Nerlens Noel was acquired by the Sixers in the draft day deal that sent Jrue Holiday to New Orleans. (AP)
Typically, injured players don’t travel with the team in the NBA. Instead, they stay home so they can get the proper treatment and rehab in order to get back on the court.
But Nerlens Noel isn’t the typical injured player. The No. 6 overall pick in last June’s draft will hit the road with the Sixers while recovering from knee surgery through the early part of the season, and that includes the trip to Spain and England, where the team will play a couple of exhibitions.
The reason is pretty simple. At age 19, with just 24 college basketball games to his credit and two years removed from high school, new head coach Brett Brown says Noel needs to see the NBA life.
“I look forward to him traveling with the team and being a part of the team and being in the team meetings and video sessions and seeing a grumpy coach and a sad player and vice versa,” Brown said during a media session on Wednesday afternoon.
Why? Well, on one side it will keep Noel motivated. As Brown said, a player fighting for playing time or a roster spot doesn’t have to do anything special to get motivated to play. It’s kind of a given.
Noel, acquired on a draft day deal that sent All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans, will not be ready to play until December. To open training camp and head to Europe without the 19-year old would be like the NBA version of “Home Alone.”
So Brown and the teenaged center sat down for a chat a couple of days ago to talk about the early portion of the season when it hit the coach ...
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is probably the most important meeting we’re having,’” Brown said. “Because it’s easy to motivate people that are playing and to monitor people that are playing. It’s really hard to take a 19-year-old kid that’s come out of Boston and all of a sudden has been paid a lot of money and put into the city of Philadelphia, and make sure that we help him stay on track and we help him understand what it takes to be a pro, and the long path that’s ahead for him.
“And the main thing that came out of that meeting is that, and ‘How do we do that?’”
Watching his new teammates go about the business of playing basketball while Noel can only watch could be a form of torture to some players. If anything, the rookie will get a chance to understand how he can help the team and how fast and physical the game can be.
However, Noel won’t learn what an 82-game season can do to a player. That’s something he’ll have to go through on his own. Because Noel hasn’t played a competitive game since tearing his ACL on Feb. 12, he is going to have a short learning curve.
So what the heck, take the kid on the road and let him get a taste of it.
From what Brown can tell so far, keeping Noel motivated might not be so difficult.
“When I see him, I see a wide-eyed, bouncing, competitive, can-be-what-he-wants-to-be player,” Brown said. “You feel the weight and responsibility to develop him and give him all that you can. I just feel like there’s a real freshness to his face, there’s a bounce and a spark to his personality. He’s endearing. I think he’s going to be special and has a chance to be really special.”
Big men down
When the Sixers open training camp on Saturday morning, big men Arnett Moultrie, Kwame Brown and Lavoy Allen will be nursing undisclosed injuries. Last season, Allen appeared in 79 games and showed his mettle a year after playing hard minutes in 12 playoff games as a rookie.
Moultrie is coming off a rookie season in which his minutes were limited and his development was negligible. He also started last season with an ankle injury that impeded his fitness.
Brown did not appear in any of the last 30 games last season, though not because he was injured. Nevertheless, an injury limited Brown to just nine games in 2011-12 while a rash of nicks and dings -- to go with ineffectiveness -- limited him to 22 games in 2012-13.