Sixers see potential as they wait for Nerlens Noel

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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.”

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn't come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Lakers crushed by Spurs in first home game since front office shakeup
LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles' first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise's basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers' dismal season still hasn't changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo scores 28 as Bucks hold off Suns
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points, Tony Snell made a clinching 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns, 100-96 on Sunday.

Michael Beasley added 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 15 as the Bucks swept the two-game season series with the Suns. Greg Monroe finished with 14 points and Snell had 13.

TJ Warren led the Suns with 23 points. Alan Williams scored a career-high 17 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, while Devin Booker added 15 points and Eric Bledsoe had 11.

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bucks came out of timeout with Monroe inbounding the ball to Antetokounmpo. He dribbled the clock down before passing to Brogdon, who whipped the ball to Snell in the corner. Snell hit a 3 with a defender flying at him.

Sixers see light after latest round of roster turnover

Sixers see light after latest round of roster turnover

By the time reporters were admitted to the Sixers' locker room some 75 minutes before Friday's home game against Washington, the nameplates above the cubicles previously occupied by Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova had long ago been changed.

Where Noel once sat, in the corner nearest the shower room, there was now a "47 Splitter" nameplate for veteran center Tiago Splitter, who came over from Atlanta in the deal that sent Ilyasova to the Hawks two days earlier.

Where Ilyasova once sat, between Robert Covington and Dario Saric, there was now a "23 Anderson" nameplate for second-year forward Justin Anderson, acquired from Dallas (with Andrew Bogut, who is expected to head to Cleveland once his contract is bought out) in the trade that sent Noel there.

Across the locker room, there was no nameplate at all above the space once filled by rookie guard Chasson Randle. He had been cut when the two trades went down, collateral damage in this latest upheaval, this latest change to an ever-changing landscape.

Out in the hallway a few minutes earlier, coach Brett Brown had reinforced the message general manager Bryan Colangelo delivered to reporters during a news conference earlier in the day -- that all this had been necessary. Noel and Ilyasova are destined for free agency this summer (Noel will be restricted, Ilyasova unrestricted). The Sixers were unlikely to match any outside offer Noel is sure to attract, and just as unlikely to give Ilyasova the long-term deal he craves.

So, buh-bye.

Brown has grown used to all the tired and huddled masses shuffling through town.

"Historically, we all know how we treat people that walk through a door," he said. "We shake their hand and we say, ‘Guard somebody.’"

He settled on the word "appropriate" to describe all the roster turnover.

"There needs to be a frugal and, at times, ruthless approach," he said, "that you genuinely believe that (a certain player is) a keeper, that ultimately can play in the playoffs and ultimately play deep in the playoffs."

That rationale has not exactly set well with the masses. Not when the haul for two rotational players amounted to two injured 32-year-old centers -- Bogut is always hurt, and Splitter had hip surgery last February -- not to mention a guy who was unable to see regular action for a sub-.500 Dallas club and draft picks of dubious worth.

But if the front office has not inspired confidence, some solace can be taken from what we now see on the court. There are keepers on the roster beyond Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There are guys the Sixers can hang their hats on. The first two post-deadline games -- Friday's 120-112 victory over the Wizards and Saturday's 110-109 loss to the Knicks -- have proven as much.

Consider Covington. Once a mere spot-up shooter, he can now do a little something off the dribble. And he guards Carmelo Anthony's last-second dagger Saturday notwithstanding.

Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game, 25 and 11 against Washington.

Then there's Saric, who makes up for whatever he might lack in athleticism with savvy belying his 22 years. The rookie forward stretched his own double-double streak to four by generating 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds against the Knicks.

He also has the endorsement of Colangelo, who during Friday's presser was asked about the view that the Sixers were returning to their tanking ways this season.

"I think I say Dario Saric, he's the answer (to that question) for us,” he told reporters.

Hey, no pressure, kid.

"Maybe some kind of pressure," Saric said before Friday's game. "For sure it's pressure, but I think I can say it's more attention on me. … But I will try to put everything on the side. I will try to not think so much about what he said. Of course, it's a positive thing, but I will not try to press myself."

He and Ilyasova were close. They shared a position, power forward, and while Ilyasova is from Turkey and Saric from Croatia, they very much spoke the same language.

"He was like some kind of mentor to me," Saric said. "He helped me a lot."

Especially on those occasions when the younger man got down on himself, as he did at times during the first few months of the season.

"He'd say, ‘It's one game. We have another game in 24 hours. You need to change your mindset and be ready for the next game,’" Saric said of Ilyasova.

Without his safety net, and with the expectations of the franchise now resting on his shoulders to some extent, Saric put up 20 points and 11 boards while making his 12th career start Friday night and his first since Feb. 2.

In one glittering second-quarter stretch, he hit a step-back jumper from the mid-post when he found himself in a mismatch against one Washington guard, John Wall, then backed down the other guard, Bradley Beal, and scored with the left hand. There was also an elbow jumper, not to mention a lefty post move over Otto Porter.

"The first 10 minutes, I tried to find myself," Saric said. "OK, I got a couple good assists, a couple good rebounds, but still I tried to find myself. It's a new role. I tried to play, tried to run, tried to find the rhythm of the game, which is most important thing in basketball. I got (into) the game after seven, eight minutes, maybe 10 minutes, and I'm happy. I had a good game, you know?"

Anderson didn’t play, but saw nearly four minutes of daylight against the Knicks, missing his only shot. Splitter, recovering from his hip surgery (as well as resultant calf issues), has not dressed for either game.

"Tiago right now is unhealthy," Brown said Friday.

Which is news to Splitter. Asked when he might be available, he said, "I hope soon. I was in full practice with the Hawks. … I saw the trainer (Kevin Johnson) today. They were happy with what they saw, and see."

Sixers fans, meanwhile, have mostly been seeing red of late. But if they look closely enough, they can see some reason for hope, too.