If the Philadelphia 76ers had a middle name, it would be “future.”
Part of that future includes 2013 first-round draft pick Nerlens Noel. The Sixers traded for Noel in addition to the rights of what eventually became Dario Saric in exchange for Jrue Holiday and the rights to Pierre Jackson in a draft-day deal last year with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Sixers were fine with having Noel sit out the entire season last year due to a torn ACL, even though it was rumored that he was itching to play near the later stages of the ’13-14 campaign. Holding Noel out the entire year made sense, given that the goal of the season was for the Sixers to put themselves in the best possible position to get a high draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Noel is already heading in the right direction coming into his rookie season. When he was first drafted into the league, many thought he was way too skinny to match up with the best big men in the game. He has added 20 pounds since the time he was drafted, and is rumored to have also increased his already impressive vertical by 2-3 inches. He is currently listed at 6-foot-11 and 228 pounds.
With all this good news of his body development and after a strong summer league showing, what are the Sixers and their fans truly expecting of this 20-year-old center not only for this season, but for future years as well?
It has been noted before that Noel still has a very raw and undeveloped offensive game. He is good for put-backs and the occasional layup on a drive to the basket, but his offense is very much a work in progress. His defense, on the other hand, is already spectacular. In the 24 games he logged while he was a freshman at Kentucky, Noel averaged an absurd 4.4 BPG, totaling 106 in his one-year collegiate career. He once had 12 blocks in one game, setting a single-game record for the school. He also averaged 9.5 RPG in 31.9 MPG.
In terms of what to expect this year, I personally think Noel is being overlooked as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. No one expected Michael Carter-Williams to be as good as he was last year, and he snagged the same award rather easily thanks mainly to the confidence head coach Brett Brown gave him early on.
I think Noel could definitely average around 11 PPG, 9.5 RPG and 2.5 BPG to go along with respectable shooting percentages. Having an excellent coach in Brown, who is going to put a lot of faith in his young players, is also a huge bonus.
When it comes to trying to predict his overall career arc, I definitely see Noel as a potentially slightly better version of Tyson Chandler. He obviously has a lot of work to do on his post game and footwork on offense, but his defense is already outstanding and only going to get better. He is a phenomenal prospect overall, all things considered.
He has already demonstrated his honorable work ethic and that he wants to be a star in this league someday, and that is exactly the kind of player you want as a building block moving forward.
The City of Brotherly Love is going to have to be a patient one full of love and understanding for their young team over the next few years. If Noel can continue his rapid growth as a player, he definitely has Defensive Player of the Year written all over him.
Combine his skills with Embiid, Saric, Carter-Williams and Anthony Bennett, and the Sixers are quietly forming a devastating combination of talent that could wreak havoc for many seasons to come.