We all know his story.
Noel was the man with the stylish haircut at the University of Kentucky who blocked an amazing amount of shots and played with even more energy. He then fell victim to an unfortunate left ACL tear that ended his freshman season. The next logical step was the NBA, and Philadelphia was fortunate enough to be able to trade for him once he fell down to pick No. 6 with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Noel's time to play has finally come after sitting out the entire 2013-14 season while recovering from his injury. Now it's time to ask what exactly do the Sixers need out of the 20-year-old?
Here's a look at some of the answers.
The fact that Henry Sims even had the opportunity to become one of the league's surprise players means that Philadelphia failed to have any kind of post presence last season.
While the Sixers need a player who can control the paint on both sides of the floor, the No. 1 priority is defensive. Philly ranked No. 21 in points given up in the paint at 44.2 per game. Noel needs to be able to clean four of those points off the glass every night by blocking shots.
The next most important area of improvement will need to come with securing defensive rebounds. Giving up 11.9 offensive rebounds per game put the Sixers at No. 27 in the NBA. On top of that, they only finished at No. 19 in defensive rebounds secured at 31.2 per game. Now, 19 doesn't sound too bad, but the rank should be much higher considering opponents shot an average of 85.1 times in every game.
Those numbers mean that Philly's lack of defense is only compounded by the fact that the 76ers weren't rebounding like they needed to.
Noel isn't a pure post player by any means. In fact, he was very active in pick-and-roll situations while in college. Still, though, he needs to make an impact from 10 feet and in or else he won't be giving the Sixers exactly what they need.
The primary concern for somebody returning from a torn ACL is if it's fully healed and will he reinjure the knee? Once that's taken care of or pushed to the side, questions about if he'll be the same player come to the surface.
We're talking about NBA basketball here—48 minutes of incredibly demanding action in which a player is constantly changing both speed and direction based on his instincts. The knee is one of the most necessary body parts for making this happen.
It’s also one of the most fragile.
Noel can't afford to make any kind of backward movement when it comes to his game and the way he moves. If anything, it's not a stretch to expect him to have made progress after such a long time away from the court.
The news has been looking good if you're hoping that Noel is physically better, as Christopher A. Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times tweeted out:
#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
Philadelphia had the fastest pace in the NBA by averaging 103.4 possessions per game. Noel's success largely falls on his ability to keep up with the team's pace.
70 or More Games
The icing on the cake also happens to be the foundation for anything positive to come out of Noel. He won't be able to accomplish the prior two important points without playing in at least 70 games next season.
How many games will Nerlens Noel play in during the 2014-15 season?
Philadelphia has been through a situation like this before. The 2012-13 season was filled with so much hope after trading for Andrew Bynum, but it ended in absolute disaster. There were more headlines about hairstyles and bowling than about what Bynum did on the court.
This can't happen with Noel.
Luckily, there's some good news surrounding him and his health (not to mention the fact that Noel doesn’t appear to be a headcase). The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn interviewed Noel about how he's feeling after sitting out for an entire season. Here's what the former Kentucky product had to say:
I’ve been 100 percent for months now. I feel great and continue to get stronger in all parts of my body, just continuing my growth really. I will be playing in summer games and summer league.
It’s beyond words [to play], it’s been a long time coming. I feel I’m definitely ready and focused. The whole offseason, I’ve focused on being stronger and working on my skill points, working on my shot, which I have progressed a lot with, working on my technique. Every part of my game I feel I’ve definitely improved on.
Hearing words like his is great, and there's no reason not to believe him. He has gone over a year without playing in a regulated basketball game, and we've yet to hear about a setback. Seeing him in action would definitely ease anybody with slight concerns, though.
We'll get the chance, as Noel will be playing in the NBA Summer League. Comparing how he does there to the type of player he was in college will be more than interesting and possibly give us a glimpse into the future.
Hopefully a bright, bright glimpse.