Nerlens Noel hacks it out with Brett Brown during the exhibition season (Getty Images)
The Philadelphia 76ers have a center in Nerlens Noel that was a raw project when they drafted him some four and a half months ago. They also have a roster that was designed to act as the NBA’s most blatant rebuilding lineup, a rotation that is tossing in Noel’s ongoing ACL tear recovery along the way. With Sixers coach Brett Brown already having hinted at the idea that Noel could miss the entire season due to the tear he suffered last February, the Sixers franchise is taking advantage of the time they’ve been afforded.
They’ve decided to reconstruct Noel’s entire jump shot. Assuming the young center had one to begin with, that is.
“I think we have the perfect environment to do it because we have a whole year,” Brown said. “We have taken him back to doing a lot of one-handed shooting. I can sense that he is shooting with two hands behind my back. But when he does that, the off hand comes in and elbows start flying. But when he does just one hand, he gets his elbow under it and it is a good looking shot.”
In his one season at Kentucky, Noel shot 59 percent from the floor but much of his scoring was around the rim. The goal is to have him become a fundamentally-sound shooter from 15 feet and in.
“It is his future,” Brown said of Noel investing time in his shooting technique. “The first place you start is the free throw line because now he is going to turn and face. He really likes Kevin Garnett, a turn-and-face, jump-shooting big, and he aspires to be one of them even though he is a post player initially. I think the free throw is what carries over to the other parts of the game. And I hope we can get that right.”
Brown went onto, not unkindly, refer to Noel’s jump shooting mechanics as “a total rebuild.”
Which is just fine. Noel won’t even turn 20 until the final days of the NBA season, and he didn’t even finish a freshman season in Kentucky that featured … well, it featured the offensive game of a 19-year old college freshman. Noel is a defensive-minded big man that has All-Star potential, but the Sixers want something more than the next Ben Wallace on their roster. They’d like someone to stick a jump shot in a game that is trending more and more to the perimeter, against defenses that are smarter than ever at identifying mitigating flaws in its opponents.
And Noel, with that skinny frame, seems perfectly suited to contribute offensively best as a pick and pop player. “Best,” besides those ferocious put-back dunks and transition forays, of course.
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The team’s transparent approach to the season is a bit of a breath of fresh air, though we concede that this is aided by the squad’s surprising 3-1 start. Brown might be less open and less cheerful (he was seen joking around and slapping rear ends with Noel during Tuesday’s practice in a video found here) with the press if his team were in a 0-4 hole, not unlike the Boston Celtics, but that fast start as afforded them some open and honest admissions regarding what will be a pretty significant task.
And if all goes according to plan, Nerlens Noel’s first game as an NBA pro will be in the fall of 2014, with Nerlens towing the line at only 20 years and just under seven months. All with a rebuilt jump shot and reconstructed knee, and potentially two 2014 NBA draft lottery selections working alongside him.
Not a bad plan at all. All the Sixers have to do is suffer through the next 78 games.
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