Nearly a year ago, Kentucky watched its hopes of a run at back-to-back championships diminish as the heart and soul of the team, Nerlens Noel went down with a torn ACL. After 11 long months of rehabilitation and workouts to increase strength for Noel to compete at the NBA level, the former 6th overall pick has been cleared for one-on-one contact. But how much should we expect out of Noel once he makes his debut for the Philadelphia 76ers?
(h/t Malinda Adams/ESPN)
For those who haven’t been keeping up with Nerlens throughout his rehab process, he is in good hands under the care of Dr. James Andrews and his physical therapy chief Kevin Wilk. For what confidence it may bring fans of Noel hoping the injury doesn’t ensure a failed NBA career, Wilk has also rehabbed Scottie Pippen, Chris Webber, Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, and Shaun Livingston.
To begin, Kevin Wilk stated that Noel’s knee is “fully healed” and evaluations that tested his developments and on court movements “went extremely well,” which is a good start.
When Nerlens was drafted and traded to the 76ers for Jrue Holiday, many considered this a huge risk considering Noel’s serious knee injury on top of the fact that he was severely underweight compared to other NBA centers. Upon working with Noel during rehab on the knee, Kevin Wilk understood the need to bulk the Sixers rookie up. Wilk said, “The intention was let’s get him bigger, so he’s not taking a beating because he’s just so thin and light. When someone is banging on him, there shouldn’t be as much stress on that reconstructed knee.” With the work ethic of Noel and the plan set up by Kevin WIlk, Nerlens has piled on over 25 pounds of muscle since declaring for the NBA Draft and said he feels more explosive than ever which is a scary thought considering how explosive he was as a skinny freshmen in college.
(h/t CSN Philly)
To make the anticipation of Nerlens Noel’s return even greater, imagine the 6’11” center developing a jump shot. It sounds unreal, but that’s what Philadelphia Head Coach Brett Brown has been aiming for. He has been working with Noel after every practice and before every game on his shooting motion and mid-range game. Apparently Noel has already seen an improvement, as he said, “I’ve definitely benefited from the work with one-hand ball shooting. “I’ve already seen a difference in my free throws, and my shot’s coming along as well.” Brett Brown has been the assistant coach and full time director of player development for the San Antonio Spurs since 2002. Any fans of the NBA should know how consistently the Spurs have developed solid players, which is great news for any fans of Nerlens Noel and the Philadelphia 76ers.
A timetable for Noel’s return to basketball and debut for the Sixers is still undetermined, but Nerlens did say that he would love to return after the All-Star game. When asked about his possible return, Noel stated, “I’m really exited to start playing and really show how much I care about this team, and how much I want to bring a lot of light to it and bring it back to that championship top.”
As for now, Nerlens Noel will continue to watch this young 76ers team struggle with the lack of a dominant inside presence in hopes of a return this season. Need another reason to love Noel? Check out some statements from him and his maturity in not rushing back and making the most of having to watch from the sideline all season.
Noel- “Just sitting on the bench, it’s really helped me grind, just seeing how fast the game is. I know I won’t completely know until I start playing, but even when I’m watching, Coach Brown just tells me things to watch out for. They’ve definitely benefited me in a very good way, and I think when I do come back through the whole ACL process, I will be able to come back stronger mentally and physically. Depending on what I do this year, if I play or not, I’ll definitely have a good idea of what I really need to work on.”
In the meantime with use of his optimistic and dedicated mindset, Noel has been watching game tape of Amar’e Stoudemire from his days in Phoenix along with his favorite player growing up, Kevin Garnett. If Noel could implement the strengths from Stoudemire and Garnett’s game and still remain a dominant defender, the future is beyond bright for this young man. To make his future even brighter, look at who is running the show at point guard for the Sixers right now. Rookie Michael Carter-Williams. MCW has taken the NBA by storm and has become the clear cut favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Noel played with him during his AAU days in Boston and says the two made a “great tandem.”
So back to my question of what the 76ers should expect from Nerlens Noel once he finally steps on the court for an NBA game? They should expect a lot from him. Maybe even borderline greatness from Noel considering the growth physically and mentally within the short amount of time he has been in Philly. I can definitely see some Defensive Player of the Year honors as well as some All-Star appearances in his future.
(h/t Bleacher Report)