BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Nerlens Noel has started slightly over 82 games in his NBA career, the equivalent of a full NBA season, and the question remains what is the frontcourt player?
On one hand, or better yet on one end, the athletic forward is a defensive force. At a wiry 228 pounds, Nerlens does more than hold his own against the behemoths in the paint. The young Sixer’s defensive progression has been stellar and provided hope for Philly fans. Conversely, his offensive growth has been, shall we say, “interesting.”
Hence the question; what is Nerlens Noel? More importantly, will he ever become a franchise player?
When the 76ers crafted a draft-night trade to obtain Noel, the hope was he would become a pillar in the new championship structure the Sixers front office was building. Three years in, the space is still there but does anyone see a sustainable beam?
Three years into the process, and a player who has displayed all the necessary intangibles to be “special” seems to still be a major question mark.
Offensively, Noel seems to struggle with identifying his strengths as a player. His confusion is illustrated by his high amount of turnovers. Last season Noel ranked sixth among power forwards in both total turnovers (146) and turnovers per game (1.9). His penchant for losing the ball also hampers any chances of scoring at a consistent clip.
In 75 games last season the former Wildcat scored over 20 points TWICE (23 against the Knicks & 30 versus the Clippers)!
Coincidently, the 76ERS' power forward had the lowest points per game average of any of the players ranked ahead of him. Now in full disclosure the Kentucky-ex is the youngest member of that turnover crew.
This season his turnover pace continues, as the forward is second in total turnovers (31) and first in turnovers per at the power forward position. At this juncture in his career, one can appreciate the offensive aggressiveness, but detest the putrid results.
On the surface drafting the next Dikembe Mutombo is not a bad thing. The problem comes about when Mutombo believes he has the offensive prowess of, say, a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Noel is a much more of a fluid athlete than Mutombo, but does not possess the offensive efficiency or production of Abdul-Jabbar, and to be clear no one ever will. Yet, the young man does have a skill set that lies somewhere in between and should be yielding better results.
A skill set comprised of aggressiveness, assertiveness and activity; while being void of great hands, touch around the rim or back to the basket awareness. Yes, Nerlens does have offensive ability; it is just not your standard 6’11 offensive ability.
The name David Robinson comes to mind at times when watching Noel on the offensive end and is often evoked on the defensive end. In fact, many of the power forward’s defensive feats rest in the same company as the Admiral.
On the offensive side both had an innate ability to run the floor, slip screens for dunks and incorporate the alley oop into a half court set. The slender forward could take his offensive game to another level if he could add the pick and pop, pull ups and a more consistent stroke at the foul line.
By no means is anyone suggesting that the Massachusetts native is the next Mr. Robinson. However, there is a chance the 2012 No.1 high school player in America (per ESPN100) could develop into a more potent offensive player. The key for him is “the jump shot”.
A consistent jump shot for a big man with the build of Noel can be the difference from being an NBA journeymen or multiple all-star performer, like former Indiana Pacers’ legend Mel Daniels or the aforementioned Robinson. Each managed to effectively use the 12 to 15 foot pull up or pick and pop.
One 12 footer a quarter would add eight more points, pushing the forward’s per-game scoring from 11 to 19. For a team hell bent on developing talent, how has this not been added to the 76er big man’s repertoire?
Why are fans still watching a 6’11 player routinely put the ball on the floor, only to turn it over or hurl up ill-advised shot after ill-advised shot? While bad shot selection is part of the growing process, through that bad shot selection is where a player develops the restraints of his offensive game.
To this point there appears to be very little gain in the pain felt when witnessing Nerlens offensive forays. The calmness of a simple jump shot could do wonders for the storms he has to play through in learning when and how to rely on said jump shot.
If Charles Oakley can develop a consistent jump shot, so can Noel.
If Marcus Camby can develop a consistent jump shot, so can Noel.
Hell, if Bill Cartwright can develop a consistent jump shot, so can Noel.
There is no secret or necessary form in acquiring this weapon, and the only requirement is that it is practiced during live games. This simple addition will create a plethora of other offensive options for the athletic big.
If the forward can become a threat to sink a jumper, opposing big men would have to step out of the paint to defend him thus making them susceptible to the forward putting the ball on the floor. This would allow his superior athletic ability to flourish as he blows by flatfooted power forwards and centers.
All of these things can be Noel’s if he would just start that process now. An elbow jumper, a pull up or pick and pop, it is that simple. Repetitiously practiced this will turn into a potent and eventual career altering weapon.
During games Nerlens often looks like a superior athlete moving at warp speed. A simple timely jump shot will manifest this superior athlete into a superior basketball player.