Nerlens Noel was recently cleared for limited on-court work with the potential to eventually see action in an NBA game by the end of the season. The question is should the Philadelphia 76ers allow him to play this year?
Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie recently released a statement regarding Noel and the progress of young center's surgically repaired left ACL (per CBSPhilly.com):
After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens' representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work.
Noel who was selected with the No. 6 pick by the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2013 NBA draft, with Philadelphia acquiring him in a trade that sent point guard Jrue Holiday to the Crescent City. Noel was only four months removed from hurting his knee, so his status in regards to the upcoming season was still unknown.
This high pick was strictly based on the potential of what Noel could one day become.
Philly is now forced to decide on whether or not playing Noel this season or waiting until the 2014-15 season would be best for the 6'10" former University of Kentucky standout. The good news for the Sixers is that the decision is an easy one.
Philadelphia needs to be patient, and wait to play Noel.
Here's a look at why.
Noel's Strong Work Ethic
Mentioning Noel's work ethic as a reason as to why he shouldn't return this season might seem a little weird. If he is a hard worker then he would do everything in his power to come back with a vengeance and excel, right?
Sure, that may be true. It's just not a good enough reason to play him this season.
Before we go further, let's take a look at what makes Noel's work ethic so special. Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling wrote a fantastic (seriously, read the whole thing) article about Noel and his work with renowned knee rehabilitation expert Kevin Wilk in Birmingham, Alabama. Here's some of what Wilk said about Noel and his rehab process:
He would go back to the conditioning area of the clinic and he would never tell the conditioning people (if he was hurting). I would be like, 'Tell them you're sore.' And he's like, 'Nah, nah, nah. I'm going to do my work.' And he would just power through it all the time. He would never give in. That speaks to his motivation but also speaks to his competitiveness.
Wilk continued by saying:
If he did two sets of 10 and the eighth, ninth, 10th rep wasn't good—he didn't like the quality of it—he would just do the whole set over...Sometimes young guys can get a little flippant with it and they won't give max effort. But he quickly (gained) momentum in that second and third week, and really sailed from that point on.
Noel has an opportunity to strictly worry about only himself and his game between now and next year.
He'll have a chance to get his body into the right kind of NBA shape, perhaps even gaining a few pounds. Developing a mid-range jumper and some kind of game off of the dribble would also really benefit his career, especially given his thinner frame.
The difference between playing as soon as he can and taking his time is that, if he plays as soon as he's able, he'll then have to focus on everything involved with the team. He'll have to learn the Sixers' playbook and the Sixers' will have to tailor some of that playbook to accommodate his presence. That could slow down his individual progression because he'll be forced to worry about how he's playing, instead of what he's able to do while playing.
The difference between the two is crucial toward long-term growth. There's a reason that players add new moves and skills over the offseason instead of during the season. It's because it is much more difficult to add elements to one's game while only playing in games.
Waiting to play will allow Noel time to improve his strength and develop his overall game.
Long-Term Health is What It's All About
There's no point in playing Noel if there's a significant risk of setting him back, both physically and mentally, for the long term.
The NBA season is well underway, and most teams and players have gotten into some kind of groove and rhythm. The same couldn't be said for Noel were he to step onto the court. He hasn't played in an official basketball game in nearly a year, and it would take him some time to adjust to everything that other rookies have already had over half the season to get used to.
Also, there's an issue with how much confidence Noel will have in his knee. The simple difference between a player knowing what his body will do versus trying to figuring out the limits to which he push himself can be all it takes for someone to suffer another injury.
We see some key words out of Hinkie if we look back at his statement regarding Noel's progress. Here's what he has to say about the work that Noel still needs to do:
There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career.
Look at the last sentence and you know what Hinkie and the Sixers are thinking. They have the perfect thought process when it comes to getting Noel back on the court.
Should Nerlens Noel play this season?
It's all about having a long and productive career, and we need to remember that when thinking about activating him before the end of this season.
Erring on the side of caution means Noel will effectively sacrifice around a month and a half of his NBA career. That's a significantly better option than playing for a month then having to wait another year because he reinjures himself
There’s just not much that Noel would get out of playing such a short period of time. The risk of injury wouldn’t outweigh the reward of playing him. There's no way of knowing if someone will get hurt. To be honest, if it's going to happen, then it's going to happen. There's not really any way of preventing an injury.
There are ways to help a player become better prepared so as to minimize the chances that he reinjures himself, though.
The bottom line is that if Philadelphia wants to get to the next level of success, then Noel can’t hurt either of his knees anytime soon.
The Sixers need to understand this and wait until the 2014-15 season to debut Noel. It's in the best interest of both parties.