The first season under the new regime of General Manager Sam Hinkie and Head Coach Brett Brown will not be one that will go down for the ages. It's highlights have thus far included the lone bright spot of Michael Carter-Williams burst onto the scene followed by the low/painfully-funny lights of Brandon Davies missed layups/dunks, Evan Turner's anti-tanking game-winners, and Lorenzo Brown on his way to setting the unofficial record for the most call-ups/send-downs in a season.
Yeah it's been that kind of year in Philly.
But as we all count down the games until the season is over, 31, and the days until the NBA draft lottery, 100(so close!, kinda), it's becoming harder to generate consistent excitement for this team as they continue to lose and Evan Turner continues to, well, be in a Sixer uniform. On Thursday that changed, as the 76ers media contingents tweeted that Nerlens Noel was doing some one on one offensive work with assistant coach Greg Foster. These tweets were followed by videos of the post-practice work Noel was putting in. Nerlens was seen doing post moves, rolling off of screens, and shooting free throws.
Although it was just basic offensive work against no defensive pressure, Noel's athleticism was eye-widening as he effortlessly exploded to the rim for dunks with ease. While Noel is yet to do any hard cutting or contact drills, a report from ESPN about a month ago said that Noel could return after the all-star break. This report, along with seeing Noel practice, has sparked a debate among whether he should play this season.
So after watching this video one-hundred times and drooling all over my computer, it got me thinking as to what the Sixers should do with Noel if he is healthy enough to play before the end of the season. A lot of Sixers fans feel as if that even if Noel is healthy he should not play. Their argument is that it is not worth risking his health in a wasted season and to just give him more time off going into the offseason, which makes sense on the surface. But if Nerlens Noel is healthy enough to be able to play he should play at some point this season.
Think of this scenario: Say the Sixers hold out Noel for the whole season. Now fast forward to the night of the draft and it's the Sixers pick, hopefully it's number 1, 2, or 3 (Please Draft Lottery Ping Pong Ball Gods don't screw us over). So lets pretend, and pray, that it's the number 1 pick. Let's also pretend that Joel Embiid is at the top of the Sixers draft board and they believe that he's not only going to be the best player from this class but a superstar center in the league one day as well. With that being said, the 76ers would hypothetically take Embiid.
Now that scenario seems awesome and I'm pretty sure it was cause a lot of Sixer fans, including me, to go streaking down Broad Street in excitement. The only problem is that now the Sixers would have Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. No one knows if they would be able to play well together, but Brett Brown noted earlier this season that Noel isn't a four because of his limited offensive game. Embiid is a developing low post scorer and Noel is limited offensively. Each don't have a legitimate long range game, right now at least. So far now it would seem like Noel and Embiid would not be a good fit together in the front court. Now going back to the hypothetical draft night, the Sixers would most likely try to move Noel. But what price tag can you put on a guy who sat out the whole year recovering from an ACL injury and has not played a single NBA game?
This is one of the main reasons why Nerlens Noel should play this year if healthy. Even if it's only for the last ten or fifteen games, Noel would be given a chance to show some flashes of potential. It would allow Noel to become what Sam Hinkie loves most: an asset. He could go out for 10-12 minutes a night and show his athleticism, speed, and shot-blocking ability. At the same time, he would prevent himself from the risk of injury by being eased in and not having big minutes forced on him right away. That way on draft night, where most of the league is very active, they would be able to move him more easily and receive more for him in return.
It could also work out the other way around in that the Sixers could project, through Noel playing, that he will be a better NBA player than Embiid. Then if they're deciding between any combination of Embiid/Wiggins/Parker/Ranlde it makes their decision a little easier knowing they are already set at the center position.
Putting the draft and Joel Embiid aside, Noel should also play just to put some excitement into the team as it goes into the offseason following what has been a year of full on tank mode. Even if Noel was only going to play 10-12 minutes a game I'm sure it would attract more than the twelve fans that actually go to and watch the Sixers games. It will allow the Sixers to figure out what they have in Noel and will show Nerlens what he has to work on in the offseason. Most importantly, a small dosage of Noel to end the season would most likely not be enough to hurt them in the tank standings at all.
So Nerlens, keep rehabbing and getting stronger to hopefully set yourself up to be able to play at some point this year.
As for the Sixers, everything stays the same: Tank on boys.