The Philadelphia 76ers allowed rookie big man Nerlens Noel to miss the entire 2013-14 season while recovering from an ACL tear for two very clear reasons. The first and most obvious is that the team was not especially concerned with winning games while attempting to secure a top draft pick. But they also had more positive motive to do so, because Noel is a special talent who many thought should have been the first-overall pick in 2013 even with a serious injury that was going to keep him out for at least a few months of his first season. With an eye towards the future, the Sixers wanted to keep a potential star healthy long-term.
Noel showed some of his ability in Monday night's home game against the Houston Rockets — just his fourth appearance as a pro. With seconds remaining in the third quarter, Rockets star James Harden drove towards the basket with an eye towards a buzzer-beating dunk. The 20-year-old Noel was having none of it and came up with a vicious rejection:
Noel's incredible stonewalling of Harden came at a time when the game's result was still in doubt, but it did not carry his team to victory. Houston controlled the final quarter and came away with a convincing 104-93 win to stay undefeated at 4-0. Meanwhile, the Sixers remained winless at 0-4, which may actually be a positive given general manager Sam Hinkie's goals this season.
On a sunnier note, the team has reason to think that Noel can be a part of the core over the long haul. Monday marked his second strong game of the season (along with two stinkers) with a line of 10 points (5-of-8 FG), five rebounds, six steals, and one very notable block in 30 minutes. Noel also helped limit Dwight Howard to 11 points on just eight attempts, although that may be because Harden (35 points) and the rest of the Rockets' perimeter players (16-of-34 from deep) didn't need much help. Regardless, Noel has shown the Sixers reason for hope in a season that won't be judged on wins and losses.
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