Nerlens Noel taking positive, albeit small, steps

Nerlens Noel taking positive, albeit small, steps
March 7, 2014, 3:00 pm
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As Nerlens Noel is easing back into practice, Brett Brown is keeping close watch and will continue to focus on the rookie's performance at the free-throw line. (USA Today Images)

There are two players that still capture the attention of Sixers fans 61 games into a season in which the team’s record is 15-46:

Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel.

Fans are as interested in MCW’s development as they are curious about Noel's, only the latter's is happening exclusively in the practice gym.

Noel and Carter-Williams are the cornerstones thus far of the franchise’s rebuild.

Recently, when the curtain has been raised at the conclusion of Sixers practices, Noel has been in his practice uniform and on the court with his teammates. That is something new.

“He is slowly doing a little more physical stuff,” Brett Brown said Friday. “He is slowly doing a little more where he can play against another body. I highlight the words slowly and cautiously but he’s doing it.”

When asked specifically if Noel plays against more than one body, Brown responded, “I don’t want to paint the wrong picture, but he is going against bodies little bit more. He is moving in that direction.”

"That direction” is an eventual 5-on-5 scrimmage with teammates.

“Whether we ever get to see him in a game this year, it really is who knows,” Brown added. “But I have gone on record saying I wish I could coach him and get some games under our belt with him.

“The boxes he has to tick are the ones we have always talked about, and those have yet to be ticked."

Getting medical clearance for full contact is at the top of that list.

Last year, when the world was waiting to see Andrew Bynum take the court, every step the center took was backwards. In the case of Noel, the steps, even if they're only baby steps, are always forward and that is encouraging.

Brown has 21 games still to coach this season, but he finds himself already thinking about goals for next season, especially where it concerns his future starting center.

“He is going to go from a 53 percent free-throw shooter to low 60s his first year,” Brown said. “That would be good and then at some later stage you could get him to mid-70s. You will hear me say that a lot next year.”