Nerlens Noel has a long road back, but he's in position to be great.
For anyone who didn't see what happened because they were hiding under a rock, the Sixers traded Jrue Holiday for the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft and a future 2014 first-round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans. Philadelphia ended up with Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 selection of the draft.
Yes, the guy many believed would be the No. 1 pick.
New general manager Sam Hinkie made his intentions clear with this move. He wants to build from the ground up and create a new foundation based on who he wants. This trade is the kind of move that could get debated for years because it has the potential to be a franchise-defining trade. It's essentially exactly what Hinkie wanted.
Noel now becomes a centerpiece of a team with an unknown future, and he'll be asked to eventually turn into a superstar. In order to make that happen, there are a number of items on his checklist which will need to be taken care of.
Let's take a look at what those are.
Noel tore his left ACL in the middle of February. This is the kind of injury that usually takes anywhere from 8-to-12 months to fully heal.
Sometimes even longer.
There is absolutely no reason for him to rush back to the floor and force the issue. The good news is Noel seems like he knows not to rush it. Here's what he told the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
It's an injury you've got to be mindful of, you can't try to rush back from it. You want to have longevity in your career, just be careful with it. As much as you want to be back, you want to be playing as long as you can in the NBA and not have to reinjure yourself and go through all this again.
For those wondering, Noel sees Christmas time as a target date of return, meaning his recovery time would be about 10 months. If he is truly ready to return around this time, then he should make his way back to the court, but there is no need to feel like he has to return by Christmas.
Being physically ready is one thing; however, it is often the mind that ends up being the problem. We all saw how Derrick Rose took the entire 2012-13 season off, and even though he received a significant amount of criticism, he still made the right choice for his career and the Chicago Bulls' future.
Noel needs to look at it in a similar way. Philadelphia isn't going to contend for a championship next season. It sucks, but the team just isn't going to get there next year. He wasn't drafted to just be another NBA player. He was specifically targeted to become one of the Sixers' centerpieces for the next 10-to-15 years.
He won't have the opportunity to live up to such high expectations if his knees aren't 100 percent healthy for his whole career.
Coming back to the floor without any physical limitations is the first step for Noel.
Improve His Game
Anybody who had the opportunity to watch Noel play at the University of Kentucky witnessed Noel's superb athleticism and extreme lack of polish.
Two areas of the game tend to translate well from college to professional basketball. Those are rebounding and shot blocking. The reason is that neither are driven by skill level. For the most part, they are determined by willingness and athleticism.
Defensively, Noel uses his length and jumping ability to get to the basketball nearly anytime it gets into the key. Averaging 4.4 blocks per game is a fantastic statistic at any level of basketball, especially at the Division I level.
Being a great shot-blocker is valuable and all, but what about everything that comes with offense?
This is where his game falls apart.
Noel doesn't have a developed post game, his jumper is anything but consistent and he becomes a one-trick pony when all he can do is catch lob passes for alley-oops.
The majority of players get better over the offseason. He needs to view his recovery time as an extended offseason. Working on back-to-the-basket moves and a consistent jump shot don't require much stress on his knees. He should be able to put in hours and hours of practice time in specific areas to sharpen the weaker parts of his offensive repertoire.
Coming back as an offensive threat would really make the Sixers happy.
Will Nerlens Noel live up to the hype or be a draft bust?
The NBA is a whole new beast. Noel is not going to be able to come in and look like a guy who should have gone No. 1 in the draft right away. There is going to be a significant learning curve and moments where he feels like he is in over his head. It's even possible for him to encounter a series of physical setbacks.
This is all normal.
The pressure to be "the guy" can't be easy to live with. Everybody will be watching his every move. People will look at him as the person Philadelphia brought in because he is a better long-term solution than Jrue Holiday was. Nothing about being in Noel's position is going to be easy.
Well, except for being able to play the greatest game at the highest level and receiving those paychecks, of course.
But still, other than those perks, it will be an uphill battle for the young center. Being patient is going to be necessary as time goes on. If he is able to keep his head straight and continues to move forward, then there is no question he will have the chance to reach an incredibly high ceiling in the NBA.
The choice is largely up to him.