"He's full throttle," Thompson said, chuckling as he recalled his shot getting stuffed by Noel. "He's moving well, running all over the court and blocking everything. I'm excited to play with Nerlens."
The 6-11, 228-pound Noel didn't play a minute during the 2013-14 season for the Sixers. Instead, he rehabbed the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee he suffered in his only college season and developed his game with head coach Brett Brown.
In 24 games during his freshman season at Kentucky, Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists. Known particularly for his athleticism and defense, Noel blocked 4.4 shots and racked up 2.1 steals per game, as well.
It wasn't an easy process for a young big man to sit out a season and work on his game. But it was one that Lloyd Pierce, a Sixers assistant who is directing the Orlando Summer League squad, said won't put any added pressure on Noel.
"Obviously, it's a long time waiting, coming for him to get back on the court," Pierce said following the Sixers' first practice. "We want Nerlens to be Nerlens. He's an athletic big that runs the floor well. He's a young player, and this is his first time at this level. We need to limit his thinking and allow him to play and do what he's always done: block shots, play with energy and provide a presence. That's what we are going to ask for him."
Noel is scheduled to play in both the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues, allowing his body to get prepared for an NBA-style game.
Even Jerami Grant, the young athletic swingman from Syracuse, praised Noel following his first practice before the team headed to Orlando.
"He looked good; he came out here and proved himself," Grant said. "He was the sixth player in the draft and probably should have been top-two. He looked good out here today."
But when it comes to finally getting on court or playing against NBA talent for the first time this week in Orlando, Noel shouldn't feel any added pressure to show off his complete skill set. With two summer leagues to play in and a summer full of training left before the start of fall training camp, Noel needs to heed Pierce's words and just "develop and grow."
"I don't think anyone in our organization is putting pressure on these players," Pierce said. "Summer league is here for young players to develop and an opportunity for coaches to evaluate young players. So it's not [Grant] specifically, it's not Nerlens specifically, it's for all of these guys to get an opportunity in front of our organization in front of our system . . . we know what we are working with as we move forward."
After getting his shot rejected by Nerlens Noel in the earlier stages of practice, Hollis Thompson worked on perimeter footwork and jump shots, along with former Ohio State guard Aaron Craft and former Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim. Thompson nailed all but one, Ejim made a high number of shots and Craft made only two during a 15-minute drill . . . Thompson said he's been in the gym and "gained 9 pounds" since last season. He said he's around 215 now.
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