Inside the Sixers: Once healthy, 76ers' Noel will be part of movement toward athletic centers

Posted: January 20, 2014

CHICAGO - We think we know what Nerlens Noel can do when he's healthy.

He's an athletic big man who corrals rebounds and scores around the rim. He's towering and explosive and protects the basket. He has the quickness to blow past post players and the agility of a swingman.

We all know better, too. At 6-foot-11 and a bulked-up 228 pounds, he is not strong enough to dominate the traditional big-bodied men on the block.

So some 76ers fans are hoping the franchise drafts Kansas' 7-foot, 250-pound center, Joel Embiid, and moves Noel to power forward. That would give the Sixers twin towers to build around. It would also make sure the rehabilitating Noel doesn't get exposed on the block once he returns next season.

So moving Noel to power forward is what the Sixers should do, isn't it?

"Nope," coach Brett Brown said.

Why?

"You need a four-man that can shoot," Brown said, citing as examples the Pacers' David West and Luis Scola, who knock down 18-footers, and the Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge, who has grown into a three-point shooter.

The traditional power forward, who just helps the center grab rebounds, is dying, and the Sixers are rushing to throw dirt on the grave. They don't have a traditional power forward on their roster because they don't want one.

Nor do they want a traditional center. That's part of the reason they drafted the 19-year-old Noel, who has been sidelined this season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Noel suffered the injury in February during his lone season at Kentucky.

"I think when you fast-forward what the game is going to look like in eight to 10 years, six years, I think it is a space game," Brown said. "The days of [stationary post players] David Robinson or Tim Duncan or [Pau] Gasol and [Andrew] Bynum, those days are not dying, because it's still about people . . . but I think it's leaning toward it being more of a space game."

Translation: The NBA will be full of stretch fours (forwards who can play on the perimeter) and athletic centers. And the Sixers believe Noel will be one of those centers. They think he'll be in the mode of Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler.

The big question: With his slight frame, can Noel guard a center?

"Yes, he can," Brown said. "He can circle around and front. He can space out and go pick the ball out of the air and block shots. We are going to continue to work on his weight.

"But I do not see him being a four man."

The Sixers believe Noel will add pounds over the next 10 seasons. They are working on helping him develop a hook shot and are focused on making him a better free-throw shooter and strengthening his core.

The reality is that Noel is going to get pounded on the block. His lack of weight will have him getting driven two to four feet off the block in a half-court game.

"I think [when he turns and faces the basket] he can out-quick people and ultimately get to his jump hook or his running hook or get to the paint," Brown said. "I think he's going to have great potential there."


kpompey@phillynews.com

@PompeyOnSixers

inquirer.com/deepsixer

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