Sixers Coaches Impressed with Nerlens Noel's Recent Practices

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2014

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Injured rookie Nerlens Noel raised eyebrows with a tweet indicating a possible April 4 return date, but the chances of that comeback actually coming to fruition seem slim. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Marc Narducci later reported that, "a source with knowledge of the situation doesn't expect Noel to play this season as he recovers from last year's knee surgery."

Don't get too down, though.

While it's been a trying season for the Philadelphia 76ers, few would disagree that significantly better times are ahead. There's really nowhere to go but up.

Noel's future is at the forefront of that optimism, and his recent practices illustrate why. 

Per CSN Philly's Dei Lynam, head coach Brett Brown sees more than freakish athleticism in Noel's game: “The first thing that I have fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive. There is a dog in him, a toughness in him that I misjudged."

Brown also called Noel "a fierce competitor" before acknowledging the "bounce" that made him such an attractive draft prospect. We all knew Noel has the physical potential to be a game-altering defender, but the insight into his intangibles comes as welcome news to a team that will need something of a cultural shift after a season spent at the bottom of the standings.

Some mental edge will come in handy as the Sixers try to turn things around.

Without Noel in the lineup all season, the lone good news in Philly has been the development of three-time Rookie of the Month Michael Carter-Williams, who stands a strong chance of taking home Rookie of the Year honors.

Otherwise, it's been a season to forget for the 76ers—or perhaps one to remember if you're into the whole masochism thing. Philadelphia lost 26 in a row before blowing out the Detroit Pistons in March, nearly setting a record for most consecutive losses in any of the four major professional sports.

Besides the psychological attributes that intrigue Brown, Noel will help in very concrete ways as well. He reasons to be a defensive anchor in the paint in the mold of Anthony Davis, a hyperathletic specimen who plays above the rim.

Given those tendencies, it makes sense that Philadelphia wants to wait until he's good and ready for an actual return to game action. Guys who can leap out of the gym are prone to getting themselves hurt along the way, and the last thing this team needs is another setback getting between it and one of its saviors.