Formally introduced Noel calls Hinkie a 'genius'

Formally introduced Noel calls Hinkie a 'genius'

July 23, 2013, 9:45 pm
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Sam Hinkie made it clear that Nerlens Noel's long-term health is a major priority for the Sixers during Tuesday's press conference. (USA Today Images)

We are learning from the new Sixers regime that patience is essential.

Tuesday, Nerlens Noel was formally introduced as a 76er almost a month after the team acquired him in a draft-night trade. The 19-year-old, 6-foot-11 center, whom the Sixers had to part with Jrue Holiday to get, has defensive skills that, if he reaches his potential, could be a game-changer.

At the press conference, the young man was dressed to the nines and forthcoming, answering questions about his surgically-repaired left knee and the prospects of tough times before what the Sixers hope is a bright future for him and the franchise.

“I just started doing layups,” Noel said of his current state of rehabilitation. His torn ACL was repaired in mid-February, and his projected timeline to getting back playing basketball looks to be around Christmas time or later.

“I run up and down the court,” Noel continued. “I do Ultra-G for cardio, squatting. I am really just doing a lot of rigorous exercise to build up my core and my hips so that injury prevention is less when I come back because I have stronger muscles around to keep the knees strong. It has been a long five months. I am happy to put in the work and I won’t stop until I am definitely able to come back stronger than before.”

Noel, it must be stressed, is 19. His defensive game is first backed by his 9.5 rebounds he pulled down as a freshman at Kentucky and next by his NCAA-best 4.4 blocks a contest. But he can develop a game at the other end, and he has to in the NBA.

Noel averaged 10.5 points on 59 percent shooting from the floor in his short time with the Wildcats, but needs to expand his range and develop a post presence. He currently weighs just 219 pounds.

“I see him as a guy who every coach from high school, to coach (John) Calipari, to any coach he ever plays for will see him as a weapon defensively -- a guy that changes the game at the other end,” Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said. “When a guard is looking at the rim, they look to find him next, see where he is because they know he is a guy that is going to be coming over and over and over again. I think that is the critical component of his game right now, but then there is the untapped potential.”

And that untapped potential is at the offensive end for sure. But he will have help.

On draft night, Noel was contemplating how he went from the projected top pick to sixth overall to being traded in a very short amount of time -- when the unthinkable happened and made him smile.

“At one point I went back to the green room and heard that Michael Carter-Williams got drafted [by] the Sixers as well and I say to myself, 'How could that happen?'” Noel said. “Sam is just a genius. How else could you figure something like that out? Two guys who played AAU together and have a great relationship from point guard to big man? A lot of credit goes to him for thinking about that for the foundation of this franchise moving on.”

That point guard-big man corps was the very thing that had this city ecstatic last summer when Andrew Bynum arrived and Holiday was coming into his own.

Hinkie cannot live in someone else’s past -- he must trust his own future.

Noel and Carter-Williams are definitely Hinkie’s investments and he will proceed with caution, thinking about the distant future and its longevity before caving to criticism and any short-term fixes.

That starts with planning Noel’s rehab moving forward.

“There will be someone on our staff asking the same question, probably me, every time, if what we care about the most is Nerlens' long-term health and Nerlens having a 15-year NBA career, what will we do?” Hinkie said. “I will ask that every single time.”