Nerlens Noel is still an unknown quantity.
Sure, he was selected sixth overall in last year’s draft, but because he has yet to play in a game, it's fair to wonder what he's actually capable of.
For the first time since media day in October, Noel spoke to reporters after Sixers practice on Tuesday. Still just 19 years old, Noel is grateful for a year that has challenged him mentally but forced him to focus.
“Obviously, I do want to play,” Noel said. “A 19-year-old wants to get out there. I want to show my abilities, just be able to play ball. It has been tough, but it is something I had to do. I definitely look forward to playing.
“Sam Hinkie is a great GM. He put me in this position to play for Philadelphia. I understand the risk/reward, but I am very eager and because of my competitiveness, I really want to play basketball again.”
Monday afternoon was also Noel's first opportunity to explain his famous "4-4-14" tweet.
“No funny business,” Noel said. “It was a goal of mine to be able to come back and be cleared to play by the Sixers by then, but I was not, and that’s that.”
Noel has gotten stronger while rehabbing his knee, putting on eight to 10 pounds. He says he has also increased his vertical leap by three inches.
“You want to coach him,” head coach Brett Brown said. “You want it now. You want it soon. And unfortunately, that can’t happen, but you get a snapshot of what is going to be as time unfolds in relation to his maturing and getting older and getting his skill package right.”
Noel cannot fully appreciate that being part of an 82-game NBA season without logging one minute of game time will benefit him greatly when he does take the court next fall. He's too concerned with finally getting back on the court.
“There is nothing like experiencing your first game,” Noel said. “But [the experience] will definitely help. What I learned this year I will definitely try to integrate it, but there is nothing like first-hand experience.”
Brown can relate.
“The ability to gather information, the ability to feel comfortable will be expedited tremendously,” Noel's coach said. “But at 19, it is 'I either play or I don’t.' It is black or white.”
-- Dei Lynam, CSN Philadelphia