Nerlens Noel needs knee surgery, as the 76ers' injury woes continue

Nerlens Noel looks to the future. (Getty Images)
Nerlens Noel looks to the future. (Getty Images)

When last we heard from Nerlens Noel, the spring-heeled string-bean shot-blocker was looking for the Philadelphia 76ers to shake some action in their muddled frontcourt rotation. The Kentucky product called a Sixers roster that features him, 2014 No. 3 pick Joel Embiid and 2015 No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor “silly” and saying last month, “I would have figured management would be able to get something done this summer” to alleviate the positional overlap.

“I think something needs to happen,” he said.

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Well, there’s been a new development that might help Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo and head coach Brett Brown figure things out for the next few weeks. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old pivot — who had been limited to just one preseason appearance as he looked to heal up from a groin strain — it doesn’t figure to benefit him very much. From the Sixers:

During the normal course of evaluation and treatment for his left adductor strain, which was identified on October 6, Noel reported localized soreness in his left knee. After consulting with multiple specialists, the source of the soreness was identified as inflamed plica. Noel has elected to address the injury via a minor surgical procedure in the coming days.

Now, obviously, I know all about inflamed plica. I mean, duh: of course I do. But for those of you who might NOT know all about inflamed plica, hey, Jeff Stotts of injury-focused blog In Street Clothes: what exactly can you tell us about inflamed plica?

And hey, Jeff, while we’ve got you: the Sixers say there’s no timeline for Noel’s return from the procedure. Any chance you can help put us in a potential ballpark, though?

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That jives with what 76ers beat man Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer has heard:


76ers reserve center Nerlens Noel is scheduled to have surgery Monday at the Hospital of Special Surgery in New York to address an inflamed plica above his left knee, according to sources.

Dr. Riley Williams will scope the area during a 10-minute procedure. Noel, who’s been sidelined since Oct. 6, is expected to be sidelined an additional three to five weeks. However, he will get a more accurate timeline following the surgery.

A three-week timetable would mean Noel will miss at least the first 10 games of the 2016-17 season. A five- to six-week shelving would keep him sidelined for between 20 and 25 games.

Those timelines, of course, presume Noel’s injury winds up being as minimal an issue as the Sixers suggest, and that subsequent treatment proceeds apace and unencumbered:

Given the steady diet of injuries the 76ers and their fans have had to deal with over the past several years, you’ll forgive a teensy but of skepticism about the whole thing.


“The last time a Sixers big man had minor surgery that was only supposed to sideline him six weeks, Jahlil Okafor ended up missing seven months,” writes Shamus Clancy of Philly blog Liberty Ballers.

Okafor returned for the 76ers’ final preseason game, but he’ll face a minutes restriction early in the season as he continues to work his way back following knee surgery. Embiid, finally healthy and as effervescent as advertised, was something of a revelation during the Sixers’ preseason slate, but his minutes will be limited for the time being, too.

With their playing time capped, 2016 No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons also out for the next several months following surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot, veteran Elton Brand deciding to retire after 17 seasons, and Noel now believed to be out through at least Thanksgiving, the 76ers’ frontcourt suddenly doesn’t seem quite so crowded anymore.

Brown will likely lean more on 2014 lottery pick/Croatian point forward Dario Saric, active and athletic third-year combo forward Jerami Grant, and 2015 second-round pick Richaun Holmes (who averaged nearly 11 points, seven rebounds and three combined blocks-and-steals in 22.4 minutes per game this preseason) to sop up larger shares of the minutes at the four and five spots alongside Embiid and Okafor. We’ll likely also find out, in some portion of their respected restricted minutes, if Embiid and Okafor seem to fit better together in a Twin Towers look than Okafor and Noel did last season.


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While it remains to be seen how well any of those individual players do in stepping into larger roles, or how they interact with one another, this much is certain: losing Noel strips away one of the only legitimate impact defenders on a 76ers roster that finished last season ranked 25th among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession.

Noel has ranked fifth and ninth among power forwards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic during the last two seasons (kind of an odd characterization, since he played just about exclusively at center as a rookie and quite a bit at the five last season, but still). He ranked just outside the top 20 among rotation big men in opponents’ field goal percentage at the rim when he was defending last year. He’s fluid enough to track mobile spread fours away from the basket, has the quick feet and long arms to hold his own when switched onto smaller guards on the perimeter in the pick-and-roll, and he creates turnovers; just two seasons into his professional career, he’s already one of just 28 players in’s database to post at least 100 blocks and 100 steals in multiple campaigns.

Losing Noel — and free-agent acquisition/expected starting point guard Jerryd Bayless, who has ligament damage in his left wrist, and possibly swingman Robert Covington, who sat for the second half of Philly’s Friday night preseason game against the Miami Heat after spraining his right ankle — leaves the 76ers looking perilously thin and scrambled entering Wednesday’s season opener against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and in the days and weeks beyond that contest, as well. Already, a season that mere weeks ago seemed to be teeming with promise and potential looks like it could be close to lost, with the famously positive Brown acknowledging Sunday that while he couldn’t in good conscience say his squad is “feeling really pretty and polished up in any of the areas right now.” Not exactly the most stirring endorsement of the state of affairs as the season’s set to begin.


“Timing is everything,” Colangelo recently said, according to Pompey. “Injuries have played a part of some of the things that we’re looking at as we speak, but, again, lots of positives. … It’s all coming. It will be a time and some of that is unknown of when it arrives.”

Some of it will be known after Noel goes under the knife on Monday. The rest of it, though, could remain a mystery for quite some time … which is to say, things in Philadelphia are going more or less how they’ve been doing for three benighted seasons.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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