For Philadelphia 76ers, Noel’s Return Could be Problematic


Dec 14, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel (4) shoots baskets during warmups prior to the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few days, the buzz around the Philadelphia 76ers has been the possible return of nineteen year old center Nerlens Noel.

Noel, who has been sidelined for almost exactly one year due to an ACL tear, was recently cleared by Dr. James Andrews and Sixers’ head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson to resume basketball activities. The former Kentucky star has been rehabbing and fine tuning his offensive post game.

When the Sixers traded all star Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for the rights to Nerlens Noel, the number six pick in the draft, the team new that it was taking a chance that the talented seven footer could bounce back from his injury and anchor the Sixers defense for years to come. General Manager Sam Hinkie and the team also knew that Noel would miss significant time due to the long, tough and extensive rehabilitation program that ACL injuries require. For this reason, Hinkie and head coach Brett Brown all but shut down the notion that Noel would return to the court to make his Sixers debut this upcoming season.

However, things changed on Wednesday when Nerlens Noel received the go ahead to ramp up his basketball workouts, albeit in still a limited manner, and he, himself, has said he is hoping to make his Sixers debut shortly after the All Star break.

Although Nerlens Noel has been cleared to resume basketball activities, the Sixers should stick to their plan of having him sit out the year.

ACL injuries are extremely difficult to recover from and more often than not, other injuries soon follow or setbacks arise if a player has not had enough time to rehab and working on strength and conditioning. For this reason, the safer bet for the team is to have Noel continue to work on his offensive skills and be better prepared for next season.

The only real benefit of bringing Noel back for the second half of this season is having the opportunity to bring him along slowly and work on chemistry with the rest of the team. This would give Brett Brown a chance to see how Noel’s offensive game has developed over the last few months and get a better understanding of the defensive impact he could make for this Sixers team.

On the other hand, the negatives of a return this season far outweigh the benefits. First and foremost, rushing Noel back could lead to another injury. Just this year, Derrick Rose returned from an ACL injury and within ten games injured his other knee. Another example is Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who returned from a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered in last year’s playoffs. The point guard aggravated the injury before the start of the season and once again after returning. As a result, Westbrook has had three surgeries over the last year to fix the injury. This is not saying that Nerlens Noel will suffer a setback upon returning, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Noel should continue to develop his game and build strength in that knee as well as in the rest of his body.

The other reason for sitting Noel for the remainder of the season is to save the teams a few wins. This may sound crazy but in reality, the less wins for the Sixers the better the team will be in the long run. In order for this season to be considered a success, the Sixers will need to earn a top three pick in this year’s draft.

With a top three pick, the team will have a chance to draft a scoring wing player to pair with Nerlens Noel and franchise point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, and Julius Randal are all players that could find themselves starting for the Sixers next year. The best case scenario for this team is that they end up drafting Parker or Wiggins, the dynamic forwards who are both capable of being perennial all stars. Losing games and ending up with one of these two players in the draft will set the Sixers up with three franchise cornerstones, but bringing Noel back early could cost the team a chance to have a brighter future.

The news that Nerlens Noel can resume basketball activities is great news for Sixers fans. The thought of him returning to the court and finally making his team debut offers a glimpse of the bright future for this franchise. Yet despite the urge to bring him back this year, management needs to realize that Noel is far better off coming back back next year. So as for a Nerlens Noel debut this year, just say no Sixers fans.