If you log on to NBA's summer league portal, a picture of Nerlens Noel preparing to posterize Cleveland Cavaliers big man Alex Kirk is the featured image, as it has been since the Las Vegas league ended. The shot of the 76ers' rookie center is attached to a headline that reads "Leaving Las Vegas -- With Questions."
Many have questions about Noel's future impact in Philadelphia and on the rest of the league. That's why he was the most polarizing player throughout Summer League. Sure, everyone on UNLV's campus and their cousin in a throwback Shawn Kemp jersey wanted to see Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum, but Noel was the main attraction to the media members and team personnel in attendance.
Media row overflowed in the Amway Center when Noel made his debut in Orlando on July 5. And he didn't disappoint. Less than 20 seconds into the game, he hit Orlando Magic center and former Sixer Dewayne Dedmon with a slick head fake, ducked under the airborne 7-footer, and skied above the rim for an easy jam.
I sat almost directly across the court from him, and it looked like Nerlens was just going to keep soaring. I didn't think he would ever come back down to Earth and rejoin us mortals. I mean, look at this:
Three OPSL appearances — capped off by his best performance of the summer against Brooklyn with a 14-point, 9-rebound, 5-block, 1-steal effort in just 25 minutes — had Vegas media buzzing with excitement to see him play. My media/blogger comrades fired questions at me like I managed to take home the hottest girl at the bar the night before. "What was he like? He looks enormous on TV, how big is he in person? How high can he really jump, do you think? Did you get to stand next to him?"
Noel didn't play in Philly's Las Vegas opener against Exum's Jazz, a disappointment for those anxious writers. And that roster move predictably changed the course of conversation about Nerlens towards the front office's current scheme. Very few people I've talked to around the league expect Nerlens to play more than 60 games this season. Some believe that strictly because the front office will put a strict games and minutes restriction on him during his first full season post-ACL surgery, while others believe he's simply too small at the moment to last through an entire 82-game season.
That concern popped into my mind as I watched Noel limp off the floor during his last game in Las Vegas. It's been echoed in conversations I've had with several agents, writers, and league personnel since the summer games finished. Nerlens doesn't have the body to last through punishment in the paint. That's why I've heard almost everyone outside of Philly repeatedly allude to the injury concerns regarding the Sixers' potentially ridiculous front line.
The rest of the league might be hoping Noel and Embiid find themselves on the IR, because from what I could tell, they're shaking in their Air Jordans at their combined potential.