reporter before responding with a confident, “Is that a real question?” 

Should Noel develop the type of mid-to-long range shooting touch some of the greats like Kevin Garnett or Pau Gasol possess, he could go from a defensive-minded player whose scoring often results from athleticism and hustle, to an all-around player with a limitless ceiling. Paired with his prior relationship with franchise point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the tandem could make up the centerpiece of the team’s very promising rebuilding plan.

Friendly Fire

On the last play of the team’s most impressive of their four-game road win streak, a 101-99 win over the Trail Blazers, Michael Carter-Williams took an elbow to the head from teammate Thaddeus Young. After already giving the collective Philadelphia fanbase a scare when it came to his peculiar knee injury that sidelined him earlier this season, an incident such as this might seem like just another bizarre, unlucky incident that seems to happen a lot in Philadelphia.

After remaining on the Portland court well after the final buzzer, MCW finally made his way to the locker room to undergo the necessary testing for a possible concussion. Fear not Philadelphia, because the rookie floor general from Syracuse gave the thumbs up and would be in the starting lineup for Monday’s home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Good news for Young as well. In addition to not concussing the team’s franchise player, Young’s efforts in the past week were recognized by the NBA as he was awarded Eastern Conference Player of the week. 

Eye on the Future

At the start of the season, following the drastic alteration of the roster, many figured the 76ers to be one of the worst teams in the NBA. The term ‘Tankadelphia’ become popular in circles around the city, and many shifted their focus from the current team to the talented crop of potential draftees littering the 2014 class. Many look at the 2014 Draft as potentially one of the most talent-rich classes ever and teams appear to be going to great lengths to position themselves for one of the top selections. As it stands, the 76ers hold two first round selections (assuming New Orleans does not secure a top-5 spot). Many of the names assumed to be at the top of draft boards are currently cutting their teeth at some of the high-profile programs in the NCAA. To varying extents, most of the top players have performed as well or better than expected.

While the 76ers are performing well for the most part, they still appear to be gearing themselves toward the future and, because of this, keeping an eye on the college ranks will allow fans to get a glimpse of some of the talent that will make up the 2014 class. The 76ers organization looks as if they are well-positioned to turn around their roster rather quickly, considering the early success of Carter-Williams, the potential of Nerlens Noel, and the surprising, promising play of young guard Tony Wroten. Over the course of the season, we will document the most recent performance of a few of the potential draftees as they refine their talents at the collegiate level. In our first entry, the two most prolific names in college basketball are the focus.

Jabari Parker, Duke

Jan 4, 2014; South Bend, IN, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) pauses in the first half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame won 79-77. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After performing well beyond early expectations, enough to garner National Player of the Year praise, the Chicago native turned in easily his worst performance in Duke’s ACC opener in Notre Dame. In the Blue Devils 79-77 loss to the Fighting Irish, finished with a season-low 7 points on just 2-10 shooting. He also tallied just four rebounds, nearly half of his average of 7.7 boards per game. Easily the focal point of Duke’s offense, the shaken Parker played just 24 minutes and was not even on the floor for the final seconds of the team’s shocking loss to a team without their best player.

When asked about his star’s struggles, Hall of Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski bluntly responded with, “He wasn’t playing well.”

Coach K was spot on. For the first time all season, the unflappable Parker played like the fresh-faced young man that his exterior would have you expect. It was tough to imagine that Parker, who is still averaging 20.4 points/game, was not going to face a roadblock at some point of the season. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back in Duke’s next game.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

The uber-athletic swing man from Canada has had a tougher transition to the college game than Parker. While the consensus first overall pick at the beginning of the season has flashed the potential that has some scouts calling him the best prospect since LeBron James, Wiggins has been unable to show the sort of consistency that warrant the praise he received before the season.

Wiggins is averaging a respectable 15.4 points per game for a loaded Jayhawks team, but it is his inability to dominate that has many frustrated with his game. In the team’s 61-57 loss to San Diego State, Kansas’ first home loss against a non-conference foe in 68 contests, Wiggins’ showing was critiqued at length throughout.

Wiggins would lead the team with 14 points, albeit on just 4-14 shooting. Since shooting over 50% in three of his first four games, Wiggins has met or surpassed the mark just twice in the nine games since (KU’s record is 5-4 in those games). Many remark at how Wiggins can flip a switch sometimes and turn into the dominant force everyone expected him to be for stretches. He is fortunate to be as special a specimen from a physical standpoint as any in the prospective draft class. That said, if he wants to remain in consideration for the top overall selection, he will have to address some of the issues people have with his game.