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I Like Norvel Pelle

Can Pelle be a factor this year on a two-way contract?

NBA: Summer League-Philadelphia 76ers at Milwaukee Bucks Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

While the biggest takeaways for the Sixers so far in Summer League likely involve Zhaire Smith dunks and Matisse Thybulle 3s, my biggest takeaway is that I really, really like Norvel Pelle.

Pelle has been really fun through the team’s first few Summer League games, and since he’s on a two-way contract for this season, he’s going to see some run on the real Sixers team as a backup big, likely coming up with the team if/when Joel Embiid and/or Al Horford miss time.

Now, let’s get something out of the way real quick: Norvel Pelle isn’t some 19-year-old prospect who has a lot of room to grow into the player he’ll become. Nah. Pelle’s already 26, which means he’s probably not going to get significantly better than he is right now. Pelle’s been around since 2013, when he was drafted in the NBA D-League (yeah, he’s been around since it was the D-League) draft by Delaware. He then went to Taiwan, Lebanon, and Italy, as well as some more stints in the D/G-League and Summer League. Pelle’s that Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” basically.

In all of those stops, Pelle’s shown that he really, really likes to block shots. He averaged three blocks per game last year for the Blue Coats, which was the third-highest mark in the G League. He also added 11.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while shooting 69.9 percent from the floor, the best mark in the G League. Pelle’s basically an unstoppable machine in the paint.

Offensively, he’s able to use his size and explosiveness to do this:


Seriously, this is a great play from Pelle, who passes the ball to PJ Dozier and then sets a screen for Dozier to come around. That puts Pelle in a spot where he’s open to roll to the basket and thus jump very, very high in the air and throw down the alley-oop. Pelle has major hops. Major.

The Sixers can use Pelle on the roster this year because his ability to finish at the hoop is something that a guy like Jonah Bolden doesn’t have. (Of course, Bolden does have the ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter...more on that later.) Put out a lineup with Pelle and Ben Simmons and Zhaire Smith and (insert any other two guys here because they aren’t important to this point I’m making) and the Sixers will be able to produce some wild highlights on transition plays, with Simmons able to use his passing skills to set Pelle and Smith up for fastbreak dunk after fastbreak dunk. Sure, Pelle’s not necessarily a “skilled” big like Embiid or Horford, but sometimes you need a rim runner on the floor who can finish inside and who excels as a pick-and-roll roller.

But the defensive end is where I’m even more obsessed with Pelle.

Pelle goes straight up here for the block, bringing some pure, raw power to the play. He’s got great instincts when it comes to his interior defense, as he’s able to adjust to drives and get over to the ball. Would you want to drive inside on Norvel Pelle?

No, because that will happen! Pelle has a nose for the ball defensively, and while the Summer League isn’t the most predictive thing in the world, Pelle looks like someone who can impact the game when he’s on the floor and give the Sixers some strong rim protection.

Now, Pelle’s got to get the fouling under control. He committed nine of them against the Bucks in the first Summer League game, and if you commit nine fouls in a regular season NBA game then...something has gone terribly, terribly wrong, since you foul out after six.

Pelle also has not shown that he can be the kind of big who can switch onto the perimeter defensively, and that lack of versatility hurts him in his bid to get minutes on this team. You have to limit your defensive scheme when playing a center who is exclusively stuck to the paint; do the Sixers want to do that?

Of course, for Pelle to actually have an impact, a couple of things have to happen.

  1. I mean, two-way contracts have a limit to how much time a player can spend with the NBA team, so that limits what Pelle can do. Last year, Shake Milton and Haywood Highsmith were Philly’s two two-way players. Milton played 20 games. Highsmith played five games.

For the Sixers to convert Pelle’s contract, he’ll need to be incredibly useful in the minutes he gets, and the Sixers will need to have a need at his position. That brings up the second point.

2. Yeah, the Sixers already have some solid bigs on the roster. While center was a spot of real concern last year behind Joel Embiid, the team now has Al Horford, who’ll start at the four but slide down to the five for some of the time Embiid is off the floor. They’ve also added Kyle O’Quinn, who projects to be the team’s main backup.

O’Quinn’s got a more developed offensive game than Pelle and should be able to step out to the mid-range to score, something that’ll help Philly’s spacing more than sticking Pelle in the post would. And O’Quinn’s a fine defender, someone who can help steady things inside and has some more experience going up against NBA bigs.

And then there’s Bolden, who...probably should play the four if he even plays. I know a lot of us around here love Jonah Bolden, but we have to admit that he’s got some serious flaws. Defensively, do you trust him in the paint? Offensively, do him in the paint? Bolden’s best as a stretch big, and while he should be more switchable than Pelle, he’s...well, he’s got limitations there as well.

Ultimately, the Embiid/Horford/O’Quinn rotation is going to be what we see for the vast majority of the time, with Pelle serving as an option on occasion, but also likely spending most of the season in Delaware.

And look, I’m sad about that, because the title of this piece is “I like Norvel Pelle.” I think there are situations where he’d be great to have on the floor, times where his ability to rush down the floor and slam down some alley-oops is exactly what I want to see.

But the construction of this team is going to rely so heavily on Embiid and Horford, and you have Tobias Harris who can slide to the four, which limits the big rotation even more. I just don’t see a lot of minutes for Pelle.

I would be fine being wrong, though!

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