To some it might be considered a tease. To the Sixers it was just the next step in a grueling rehab process.
Nerlens Noel spent time on Thursday working against assistant coach Greg Foster in the half court, rolling to the basket and catching the ball before throwing down a dunk.
“I think the message is two-fold,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “You would be as excited as I am to project out what could be in Nerlens Noel. But don’t get tricked. There is a long ways to go and when it happens is anybody’s guess right now.”
Noel, the 6-foot-11 rookie who was selected sixth overall last June, is working his way back on the hardwood following ACL surgery almost a year ago. The moves he was displaying on Thursday were an increase in activity.
“He is going a little harder,” Brown said. “He is going against a little bit more weight, so yes that is an upgrade from what he has been doing,”
“The stuff you are seeing is slow and shadowboxing. He is not feeling bodies or making sharp cuts. When he gets medically able to do that, cleared to do that, then you start going five-on-zero, one-on-one, five-on-five and up and down.”
The team will not say if Noel is out for the entire season. The Sixers have 32 games remaining, but there is still a long checklist ahead of Noel before he would make his NBA debut.
Whenever he does get back on the court, the Sixers know what they will be getting in Noel. He is definitely a rim protector. That was shown when he blocked 4.4 shots a game during his lone season at the University of Kentucky.
The Sixers believe that will be the first part of Noel’s skill set to resurface when he does play in a game.
“Athletically what he can do, how he gets from point A to point B, how he gets up and down and the fact that he can do it twice,” Brown marveled. “He can hit the floor and go back up. That is just how he was born and that will come back to him instinctively.”
That shot-blocking ability may come naturally, but Noel’s own jump shot is still a work in progress.
The big man can often be seen shooting prior to games with Brown. The difference in his mechanics is night and day.
However, Brown likes to think that what Noel has learned off the court will have a greater impact on the 19-year-old’s future.
“His biggest improvement is going to be him absorbing the NBA landscape,” Brown explained. “Hearing a coach, hearing players, experiencing good and bad. Really just him being able to take a step back and be able to observe things on protocol. Being on time for the weight room and film sessions. All those things are so important.”