Nerlens Noel Likely to Return After All Star Break; Could Help Philadelphia 76ers Playoff Run

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The Philadelphia 76ers started out hot this season, beating teams like the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls to go 3-0. Since then, it’s been a constant struggle as the team is now 12-25, which is exactly what most thought the Sixers would look like going into this year. Philly is rebuilding — we know that. Trading Jrue Holiday on draft day a year ago made that very, very clear.

But, the Sixers most definitely have hope to be a force in the Eastern Conference in the near future. Rookie Michael Carter-Williams — Holiday’s replacement — has had himself an incredible first season as a pro and looks like he will be a great player for years to come. Philly will likely make some moves prior to this year’s trade deadline to put themselves in a better position going forward in free agency as well.

Yet another reason fans can be hopeful is because of the guy the Sixers received in return for Holiday in last year’s draft — rookie center Nerlens Noel.

Noel has been sidelined due to a torn ACL since last February, but on Wednesday the team received some fantastic news about their young big man. Dr. James Andrews has given the rookie clearance to resume basketball activities and says that he is doing very well.

“He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him,” Andrews told ESPN.

While it remains to be seen just how Noel will be used once back on the court, there is no doubt that he could contribute some good things to the rotation. His offensive game will be extremely rusty, I’m sure. But, his long and athletic frame will absolutely help the Sixers’ defensive efforts. Philadelphia is currently 30th in the league in points allowed per game. There’s no reason to believe Noel would hurt that statistic.

Another situation to monitor is the fact that Spencer Hawes had been rumored to be on the trade block, and has had a relatively decent season too. Will Philly decide to ship Hawes elsewhere if they feel comfortable going forward with Noel and Lavoy Allen? We’ll see.

What we do know, is that in the weak Eastern Conference, the Sixers are just 3.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Could Noel’s return give the team some kind of boost as they try to make a run at the postseason? It seems kind of odd talking about the playoffs when it comes to a 12-25 team, but those are the cards every team in the East has been dealt in 2013. It’s a poor conference, and anybody can get in at this point.

Ryan Heckman is a Senior Writer for RantSports.comFollow him on Twitter @ryanmheckman, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

Be sure to watch Noel make his debut after the All-Star break in person by getting your 76ers tickets here.

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