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NBA PM: The Future Of Nerlens Noel In Philly

Being the odd man out in Philadelphia may ultimately be a good thing for Nerlens Noel’s career.

Lang Greene

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Heading into the 2016-17 campaign, the Philadelphia 76ers finally appear poised to – at the very least – emerge from last place in the Atlantic Division.

The team will be bolstered by 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons and the arrival of 2012 lottery pick Dario Saric from overseas. The Sixers are also expecting center Joel Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, to return to action after missing the prior two campaigns due to nagging foot issues.

There is certainly more talent in Philadelphia; this is undeniable. However, it’s obvious that the influx of talent is frontcourt-heavy, which will inevitably lead to a logjam at some point down the road.

While Embiid, Saric and Simmons have plenty of upside, they don’t have a single second of NBA game film to reference. But the Sixers’ frontcourt has two other lottery talents who have produced as professionals in Jahlil Okafor (the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft) and Nerlens Noel (the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft).

If you were playing a video game, the presence of Embiid, Noel, Okafor, Saric and Simmons on the depth chart would be fun. But the painful reality for Philadelphia is that sooner or later, tough decisions must be made. It isn’t feasible to keep five frontcourt players who are all young and brimming with potential, especially considering the 76ers have so many other holes that need to be addressed.

From all indications, the odd man out is likely to be Noel.

Since entering the NBA, Noel has averaged 10.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.7 blocks in 142 career games. As a rookie during the 2014-15 campaign, Noel ranked in the top 10 among all NBA players in steals and blocks per game. In fact, he became the first rookie in NBA history to average both 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals.

However, out of the five big men, Noel is the least refined offensively. Even though Noel’s defensive talent is impressive and earned high praise, there are those who believe that Embiid can develop into an elite defender in time.

So where’s does that leave Noel?

Noel has been subject to rampant trade rumors over the past year, so this isn’t new information by any stretch of the imagination. But what will Philadelphia ultimately decide to do? Embiid may eventually develop into a stud, but he’s yet to prove his body can sustain the rigors of an NBA season. Saric and Simmons are rookies. Both prospects are intriguing talents, to be sure, but they aren’t traditional big men – with Saric boasting a solid perimeter game and Simmons seeming best suited for a point-forward role.

Complicating matters for Philadelphia is the fact the team must make a near immediate decision regarding Noel as soon as the season opens. The team has until Oct. 31 to agree on a contract extension with Noel, otherwise he’ll become a restricted free agent next July. Failing to reach an extension does have consequences.

On the open market, not only will teams offer a ton of money because they know anything too low will be matched, rival general managers will ensure that the contract they put on the table isn’t team friendly. Offer sheets for restricted free agents often include things like player options and trade kickers. In some cases, teams even make poison-pill offers (like the ones given to Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Tyler Johnson, etc.) in an effort to scare off a player’s respective team. Philadelphia would obviously be able to match any of these offers, but agreeing to an extension with Noel and his camp prior to Oct. 31 would give them much more control over what’s in the deal (and remove a potential distraction since Noel wouldn’t be worried about his deal or contract-year production).

Noel finished ninth overall among power forward in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (2.29) last season. However, as we pointed out earlier, Noel’s offense leaves something to be desired from an advanced statistic perspective. Noel’s -3.48 Offensive Real Plus-Minus ranks in the lower third in the league right alongside guys like Asik (-3.55), Kevin Seraphin (-3.79) and Bismack Biyombo (-2.97).

Still, Noel is just 22 years old. He’s only scratching the surface of his potential. From a per-36-minute standpoint, Noel fills the stat sheet: 13.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that last season, Noel increased his scoring production from 9.9 points per game to 11.1 despite averaging nearly two fewer minutes per contest as head coach Brett Brown tinkered with rotations that didn’t include him and Okafor on the floor simultaneously.

With free agency looming and an uncertain future in Philadelphia due to their frontcourt logjam, a trade actually may be the best thing for Noel. A change of scenery may land Noel long-term financial stability and what every young player desires most: additional floor time and opportunities to succeed.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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