BROOKLYN, NY - JANUARY 8: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts to a play against the Brooklyn Nets during the game on January 8, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Seltzer's Notebook: Division Focus, Noel Keeping it Simple, Brown's Aussie Take

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Division Success Part of Sixers’ Future Goals
Not only did the Sixers Sunday tie their 10-game win mark from all of last season, they also picked up a second Atlantic Division victory, equaling another total from their previous campaign as well. 

Before going any further on this subject, let’s acknowledge the obvious. Both of the Sixers’ triumphs inside the division this season have come at the expense of Brooklyn. Such was the case a year ago, too. Currently, the Nets have lost six straight games, and hold the lowest winning percentage in the NBA.

Still, there were two items worth pointing out about how the Sixers’ fared in two Atlantic Division tilts this past weekend. First, Sunday’s win, the Sixers’ third in four games, came on the road at Barclays Center (last year, they beat Brooklyn twice at The Center). Prior to Sunday, the Sixers’ most recent division road victory was earned in a January 9th, 2015 appearance at...yep, Brooklyn.

Also of note from their weekend trip was that, even in defeat, the Sixers held their own against one of the league’s top teams. Friday, in Boston, Brett Brown’s club turned in a dominant first-half, only to see its lead slip away in the final seconds of regulation. T.D. Garden offered great theater for the competitive, sold-out game, which featured an engaged crowd of Celtics and Sixers fans alike trading cheers back-and-forth.

Down the road, Brown is eager for success and intensity to be renewed in the Sixers’ division rivalry games. For now, however, the coach realizes the team might not be quite at that point yet. 

“We touch it, but we don’t go there as hard as you would as this thing plays out and unfolds and grows,” Brown said Sunday at Barclays Center. “It comes in more and more as a part of our discussion. I think the players understand it more and more, without the coach telling them about it. To lean on it entirely would not be true , and I think that we’re just at a stage right now where we’re trying to play good basketball no matter who it is, and move our program forward.”

Versus the Nets, the Sixers indeed finished the afternoon playing good basketball, and the program did take a step forward. That both aims were achieved against an Atlantic Division foe didn’t hurt, either.

Brown Likes What Noel is Offering
It was a productive weekend for Nerlens Noel. He was an active contributor off the bench, first setting and then matching a season-high of 24 minutes at Boston and Brooklyn, respectively. In these two Atlantic Division pairings, Noel totaled 21 points (9-16 fg, 3-4 ft), 12 rebounds, two assists, five steals, and three blocks.

In a complementary way, Brett Brown suggested Sunday that Noel, now the Sixers’ longest-tenured player, is at his best when maximizing the fundamental elements of his skill set.

“I think Nerlens’ game is simple, and let’s just start with defense,” said Brown, beginning a lengthy analysis. “When Nerlens gets back with a committed effort, which he gave [Friday] night, I thought his effort and intensity simply running was an A-plus. When he gets back and goes to the rim, and sort of just is who he is, an elite rim protector, he has the ability to change a game.”

Over the past week, the Sixers allotted the bulk of their second-string center minutes to Noel, much like they did for Jahlil Okafor towards the end of December. At times, Noel was used in tandem with Joel Embiid, another five man capable of delivering a substantial defensive impact.  

In three games with Embiid and Noel as their top two centers from January 1st through January 8th, the Sixers posted the best defensive rating in the NBA, at 96.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. 

“To have [Noel], say, for Joel Embiid, knowing the importance of rim protection, and let’s assume that we all get back in transition defense, so we’re in the halfcourt game now, then you have two elite rim protectors in those two,” Brown said. “Offensively, for him to run the floor again...and to roll and slip out of pick-and-rolls and put pressure on that low man defensively either throw it in the air, or pick apart the second as that defense collapse.

“So Nerlens’ game is simple, and when he does it well, it just helps our team.”

Noel Makes Podcast Appearance
While the Sixers were in New York over the weekend, Nerlens Noel sat down with Yahoo! Sports reporter Adrian Wojnarowski to record an episode of Wojnarowski’s The Vertical podcast series. During the 40-minute conversation, Noel spoke about his current role with the Sixers, playing alongside Joel Embiid, and the influence that his family has had on his life.

