Nerlens Noel should not play this season, both for the good of himself and the Philadelphia 76ers franchise as a whole.
The organization and the local media have been reigniting the possibility of a debut, releasing statements about the former Kentucky big man’s nearly complete rehabilitation from ACL surgery and short videos from practice sessions with assistant coaches. I won’t lie. It is impressive and exciting to see how easily Noel gets above the rim: the length, the explosiveness, the flat top. And while it would certainly give the franchise a jolt of excitement in an otherwise dismal tanking year, both upper management and Noel need to pump the brakes regarding a possible debut this season.
The 76ers currently hold the second worst record in the NBA, rank dead last in offense (99.0 points per 100 possessions) and the third worst defense (109.6 points per 100 possessions allowed). Before entering the All-Star break, the team suffered back-to-back humiliating losses of 40+ points, keeping the trend alive having also been the last franchise to do it in the 93-94 season. The 76ers lost by nearly three touchdowns to the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Frankly, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. This year is about the draft, and continuing to start defensive paperweights like the newly acquired Byron Mullens is the key in maintaining such putridness. Fielding a defense will always guarantee a stock pile of losses. While Noel is still skinny (228 lbs), his ability to protect the rim would most likely have a positive impact. That’s a good thing, just not right now.
Of the minimal footage available of Noel training with Brett Brown and the rest of the coaching staff, he is shooting one-handed free throws over, and over, and over. Brown has devoted this year to completely rebuilding Noel’s jump shot. Undoing years and years of poor mechanics is no easy feat. Just think of all of the times that you’ve heard about Evan Turner’s offseason working with “The Shot Doctor” Herb MaGee, or Thaddeus Young spending his summer at Mark Price’s Shooting Lab. The result is often modest improvement early in the season with an eventual regression to the mean. Dedicating an entire season to the change however, could have tremendous beneficial effects for the rest of Noel’s career.
It must be frustrating for a player like Noel to be told to sit and wait. It shouldn’t be forgotten that he was slotted to be the top overall pick in last year’s draft, fell to sixth overall, and was immediately traded. Concerns over his ACL injury factored in with teams wanting to avoid a lengthy developmental project most likely played a part. Noel must be chomping at the bit to show the teams that passed on him what he can do. He has to accept the team’s strategy and take full advantage of this time to focus on his development.
If the 76ers get a top-3 pick in this coming draft, they will most likely go into the 14-15 season with one of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, or Jabari Parker, an additional late lottery selection from the New Orleans Pelicans (potentially a Zach Lavine or Rodney Hood level player) to go with the all-but-crowned Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and Noel. Embiid is a questionable fit with Noel, and in light of the recent trade deadline in which Sam Hinkie executed four transactions, it’s entirely possible that he would look to trade down one or two spots to acquire a perimeter player if the 76ers luck into the first pick.
The top 3-pick is the primary objective. Any moves that potentially jeopardize that are counterproductive. It’s the reason that owner Josh Harris is understanding of the fact that the team is 29th in attendance. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel during the current 11-game losing streak. Nerlens Noel is a part of this team’s future, but his unveiling this season would be a hindrance.