Nerlens Noel says Sam Hinkie 'doesn't get enough credit,' discusses Joel Embiid's growth

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Noel says Hinkie ‘doesn’t get enough credit,’ discusses Embiid's growth originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Nerlens Noel’s first start of the season just so happened to come against a very familiar face.

With rookie Jalen Duren and 21-year-old big man Isaiah Stewart sidelined by injuries, Noel took the opening tip-off Tuesday night for the Pistons. Before that, the sixth pick in the 2013 NBA draft shared a few friendly words with Joel Embiid.

“I’ve got a lot of memories here, a lot of relationships — Joel especially, having him come in and helping him learn a couple of things when he was a rookie,” Noel said before the game. “Being a year or two ahead of him, I took a lot of pride in that, helping him build the foundation that he has today.

“He’s a great player — Hall of Fame (in the) future. And the whole coaching staff, front office, everybody. I have great relationships and I valued my time here.”

Detroit is Noel’s fourth stop since the Sixers dealt him away in 2017. He’s stayed in touch with Embiid, who scored 36 points in the Sixers’ blowout victory.

“That’s my guy,” Embiid said. “Obviously a lot of good years with him, so it’s good playing against him. He got me a few times with him reaching, so I was kind of pissed about it. … I’m just glad to see him get minutes; he still deserves to get a lot of minutes. That’s my guy.”

While he expressed confidence pregame in his ability to guard Embiid, Noel understood that would be a gigantic challenge. Embiid, who returned to action after being listed as questionable with left foot soreness, is now averaging 33.6 points.

“I know what I’ve got to do if he plays. It’ll be a collective effort, of course. He’s a big guy, but we’ll get it done,” Noel said with a smile.

While the Pistons did not have much success defending Embiid, Noel had a rather stunning offensive highlight when he made his third career NBA three-pointer. In 171 games as a Sixer, he went 1 for 3 from long distance. The make came in a 2016 road loss to the Wizards that dropped the Sixers to 8-52.

Of course, regularly knocking down jumpers at 7 feet tall is a significant part of what makes Embiid great. Noel has been impressed by his growth in ways besides basketball skills, too.

“I would just think his approach to the game, his level of maturity,” he said. “From Year 1 to even Year 2, 3. Every year, I’ve seen he’s taking great steps. His talent was obviously always there, but he’s become just a leader — beyond a leader, someone that gives himself and his body and everything to the team. We’ve seen that.

“I don’t know why he’s not higher up there in the MVP votes. Somehow the media doesn’t show no love. You can see every time he’s out there, he gives it his all.”

Just like early in his career with the Sixers, Noel is on a team that doesn’t appear likely to win many more games this year. Over his two full and healthy seasons in Philadelphia, the “Process” Sixers went 28-136. Detroit sits at 11-33.

Both winning and receiving consistent minutes would surely be nice for the 28-year-old Noel, but he didn’t fixate Tuesday on what might have been if he’d remained Embiid’s teammate.

Noel also made sure to shout out the general manager who acquired him on draft night 10 years ago. 

“I had my own path, had my own journey, and everything here that’s coming to success, I genuinely am happy for everybody here," he said. “From Joel to … I’m proud of Sam Hinkie, what he was able to start. He doesn’t get enough credit for it. I’m proud of everybody doing well here.”