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NBA PM: Next Road Ahead Tougher for Noel

After rehabbing a torn ACL and making his NBA debut, the toughest road is ahead for Nerlens Noel.

Yannis Koutroupis profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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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
Regular-Season Games
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.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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