In one particularly powerful excerpt of the interview, Noel talked at length about the extent to which his mother, Dorcina, sacrificed to earn a living. At times, Noel said, she juggled multiple jobs, leaving the house at 6:30 in the morning, only to return after 11:00 in the evening.

Here’s a transcription of Noel’s remarks:

“My mom and dad came over from Haiti. They didn’t come over with much. Haitians are very prideful people, and they worked very hard for what they have. They really wanted to establish a family in the states, and give us opportunities to be able to go on in life, and do great things. Obviously, they don’t come over here thinking their son’s going to grow up being 6-11 and an NBA player. So that was definitely a blessing. I was able to work very hard throughout my youth, and really develop myself into becoming an NBA player. My parents, especially my mom, has really instilled definitely a work ethic. Watching her work 12-hour shifts a day, even through the night sometimes, coming home at 11:00 PM. I remember I always used to stay up and wait for her to come home, and just seeing that really makes you want to go that much harder for what you want and what you have. As time goes on, you really use that in every aspect of your life in what you learn as a child.”

Another insightful part of Noel’s chat with Wojnarowski came when Noel expressed optimism about the possibility of him and Embiid forming an effective frontline pair. His comments went as follows:

“I definitely feel so. Obviously, the NBA is kind of going in a small ball way, with stretch fours and everything. I think there’s obviously instances in a game, just like the Celtics, maybe you can do it a little more, if they’re starting [Al] Horford and Amir Johnson. So I think Coach Brown is just really easing into how he wants to do it. I think it’s something that you just got to have patience with, but I think you’ve got to do the best thing for me. And I think obviously me and Joel can be something special when we play together defensively - being able to protect the rim, myself being more agile to guard a perimeter four, and him stay around the rim. Offensively, I think it just takes care of itself cause I think we’re both big men that have kind of like a sixth sense to the game. We’re able to pass, be able to make right decisions, we’re both athletic, run the floor. I think that’s a whole dimension in itself.”

To listen to the podcast in its entirety, click this link.

Brown Supports Aussie Hoops Effort
In recent years, whenever the NBA circuit has brought the Sixers through New York City, whether it be in Manhattan or Brooklyn, a friendly face typically pops up at Brett Brown’s media availabilities.

Reporter Nick Metallinos makes his home in the Big Apple these days, but his roots are unmistakably of the Down Under variety, as a thick accent quickly reveals. The Australian covers American hoops for ESPN Australia / New Zealand, and rarely passes up an opportunity to pick Brown’s brain about some relevant aspect of Aussie basketball.

As timing would have it, a few days before the Sixers got to Brooklyn Sunday, Larry Kestelman, chief of the National Basketball League of Australia, was quoted as saying he “won’t rest” until an NBL team is given the chance to participate in an NBA pre-season game, as clubs from other international leagues have done in the past. 

Brown spent 12 years in the NBL, both as an assistant and head coach.

Sunday, Metallinos, the journalist, asked the South Portland native for a take on the topic.

“To hear that, I think it makes complete sense,” said Brown. “I think the Australian basketball fraternity deserves it. I think they’re committed people, excellent coaches, a country that is extremely passionate about basketball that would welcome them with open arms and treat them and manage the situation and handle the situation where Australia would be proud. They’ve had the experience of hosting Olympic games. I think that their game management, infrastructure to support something that massive is elite, it is A-plus. It’s a beautiful country, it’s a safe country, and I just think that with the abundance of Aussies in the NBA that it’s natural, it makes complete sense.”

In 2009, Australia tapped Brown to run the country’s national team, which he subsequently led to a seventh-place finish at the 2012 Olympics in London. That summer, Brown’s roster featured several players - such Aron Baynes, Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles, and Patty Mills - who have since gone on to the NBA.

With those core contributors back in the fold in Rio de Janeiro this past August, the Boomers placed fourth in the 12-team Olympics competition, just missing out on a bronze medal. The showing was Australia’s best at the Olympics since 1988.

“I was welcomed into the Australian basketball fraternity in 1986,” Brown said Sunday. “I lived there for 17 years, and married one and coached there in three Olympic games. That part of my personal life, and growth, even as a coach, is significant when I look back at the memories of just getting older and continuing to coach and so on. The Australian scene is near and dear to my heart.”