Nerlens Noel will have more hurdles to clear than most NBA rookies, given the injury he suffered last February. He'll be entering the league while rehabbing a torn ACL, a process that could sideline him until Christmas at best.
But 76ers fans can now at least start thinking about the future.
Good news - the Sixers finally signed Nerlens Noel.
— Mark Deeks (@MarkDeeksNBA) September 18, 2013
Noel seemed like a consensus top pick before his season ended abruptly on February 12. In order for him to reclaim his status as an elite NBA prospect, he'll need to make a few adjustments and improvements to his body and offensive game.
Bouncing Back Physically, Mentally
A lot of time will have gone by between his first NBA game and last game in college. Not only will Noel have to shake off the rust, but he'll have to do so while transitioning to a whole new level of competition.
The transition itself is a tough enough challenge, but to have to make it while recovering from a torn ACL is just straight-up unfair.
Especially considering that Noel's knees are weapons. In order to tap into those shot-blocking instincts and above-the-rim production, he'll need the tools to put him in position to make those plays.
Regaining that explosiveness and spring back in his knees will be a huge hurdle to clear, though one that many who've experienced this injury have done in the past.
Still, regaining full strength takes time, as does rebuilding trust and confidence. This is just as much as a mental rehab as it is a physical one.
Noel will also have to hit the weight room, not that any rookies don't. But as a center, he measured in at just 206 pounds at the combine, though his playing weight at Kentucky was listed at 228 pounds.
Still, with a slender frame, the fear is that there's not much of a foundation there for additional muscle to build on.
And even when he gets up to 230 pounds, Noel will still be considered one of the lightest centers in the league.
Without the ability to play outside the paint, Noel will be doing a lot of time banging down low against thicker and stronger centers. He'll either have to expand his offensive game or bulk up and go to battle.
For Noel to maximize his purpose on the floor, he has to become a more threatening low-post scorer. He's shown promise on the block, going to the jump hook in the lane a couple of times at Kentucky.
But Noel doesn't have a counter move. If his defender sniffs out the shot, Noel lacks that ability to change direction, use a pump or spin the other way for a better look.
Below is an example of Noel in perfect position to put a move on his man. He's isolated in the post with the table set for him to use his dribble jump hook in the middle of the paint.
Instead, Noel never even gives the rim a look before he kicks it out to the first guy he sees.
This has to be a shot for Noel, who won't get this good of an opportunity many times throughout a game. Considering he's not a threat to take a two-handed shot facing the rim, Noel will need to lean on his back-to-the-basket game for offense.
Of course, that's when he's not catching-and-dunking or tipping in misses. But if Noel wants to become more than just an off-ball finisher, he'll need to continue developing that low-post game.
Given Noel's 6'11'' size and 7'4'' wingspan, it's a crime that he's not a threat to score from more spots around the key. With those measurements, Noel should be able to get off shots with ease.
And if you can get off clean looks within 12 feet of the rim, you have to capitalize.
Noel also only shot just 52 percent from the foul line as a freshman. Developing that touch will get him more free points with the clock stopped, as well as in the half as an option around the key.
NBA Ceiling, Career Path
Nerlens Noel should be looking to follow the same path that's gotten Larry Sanders to where he is today.
A tenacious shot-blocker and explosive athlete, Sanders picks up buckets off dump passes, lobs and offensive rebounds at the rim. But he's also expanded his game into the mid-range. Sanders knocked down 39 jumpers last season in the area between the arc and key, according to Vorped. And though his percentages weren't noteworthy, it's the fact that he's a threat from there that's significant.
Noel's ceiling will top out early if he remains strictly an inside-the-paint player. He just doesn't have the strength to make a living down there.
Because of his natural gifts—size, length, athleticism, shot-blocking instincts—Noel has the ceiling of long-term, valuable starting center. But he'll have a number of obstacles to clear if he wants to reach that ceiling.
For Noel to be the star that many thought he'd be, he'll need to bounce back physically and mentally, as well as add strength, develop touch and expand his offensive post game.