After Long Wait, Noel Impresses In Debut

by Max Rappaport Writer

It was a long wait for Nerlens Noel. Five hundred and eight days to be exact.

Nearly 17 months after injuring his left knee in a game against the Florida Gators during his freshman season at Kentucky, Noel finally made his long-awaited professional debut. The 20-year-old center logged 26 minutes in the Sixers’ Orlando Pro Summer League opener on Saturday, scoring a game-high 19 points and notching four steals, three assists, two rebounds, and a block.

“I’m real happy,” said a smiling Noel after the game. “But I can’t get too happy. There’s a long road ahead of me, and I have to keep working and getting better and better. There’s no time to celebrate now.”

The 2013 sixth-overall pick was one of eight Philadelphia players making their professional debut Saturday, but Noel had the advantage of spending the last year re-working his jump shot, refining his body, and being around the pro game in what was essentially a redshirt 2013-14 season.

In 2012-13, as a freshman at Kentucky, Noel averaged 10.5 points (59.0% FG%), 9.5 rebounds (third-best in the SEC), and 4.4 blocks (which led the SEC by over a block and a half in 2012-13). With the Wildcats, he anchored their interior defense and took advantage of easy opportunities around the rim on the offensive end of the floor, but in his first summer league game he was able to show off the progress he’s made over the past year and a half.

In addition to forcing five turnovers and disrupting a handful of shot attempts, Noel displayed touch around the basket, converting on a floater in the lane, a lefty bank shot from the low block, and a tough and-1 basket on a straightline drive to the hoop. He also went 7-for-7 from the charity stripe, validating the improvements he’s made to a free-throw form that yielded just a 52.9% success rate at Kentucky.

“I remember Sam [Hinkie] said to just work my way up to 60% [from the free-throw line], but I told Sam I’d surpass that, work as hard as I could, and shoot a lot better than 60%,” said Noel of a conversation he had with the team’s General Manager.

Saturday’s performance represents a small sample size, but with the 6’11” big man slated to appear in both the Orlando Pro Summer League and the Samsung NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Sixers fans should see a lot of Noel in July. Still, the team’s training staff will make sure Noel gets the rest he needs throughout the two leagues, especially given the leagues’ condensed schedules.

Noel was held out of Philadelphia’s Sunday meeting with the Thunder as a precautionary measure, but is expected to be back on the floor Tuesday night, when the Sixers take on the Houston Rockets at 7pm (EST) on The Comcast Network (local) and NBA TV (national). As always, you can watch the games on Summer League Live (LINK) on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.