Time is running out for Nerlens Noel.
The big man needs only to look at the schedule to understand that there is very little chance of getting on the court in his rookie season. His team, the Philadelphia 76ers, have only five more games left, including Wednesday night's contest with the Toronto Raptors.
As Sixers' coach Brett Brown said, per the Bucks County Courier Times' Tom Moore, “The later it gets, the more unlikely it is." And it doesn't get much later than this.
But Noel has yet to give up the hope that he will get into a game before the Sixers call it a season, per Moore, “Nothing's decided yet."
The young center has kept busy this season, attending home and road games, practices, team meetings, and film sessions. Still, he concedes that it has been difficult for him to sit on the sidelines, per Moore:
The 19-year-old in me sitting down on the sideline really wanted to get out there and show my abilities and be able play ball. It's been tough, but it's something I had to do.
I definitely understand where (GM Sam Hinkie) stands with the risk and the reward.
Noel last played in an official game on Feb. 12, 2013; his first and only season at the University of Kentucky. He tore his ACL in a loss at Florida. At the time, the Associated Press (via the New York Times) estimated the recovery period to be six to eight months.
But Noel showed glimpses of becoming a defensive monster during his time at Kentucky. Drew Franklin of Kentucky Sports Radio recalled the time Noel dominated No. 16 Ole Miss during a critical SEC conference game:
Noel finished the game with a school-record 12 blocks, leading [Ole Miss player Murphy ] Holloway to call him the best shot blocker he’d ever played against, including Anthony Davis. Most of Noel’s blocks came in the second half when he was one foul away from leaving the game for good.
Being compared to Anthony Davis is high praise, indeed. The Sixers will hope that Noel will unleash some of that defensive talent next season, as they rebound from one of the worst campaigns in team history.
For what it's worth, Noel feels physically stronger than he did before the injury, per the Delaware County Daily Times' Christopher Vito:
#Sixers Nerlens Noel: "I'm 100 percent." Said he's stronger than he had been. Had increased vertical leap by 3 inches.— Christopher A. Vito (@ChrisVito) April 8, 2014
Nerlens Noel certainly appears to be a candidate for a breakout season. Unfortunately, that breakout probably won't come until next fall.