Noel wows summer-league coach in scrimmage

76ers center Nerlens Noel. (Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)

When the 76ers acquired Nerlens Noel in 2013, they hoped that he would blossom into an NBA superstar.

The 6-foot-11 center gave glimpses of what could be Wednesday morning in scrimmages at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

"He looked great," said assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, who will coach the Sixers in the Orlando Pro Summer League. "He got up and down. He had a monster block. He had a huge steal. He had a dunk in transition, all of the things we want to see.

"Him being fluid, being athletic carried over on both sides of the floor. He did a great job."

Noel completed back-to-back, 12-minute scrimmages without coming out for a break - a positive sign for someone who is trying to get into playing shape.

The 20-year-old hasn't played in a basketball game in 17 months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during his lone season at Kentucky.


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He did not envision such a long layoff when he was selected by the New Orleans Pelicans with the sixth overall pick last year. The Sixers acquired him and a 2014 first-round pick from the Pelicans for all-star point guard Jrue Holiday.

While Noel recovered from surgery, his activities consisted of one-handed shooting drills with coach Brett Brown and player-development coach Greg Foster at the beginning of the season. He gradually built up to five-on-five scrimmages by season's end.

The Sixers will pay close attention to Noel's pick-and-roll defense in the summer-league opener Saturday against the Orlando Magic. They want to see how quickly the 228-pounder can fight through screens and still be a presence at the rim.

On offense, Noel has a way to go.

"It's definitely developing," Noel said of his offense. "I've added a post-up to my game. My 15-, 16-foot jump shot is still a work in progress."

Like most young players, Noel has been slow to pick up the Sixers schemes.

"It's nothing like being on the floor," Pierce said. "Obviously, all year he got to sit, listen, think, run, react, and try to put all of those things together. It's a process."

That's why the Sixers have simplified the offense for their summer-league players.

The team also wants to put Noel in the most advantageous situations on defense. It makes little sense to have a rim protector guard players on the perimeter.

There's a sense that his performance Wednesday was something to build on.

"It felt good," Noel said. "It's nice to get back into it. My defensive instincts are starting to blossom back. I feel great. I'm making sure my timing is down. And I'm staying on the floor on pump fakes."


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