Next Road Ahead Tougher for Noel
Twenty months. That’s how long Nerlens Noel’s Philadelphia 76ers debut was in the making. He finally took the court last night for Philadelphia’s preseason game against the Boston Celtics. For Noel, though, it was much more than just his first game back from a major injury. It was the realization of a lifelong dream, made bittersweet by serving as a sharp reminder that the toughest part of his career is just beginning.
“I don’t think I played well at all, but I was proud of the fact that I was able to shoot tonight in a Philadelphia uniform and finally start playing an official NBA game,” Noel said after accumulating six points, four rebounds, four turnovers and six fouls in 21 minutes of action in a 98-78 blowout loss.
Drafted sixth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Noel missed what should have been his rookie campaign due to a torn ACL that he suffered midway through his first and only season at Kentucky. It was the fear of that possibility that dropped him that low in the first place; if he were healthy, it’s very likely that Noel would have been the first overall selection. He sat in the green room with his family and closest friends, shocked as the likes of Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len went before him. Such a slide seemed improbable, virtually out of the question, before the draft was actually conducted.
The slip cost him a few million dollars that night, but with the lower price came an ideal situation. The Philadelphia 76ers acquired his draft rights from the New Orleans Pelicans in a deal for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. It was the first indication of a complete and total rebuild, which consisted of the 76ers basically completely cleaning house from the previous regime and embracing losing for the sake of high draft picks, like Noel and his classmate and childhood friend Michael Carter-Williams.
Tasked with helping bring a once-proud franchise back to prominence, Noel witnessed Carter-Williams prove capable of doing his part all last season. Playing at the league’s toughest position, Carter-Williams averaged 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists en route to winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award. As his close friend took the league by storm, Noel could only watch from afar and work to get healthier. Carter-Williams is on SportsCenter every night, playing in front of packed arenas, while Noel was limited to rehabilitating his surgically-repaired knee in mostly empty buildings.
Coming back from a torn ACL is no easy task, even without all that on your mind. The recovery time is extensive and rushing back could lead to years of additional trouble. Fortunately for Noel, the 76ers’ forward-thinking strategy led to them being as cautious and thorough with his rehabilitation as any team would have been. Even though he had been cleared for months already, they still held him out of back-to-backs in summer league to avoid having him do too much too soon. He had his moments there too, showcasing an improved face up game, the shot blocking instincts that make him such a special prospect and a lot of the athleticism that he had prior to the injury. Playing in the NBA, preseason alone, is far different though as he learned last night.
Going up against a Celtics’ frontline that featured Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass, Noel looked like every bit the part of a first timer.
“I think it was a combination of things,” Noel said. “I really didn’t think I had the right mindset coming out, I was a little quick with everything I tried to do. It’s been a process of just trying to just slow down and be able to think things through and not trying to make such quick a move and just a combination.”
Noel’s jitters are understandable and to be expected, especially when you factor in that he was playing close to home as a product of Malden, Massachusetts with a lot of his friends and family in town. Brett Brown, the 76ers head coach who has been watching his development as closely as anyone involved in the process, certainly saw it coming.
“It was kind of what I thought,” Brown said. “You know he fouled out, he was playing pretty quick, trying to find his feet, trying to find ways to impact the game. I thought defensively he was pretty good; offensively he struggled. The speed of the game in his mind I felt got the better of him but I saw good things from him and I think this whole year is going to be one where we just keep trying to polish him up and get him NBA ready.”
Despite not seeing the floor in 2013-14, Noel was still able to take a lot away from the season. He saw first-handed how NBA players prepare and take care of themselves in order to compete night in and night out against the best in the world. Coaches worked with him to help teach him how he would fit in to what they were trying to do. And, he got to see just how badly the 76ers, who at 19-63 had one of the worst seasons in franchise history, need him to reach his full potential to serve as added motivation. But, even with those advantages that the typical rookie doesn’t have, there’s no way to truly replicate and prepare for live NBA action. And, things are only going to get faster once the games start to mean something in the regular season.
