When April is approaching and your NBA team still has a single-digit tally in the win column, the pain is quite apparent. But until Nerlens Noel spoke candidly about the frustration of an ever-growing list of losses last night, most of what we had to go on was speculation.
Speaking to The Inquirer's Keith Pompey, Noel opened up about the effects of losing so many games in a Sixers uniform:
Sometimes it's tougher than other times. When you feel that it starts affecting you personally, you do your best to try to make it turn [in the right direction]. But it's been a long year, especially this one, and dealing with a lot more [losses].
I think this year I had to deal with a lot more than I have the past couple. It has been the toughest year for me this year. I think I've done the best possible [job] just staying uplifted and continuing to play my game no matter what circumstances, whether playing out of position or doing things that I wasn't comfortable with.
The human repercussions have long been hanging over the Sixers, with the team betting they could ward off the sting of losses with incremental progress and a steady injection of talent over time. That obviously hasn't happened the way any of us might have expected; selecting injured or overseas players the first couple years effectively pushed the timeline back, while the addition of another big last offseason provided trouble with regard to on-court chemistry.
Watching or hearing a player like Noel get worn down by the losing is particularly depressing. His style of play stems from frenetic energy and athleticism, second jumps powering him to multiple blocks at the rim and defensive mastery at his best. The longer the season has worn on, the less that bounce seems apparent, even as his field-goal percentage has climbed to 12th in the NBA.
I don't think anyone would question Noel being a "good soldier" for the team -- it's quite remarkable no *anonymous players* have fed stories to reporters about discontent during this debauchery -- but there have been times throughout the season when you can see his heart isn't truly in it. You can only get your ass kicked or lose in heartbreaking fashion so many times before it feels like a Dementor is sucking the soul out of your body.
The lack of roster growth and spreading of value between the five positions has hurt the Sixers on a myriad of levels this season. Selling out for the cornerstone player, fit be damned is a defensible position to take. But the investment of resources being stockpiled in one spot is a problem the team has to deal with moving forward, to maximize development and start growing something closer to a real team. That's not a catch-all excuse -- Noel hasn't been at his best even when given more minutes at his natural five spot -- but it's a major part of the equation.
Barring that, the Sixers risk further wearing down the psyches of the few precious players they have, and that's simply not acceptable.