Nerlens Noel is being overshadowed. And rightly or wrongly, the big man has a lot to give to an NBA team utilizing him correctly. It just doesn’t seem to be the team he’s currently on.
The center was apart of the 13th best defense his rookie year in Philadelphia, but after Brett Brown and company tried to make him into a power forward who could play along Jahlil Okafor (the third overall pick in 2015), the defense slid to 25th in the NBA.
He averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season and is a lockdown defender who can score occasionally from inside the post. He thrived with Ish Smith on point guard, hurling lobs his way left and right. But now, times are changing.
With Noel sitting this preseason with a groin strain, Brown has experimented with Joel Embiid — clearly the star of the team going forward (at least until he can be joined by Ben Simmons) — and Okafor on the same floor on offense. And surprisingly, it could work.
“Us playing together, I’ve always thought if you want to put the best defender on him, that leaves me open,” Embiid said of Okafor earlier this week. “And if you put your small defender on me, that will leave him open.So we complement each other pretty well. It’s just a matter of [defense]. But offensively, I think it’s easy.”
The Sixers also have yet to negotiate a contract extension for Noel, who becomes a restricted free agent after this season.
“It’s not really something that we’ve discussed given some of the concerns that I think Nerlens has had right now,”BryanColangelo,president of basketball operations said. “There’s been very little, if any, discussion with his agents about any extension scenarios.”
Noel himself sees the writing on the wall. When the Sixers opened their training camp, the 22-year-old said he didn’t see it working, a team that contains himself, Embiid and Okafor.
Philly will likely be looking to move Noel prior to the February NBA trade deadline. They can only hope they’re able to get him on the floor enough to showcase his skills before he finds a new home — one that takes advantage of his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses.