Nerlens Noel works on a shooting drill with Sixers head coach Brett Brown. The rookie center played one-on-one for the first time on Monday as he rehabilitates from knee surgery. (USA Today Images)
Michael Carter-Williams has dominated NBA rookie conversations this season, but a different Sixers' rookie had head coach Brett Brown talking with great anticipation during Tuesday's practice session on Tuesday afternoon.
“He just has such a quick, explosive first step,” Brown said of Nerlens Noel, who played one-on-one against assistant coach Greg Foster on Monday.
It was the first time Noel played one-on-one during his rehabilitation process following knee surgery last February.
“That first year, physically, is going to be eye opening for him,” Brown said. “I put him on the block like any coach would and jump hook, jump hook, right hand. But he is going to be pounded off the block and so he will be four feet from the paint a lot of times.”
Noel’s upper body has bulked up, but he is still going to be a long, athletic-type player for the duration of his career. Brown says players add weight as they get older, but 10 years from now he sees Noel maybe 20 pounds heavier, at most.
Currently, the 6-foot-11 Noel weighs 228 pounds.
“I think rim to rim he is going to beat people up the floor, but once it gets to a half-court game then it has to be turn and face,” Brown explained. “He has to out-quick people and ultimately get to his jump hook or get to the paint. I think he is going to have great potential there.”
Noel can’t play against his teammates yet, but the fact that he is adding to his basketball activity is encouraging. Furthermore, the No. 6 overall pick from last June’s draft has shown his coach more than just physical attributes.
“There is a competitiveness I see just in doing the floor shooting drills I do with him,” Brown said. “He gets grumpy when he loses -- it is a good thing. He likes doing the shooting before games in front of people because that is his game. It puts a little more pressure on him and that's a good thing that he is not afraid of the lights.
“I see an excitement and a little bit of a cocky side as he develops his body. He feels good about himself and he should. He looks like a million bucks physically.”
Brown dug up the video of the Kentucky-Maryland game from last fall that was played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Noel’s first-ever college game. Noel had nine rebounds and three blocked shots in 26 minutes.
“I was curious. I just wanted to revisit what we have,” Brown said. “There is an athlete there. There is a competitor there and something that I think has a chance to be pretty unique.”
Unique is something to look forward to. But Brown warns that the growing pains for Noel when he plays in NBA games will be unavoidable.
“I still think it is going to be breathtaking for him when he hasn't played basketball in a year," Brown said. "He is 19 years old. He is not going to have game shape and then you are going to have to go against a Joakim Noah and Tim Duncan and it is going to take time. Playing is playing -- you need to feel things and do things and see things, and he hasn't done that, so I think his timing is going to be way off perhaps for awhile.”
And if you think Noel would be better suited to play power forward because of his lean frame, Brown says think again.
“I think Nerlens is going to be a quick roller. He is going to be more Joakim Noah or Tyson Chandler and that is great,” Brown said. “The question is can he guard a five-man with that body weight? Yes he can. He can circle around in front. He can go pick balls out of the air and block shots.”