In fact, according to him, he's been that way for months.
A central figure in the draft-night deal that sent former All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans, Noel sat out the entire season recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in February 2013. It sounds like there was more to his prolonged absence than medical concerns, though.
"I've been 100 percent for months now," Noel told Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. "I feel great and continue to get stronger in all parts of my body, just continuing my growth really."
Sixers coach Brett Brown had long ago intimated that Noel skipping the entire 2013-14 campaign was a possibility.
"I doubt, everybody doubts that he's going to play this year," Brown said in October, via ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. "We don't want to waste this year."
Noel boasts freakish physical gifts (He stands 7'0" tall with a 7'4" wingspan, via DraftExpress.), but he left after one year at Kentucky as a far-from-finished prospect. Brown dubbed him "a total rebuild" in November, via Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, saying that rebuilding Noel's broken shooting form would be "really hard" but adding that the Sixers "have the perfect environment to do it — a full year."
The added developmental time could do wonders for the 20-year-old. An intimidating rim protector during his 24-game stint with the Wildcats (4.4 blocks per game), his offensive responsibilities primarily consisted of running to the rim and throwing down lobs or putback jams.
There was a method to Philly's madness, but this revelation that Noel has been healthy for a while does bring up some interesting questions.
For one, this puts an uncomfortably bright light on the league's tanking issue, doesn't it? The Sixers didn't exactly mask their embrace of the loss column—Daniel Orton, Elliot Williams and Adonis Thomas each started at least one game for this team—but holding out an apparently healthy player puts those efforts in an entirely different perspective.
"It’s hard to argue that [Noel] couldn’t have used the time to develop more quickly during live game situations," NBCSports.com's Brett Pollakoff wrote, "and it’s almost certain that Philadelphia would have been more competitive had Noel been a part of the team’s late-season rotation."
Now, the degree of that added competitiveness is certainly debatable. It's not as if the Sixers ever fielded a lineup that looked just one player away from respectable:
Still, Noel would have helped—and Philly seemed less than interested in that assistance. If anyone questioned the existence of tanking before, that debate is over.
Where this becomes potentially very interesting is how the league office will receive this news.
The Sixers, according to one of their own players, held a perfectly healthy player out of action. Isn't that the same "crime" San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich committed for not bringing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green to a highly anticipated (and nationally televised) 2012 game with the Miami Heat?
Should the Sixers be expecting the same $250,000 fine the league used to punish the Spurs? Popovich was found to be in violation of league policy against resting players "contrary to the best interests of the NBA," according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com.
Should Noel's situation be seen any differently? Isn't this the same violation?
Or does the fact that the 19-63 76ers simply weren't any good—and, therefore, had no highly anticipated matchups—change the discussion? Might Philly's low ceiling now be protecting its wallet?
It seems like a conversation worth having, at the very least.
If this winds up being a six-figure gamble, Philadelphia should soon learn whether it was worth the risk. Noel told Washburn he "will be playing in summer games and summer league."
Noel's body is up for the task; it's been that way for months. Now, the basketball world will see if his game is finally NBA-ready.
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