Sixers coach pondering how he wants to mold Noel

Posted: January 17, 2014

EVERY ONCE in a while, Sixers coach Brett Brown feels the need to whet his appetite. For the past 12 seasons as a member of the San Antonio Spurs' staff, Brown was fed a steady diet of 50-plus wins a season, deep runs into the playoffs and four NBA titles. Now that he is overseeing an organization entrenched in reconstruction, he needs to find something to keep his sanity.

Looking back at highlights of his championship years won't do it, as that might just lend itself to a bout of depression over what he left behind. Instead, when Brown needs a quick fix of hope and reassurance, he retreats to his office at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and watches video of Nerlens Noel from his lone college season at Kentucky.

Most recently, he viewed the season-opening Kentucky-Maryland game of Nov. 9, 2012. Not much stuck out about Noel in that game, as he scored only four points, but he did corral nine rebounds and block three shots in the 72-69 Kentucky win.

As intriguing as Noel's athleticism probably appeared on the video, you get the feeling the coach was just as excited about how far the No. 6 overall pick has come since leaving the Wildcats.

Though he has been sidelined for nearly a year, after tearing his left ACL last February, Brown has worked tirelessly with Noel in their few months together. Noel is forever wearing a compression tank top these days, proudly displaying the added bulk to his upper body, though more pounds are still a necessity. It is another reconstruction job for Brown, as he looks to tear down Noel's shooting form and reshape it.

Now, with word coming that Noel was cleared to amp up his activities, the real question comes more into focus. It's not so much about when he will be back anymore, but rather what kind of a player the Sixers will get when Noel does make his debut.

At Kentucky, he was a shot-blocking stud, relying on terrific anticipation skills and his springy legs to protect the rim. Offensively, he was limited, getting most of his points on put-backs or just by being the open guy under the basket on a team filled with offensive talent.

So how will that translate to the NBA? How will his skills make him one of the building blocks this team is relying on? Just fine, according to Brown.

"He's doing fantastically. He continues to tip boxes medically, though he still has hurdles to get over," Brown said. "We're really trying to be prudent with him having to tip boxes with proving to everybody he is healthy enough to do more than just the skeleton shooting that we have been doing for the past 4 months. He's coming along fine. I think that his shot is coming along fine. If we can get him to be mid-60 percent free-throw shooter - and that may not seem a significant goal to many - as a low 50 percent free-throw shooter throughout his career and at Kentucky, if he can start getting to 60 and then high 60s and then low 70s and move up the food chain in that regard, then we've made significant money. This particular year can set the foundation, for a big man having an ability to shoot free throws is an important skill. I think that he's right on track on both sides, in health and his shot, and there's still a level of patience that we all have to have.

"He just has such a quick, explosive first step. That first year physically is going to be eye-opening for him. We talk about putting him down on the block, but the reality is he's going to be pounded off the block and be 3 and 4 feet from the paint a lot of times. Rim to rim, he's going to beat people up the floor, but once it gets into a halfcourt game, he's going to be driven 2, 3, 4 feet off a block. Then I think it's turn and face where he can out-quick people and ultimately get to his jump hook or get to the paint. I think he's going to have great potential there.

"He hasn't played basketball for a year. He's 19 years old. He's not in game shape, and then you have to go and play a Joakim Noah and a Tyson Chandler or a Tim Duncan. It's going to take time, but the foundation that we've put him on, and that he's helped create himself, is priceless. I just know that playing is playing and you have to play to feel things and do things and see things. He hasn't done that, so I think his timing is going to be way off."

Noel will not be the typical center defensively, because it is a big concern that his slight frame will get manhandled. Offensively, though, that's probably where he'll be. He is quick enough to guard big forwards and can use that to cheat off his man to block shots. The big question will be whom do you surround Noel with down low? Could it be someone such as Spencer Hawes, who will be a free agent after this season?

"You need a 'four' man that can shoot," Brown said. "Whether it's an 18-footer like David West or [Luis] Scola or like LaMarcus [Aldridge] is now, going out to the three-point line. When you fast-forward what the game is going to look like in 8 to 10 years, 6 years, I think it's a space game. The days of David Robinson and Tim Duncan and Andrew Bynum, those days are slowly, not dying, because if you have two good post players, so be it, but I think that it's leaning more toward a space game, and if you have a 'four' man that can stretch the floor. I think Nerlens is going to be a quick roller like Joakim Noah, like Tyson Chandler. But then, can he guard a 'five' man if he has that body weight? Yeah, he can. He can circle around, he can space out and pick balls out of the air and block shots. We're going to continue to work on his weight, but I do not see him being a 'four' man."

Whether Noel makes his debut this season or next, does it really matter? But now that we know that his knee is healing properly and that his time to suit up is inching closer, knowing what type of player he'll be is far more important. His coach can't wait to see. It will beat watching video.

UPCOMING GAMES

Sixers vs. Miami Heat

When: Tonight, 7 o’clock

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet / ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: The Heat might be a surly team invading the Wachovia Center, as it was beaten by the Sixers here early in the season and just got thumped on Wednesday night in Washington by the Wizards. Look out.

Sixers at Chicago Bulls

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet / ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: Quite a different-looking team from what was envisioned at the beginning of the season, with Luol Deng traded to Cleveland and Derrick Rose out with yet another injury. Still, Joakim Noah is a Sixers killer, and he’s healthy.

Sixers at Washington Wizards

When: Monday, 2 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center, Washington

TV/Radio: Comcast Network / ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: A matinee game in the nation’s capital. While it might not be the best basketball in the league, these teams usually have some pretty entertaining contests against each other.

Sixers at New York Knicks

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet / ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: Amar’e Stoudemire appeared to have found the fountain of youth in Philadelphia when the Knicks visited last week, and the backup big man went for 21 points in 22 minutes. If the Sixers are to beat Team Turmoil, they’ll need to improve the interior defense, pretty much the story of their season.

BY THE NUMBERS

1-5: That’s the Sixers’ record when they have more turnovers in a game than assists. The one win was Wednesday against Charlotte when they had 24 turnovers and 23 assists.

13-10: That’s the Sixers’ record when Evan Turner scores 20 or more points in a game.

12-25: That’s the Sixers’ record when Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Michael Carter-Williams or Tony Wroten scores 20 or more points.


Email: cooneyb@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @BobCooney76

Blog: ph.ly/Sixerville

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