“I think that’s definitely a work in progress, just having patience,” Noel said. “Understanding how to be calm with my shots and being able to know where I can get them. I’m just going to continue to work and take it all in.”
As they’ve proven in more cases than just Noel’s, patience is a virtue the 76ers clearly possess. They invested their 2014 first-round draft picks in Joel Embiid, who could miss the season with injury issues of his own, and Dario Saric, who can’t get out of his new overseas contract before the 2016-17 NBA season. They didn’t ease Noel through rehabilitation just to overwhelm him now. They’re going to continue to take their time in building a winner and let Noel learn from his failures and triumphs. Long-term, though, there are high expectations for Noel, and fulfilling those will be tougher than anything he’s done so far, even as impressive as his journey to this point has been.
Global Games Set to Begin
The National Basketball Association (NBA) will tip off NBA Global Games 2014-15 on Oct. 8 with five international preseason games, followed by two regular-season games in November and January. Overall, nine NBA teams will play seven games in seven cities in six countries as the league continues to expand globally.
The preseason Global Games in Europe and China will air live on NBA TV, with the preseason Global Game in Rio de Janeiro airing live on ESPNEWS. All Global Games will reach fans in 215 countries and territories and are available on International NBA LEAGUE PASS.
Preseason NBA Global Games will be supported across all markets by world-class marketing partners, including presenting partners Sportlobster (Berlin), Garanti Bank (Istanbul), Oi (Rio) and ZTE Mobile (Shanghai and Beijing), and by 54 television, radio and digital partners. The league will conduct more than 20 consumer promotions, four interactive fan events and seven NBA Cares events.
Forty-four international NBA players will participate in NBA Global Games 2014-15.
NBA Global Games 2014-15 Schedule:
|San Antonio Spurs vs. Alba Berlin||Oct. 8; 2 p.m.||Berlin, Germany||O2 World Berlin||NBA TV|
|San Antonio Spurs vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker Istanbul||Oct. 11; 12 p.m.||Istanbul, Turkey||Ülker Sports Arena||NBA TV|
|Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat||Oct. 11; 5 p.m.||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||HSBC Arena||ESPNEWS|
|Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets||Oct. 12; 1 a.m.||Shanghai, China||Mercedes-Benz Arena||NBA TV|
|Brooklyn Nets vs. Sacramento Kings||Oct. 15; 7:30 a.m.||Beijing, China||MasterCard Center||NBA TV|
|Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves||Nov. 12; 10 p.m.||Mexico City, Mexico||Mexico City Arena||ESPN|
|Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks||Jan. 15; 3 p.m.||London, England||The O2||NBA TV|
The defending champion San Antonio Spurs, who won the championship last season with a record nine international players, will tip off NBA Global Games against eight-time German champions Alba Berlin and six-time Turkish champions Fenerbahçe Ülker Istanbul.
The game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat will mark the NBA’s second game in South America and LeBron James’ first matchup against his former team, the Miami Heat. It will also be the first time Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejão plays an NBA game in his native Brazil. There will be a record seven Brazilian players on NBA rosters at the start of the 2014-15 season.
The league’s two foreign-born owners, Vivek Ranadivé of the Sacramento Kings and Mikhail Prokhorov of the Brooklyn Nets, will have their teams square off twice for the first time outside North America in China. The two games will feature three 2014 FIBA World Cup gold medalists from the USA Basketball Men’s National Team: Mason Plumlee of the Nets, and DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay of the Kings.
NBA Global Games 2014-15 will conclude with two regular-season games when the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves play in Mexico and the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks travel to the United Kingdom. The two games will feature 10 participants from the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
The NBA, which has built one of the largest social media communities in the world with nearly 700 million likes and followers across all platforms, will engage fans on a global basis in real time with unprecedented behind-the-scenes access.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.