Sixers see potential as they wait for Nerlens Noel

usa-nerlens-noel-brett-brown-philadelphia-sixers.jpg

Sixers see potential as they wait for Nerlens Noel

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.”

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice on Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out on Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period it got kind of (got) sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being a hundred percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014. 

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Update: 4 p.m.

Joel Embiid did not practice on Monday and is listed as doubtful for the Sixers' game Tuesday against the Clippers.

Embiid hyperextended his left knee in the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Blazers Friday. He said after the game that the knee was fine, but the Sixers are clearly exercising caution with their young star center.

"I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way," Embiid said Friday. "I'm great. The knee's fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good."

The Sixers are calling it a left knee contusion. Embiid will also rest on Wednesday against the Bucks. He is expected to return Friday against the Rockets, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Sixers are 13-17 when Embiid plays and 2-10 without him. Brett Brown is looking forward to seeing how the defense responds without its centerpiece Tuesday and Wednesday (see story).

Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness) was limited at Monday's practice but is probable to play the Clippers.

Okafor had 12 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes in Saturday's 110-93 loss at Atlanta.

CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato contributed to this report.