Nerlens Noel Reminding Everyone He's Far from a Polished Prospect

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 16: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the game against the Chicago Bulls on July 16, 2014 at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues have provided Philadelphia 76ers rookie Nerlens Noel with a platform to demonstrate just how NBA-ready his freakishly athletic skill set is. 

But for the flat-topped, shot-blocking savant, it's been a tale of two ends of the floor. 

As's Kurt Helin recently opined, Noel may actually be the best rookie at this year's exhibition tournament in Sin City thanks to the utilization of his elite combination of size and length on defense: 

His length and leaping ability make him an intimidating force in the paint. The guys on the Sixers bench were counting the number of shots Noel altered and said it got into double digits before they lost track.

"When the guards start being a little more timid on their drives and they start shooting a lot more floaters then I know I’m the reason,” Noel said.

It wasn’t the only thing Noel did well in his Vegas debut. He is hard to keep off the glass. He plays with more physicality than you would expect — he’s thin but will push and not back down (he doesn’t have the base to push around the strongest in the NBA, but he’s not a lightweight either).

Without question, Noel already resembles an intimidating presence in the lane. 

Just ask last year's No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett: 

Or Cleveland Cavaliers hopeful Jack Cooley: 

Whether he's contesting shots straight up at the rim or using his speed and 7'4'' wingspan to provide aggressive help as a weak-side defender, Noel has excelled as a shot-blocking stalwart. 

Factor in quick hands that led the Orlando Summer League in steals (2.3 per game), and it's hard not to swoon at Noel's massive defensive ceiling. 

Not only can he consistently operate as a fearsome swatter of orange leather in the paint, but his raw physical tools and surprising quickness also allow him to operate comfortably on the perimeter when he's guarding quicker forwards. 

However, Noel has a long way to go until his offensive repertoire resembles the multidimensional arsenal he desires to possess. 

Throughout summer league play, Noel's limitations on the low blocks have been quite evident, mostly because he hasn't been strong enough to establish himself as a legitimate post presence. 

At 6'11'' and just 228 pounds, Noel lacks the size necessary to assert himself against bulkier bigs. 

Just take it from Sixers assistant coach Chad Iske, who discussed Noel's offensive learning curve with Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix:

He’s going to have to learn how to deal with bigger guys in the post. We did see a rapid change in him from the beginning to the end of last season. There is a huge difference in the definition of his chest and his arms. The legs are skinny and they will probably always be a little skinny. But he has great speed and that will be an asset.

Thus far, his offerings have included an unexpected combination of play types, many of which have required him to set up outside the lane and work his way in with a few strong dribbles as he attempts to mitigate the sizable difference in girth. 

According to Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, "he's shown off some touch and post moves that we really didn't see much of at Kentucky. He's hit five lefty jump hooks, an 18-foot jumper and a number of pretty driving layups."

Here's Iske discussing Noel's offensive limitations and how the team hopes to use him this coming season: 

We’re trying to figure [Noel’s offense] out. We’re spending a lot of time on his free-throw shooting. In our offense we play through the bigs on the elbow a decent amount and we have found that he is a gifted passer. He is so quick with the first dribble, too, that he has an ability to get to the rim. But it’s going to take time.

The good news is that a year-long rebuild of Noel's stroke has resulted in some positive early returns from the charity stripe, albeit in a rather small sample size. 

While the mid-range jump shot still has a way to go, Noel knocked down his first 11 free-throw attempts in Orlando and finished the week a sterling 17-of-21 (81 percent) from the line, which points to at least marked improvement after he shot 52.9 percent on freebies during his freshman season at Kentucky. 

And while it may seem like we're painting Noel's lack of polish as a negative, it's all part of a complex process the Sixers have embraced as part of their ambitious rebuilding strategy, as Iske alluded to. 

Learning how to properly utilize a unique skill set against the league's most celebrated centers during the regular season will be an arduous undertaking for the 20-year-old, but the fact that he's already flashed some raw versatility should give fans hope. 

As I noted before, patience needs to be practiced in spades when discussing the Sixers' most coveted prospects. 

Wins may be few and far between for Brett Brown's club once again this season, but as Noel begins to slowly develop one tool at a time, fans should notice his tangible evolution into much more than a prototypical big who's reliant on the pick-and-roll.