Nerlens Noel: Logjam's still there at center

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The Sixers’ Nerlens Noel takes a shot during training camp at Stockton University in Galloway, N.J. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016.

A day after working out with the Delaware 87ers of the NBA Development League, center Nerlens Noel returned to the 76ers, but his outlook hasn't changed much from the preseason.

Recovering from knee surgery, Noel isn't ready to play - and even when he is, finding playing time on a team that is center-happy could be challenging.

Coach Brett Brown said Noel did "nothing competitive" in practice. Brown estimated that Noel would likely miss at least four or five more games.

Joel Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month on Thursday, and Jahlil Okafor are manning the center position. And with Embiid's minutes limitation increased from 24 to 28, it will be hard for Noel to find sufficient playing time.

That's why Noel, while admittedly happy to be back with his teammates, wasn't in the best of moods when talking about his future with the Sixers.

Noel has been sidelined since Oct. 6 with inflamed tissue above his left knee. He had surgery on Oct. 24. On the eve of training camp, he publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the team's logjam at center.

The 22-year-old Noel was asked Thursday after practice if he believes the center situation can be worked out.

"I don't think the roster's changed," he said.

Count that as a "no."

Noel said he was getting close to resuming NBA action.

"Right now my body is telling me get back to everyday basketball, and the little kinks and soreness, I'll just pass right through," Noel said. "So now it's just getting in shape, getting my rhythm back and my wind up."

Brown and Noel seemed to disagree on the amount of off-court work needed before the center returns. When asked what Noel has to learn, Brown said, "Where do I begin? He has a whole new set of teammates."

The coach said Noel has to spend extra time in the classroom, which drew a curious response from the 6-foot-11, 228-pounder.

"Classroom work - I got a good feel during training camp," Noel said. "So now coming back, I still feel like I know everyone's game pretty well."

He acknowledged that some film preparation is needed.

"I think more of the classroom work will probably come with the new sets that we have, the new plays, a lot of elbow action, so I just have to catch up with that and let it naturally come into my game," Noel said.

Brown conceded that the center surplus isn't the easiest of situations.

"Everybody understands it is a little bit awkward," Brown said. "Everybody understands there is some level of a logjam at the position. We all get it, we all talk freely about it."

Talking about it hasn't seemed to help Noel.

Last season he was third on the team in minutes (29.3 per game). That's a figure that he likely won't come close to achieving if the situation remains the same, but he insists he will do his best to earn playing time.

"I think right now I'm in a good place mentally," Noel said. "I think my body feels great and I just want to get back to playing basketball and let things take care of themselves." 

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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