First-year Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown inherited an empty slate in rookie Nerlens Noel.
While the finished product won't likely be seen before the 2013-14 season—Noel has been sidelined by a torn ACL he suffered in February 2013—Brown apparently has a hope for what it will look like: Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah.
"Every time I see Joakim, I hope I’m seeing what we get in Nerlens,” Brown said during a media event, via Mark Strotman of Comcast SportsNet. “He’s one of the prime examples that I point to as we try to groom a young player."
I'll go out on a limb and say Brown isn't the only coach hoping he has "Noah 2.0" on his roster. The seventh-year big man has notched new career highs in scoring (12.3), rebounding (11.3) and distributing (5.1 assists), while keeping the Bulls afloat during a(nother) lost season for hobbled superstar Derrick Rose.
The former Florida Gator has thrust himself into the Defensive Player of the Year race, garnered All-NBA support and even generated some MVP talk. Energetic and instinctive, he's the type of player any franchise would welcome into its ranks.
So, could the Sixers actually be spawning the next Noah?
Well, the two players did look somewhat similar during their collegiate days.
|Comparing the College Careers of Noah and Noel|
Now, that data needs several different qualifiers to be properly processed.
Noel was a one-and-done player at Kentucky. Noah spent three seasons at Florida, including a freshman campaign that saw him log just 9.4 minutes a night.
Noah also played on a pair of championship teams. His mouth was far from the only one being fed on those teams. Noel's lone season ended only 24 games after it started, and his Wildcats were bounced in the first round of the NIT.
If Brown hopes to see Noah-type production out of Noel, hopefully he'll give the rookie the same leash Noah has had. It took a while before the Bulls saw these kind of numbers from their center. Through his first four seasons, Noah averaged just 8.9 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Defensively, Noel has all the tools to be an impactful interior force. Tall (7'0"), long (7'3.75" wingspan, per DraftExpress.com) and incredibly athletic, he's physically equipped to be an elite-level difference-maker.
Noah, of course, is more than a defender, though. He's incredibly effective at the offensive end and apparently a lot smarter than he'd like us to know.
"He’s a very intelligent guy — he’d probably be mad if he heard me saying that; he wants to keep that a secret — and that’s what makes him so good,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah, via Aggrey Sam of Comcast SportsNet. “I think his intelligence, his knowledge, it makes him even quicker than he is."
Noel can contribute as soon as his legs allow him to as a high-flying finisher and offensive rebounder.
But learning the subtleties of the sport, a key component of Noah's game, will take some time. Understanding how to thrive on the elbow—a trait Noah shares with a minuscule number of his low-post peers—will take even longer.
Noah didn't learn how be the Noah he is for years. It's hard to imagine Noel making that leap any quicker, assuming he ever reaches that level.