As the Philadelphia 76ers head closer to the All Star break, the center situation still remains prevalent. For the majority of the season, Nerlens Noel was seen as the odd man out. Yet, with the increased role he’s received, has Noel secured his spot?
When Noel returned earlier this season after undergoing surgery on his left knee, most assumed his days in Philly were numbered. Many wrote him off entirely. It got to the point where Nerlens Noel himself began to call for a trade. You know it’s bad when guys start asking to get moved.
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With that sort of rhetoric, you’d think that the Philadelphia 76ers would adhere to those demands. Noel didn’t want any part of the three-headed dragon at the center position. He felt like he wasn’t being treated like a quality rotation player. In contrast, he saw himself as a premier bigman in this league.
Noel’s rookie deal expires at the end of this season. He can sign with any team he wants, unless the Sixers match the offer sheet. A guy like Noel, especially in this free agent class, could demand a max contract. His only real competition Mason Plumlee, Andrew Bogut, and Zaza Pachulia. The center market is thin, to say the least.
Thus, it makes sense that the Philadelphia 76ers would want to move Nerlens Noel. With the off-the-court sound bites and the contract situation, it was a no-brainer that he would be the odd man out. Yet, he’s being given the opportunities to play. This could mean one of two things — Noel is actually going to stick around, or management is trying to maximize his trade value for some sort of trade.
Nerlens’ Recent Play
One thing that nobody thought would happen this season is the Philadelphia 76ers winning 7 of their any given 10 games. Most people believed that the Sixers wouldn’t win more than 20 games, but they’re on pace to win around 30 games this year. Part of that has to do with the how Nerlens Noel has played.
At the beginning of his return to the rotation, Noel played very limited minutes. He wasn’t used as much, in favor of Jahlil Okafor, but ever since the Utah Jazz game back on December 29th, Noel started seeing quality minutes. Since then, Noel has played no less than 11 minutes per game.
With that added workout comes better numbers for the 4th year veteran. All of his appearances have been as a backup. He’s averaged 8.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.0 block, and 1.3 steals per game in the month of January. This is a huge turnaround from his dismal December. His minutes per game have also gone up, too. He went from averaging 11.6 minutes to averaging 19.3 minutes per game.
Okafor’s Lack of Minutes
In addition to Nerlens Noel’s play, Jahlil Okafor has seen a huge minutes cut. In January, Jah has played a total of 3 games — yes, just 3 games! He hasn’t been injured, either, aside from general soreness. All of the games he didn’t play in were coach’s decisions.
Doesn’t that strike the common fan as being a little odd? Why wouldn’t the guy play if he’s healthy? It seems as though there could be some sort of preservation tactic being used here. Management doesn’t want to risk Okafor getting hurt, because it would tarnish his trade value.
This sort of management of a player could be the precursor to a move of some sort. You don’t sit out on of your best talent unless you’ve got bigger plans for him. Could GM Bryan Colangelo have a deal in the works?
Nerlens is Happy, Now
Since his role was expanded for the Philadelphia 76ers, Nerlens Noel has shown a more eager side of himself. He comes to work and gives his all for the team he plays for. It’s interesting to note how his demeanor has changed. He sees the role as fulfilling.
It’s important to factor in that Noel is not a distraction anymore. Considering the debates that this situation has sparked, you’d think that Noel would double down on the stubbornness. On the contrary, with this added role, he’s just as happy as the day he first suited up for the Sixers.
“I think I’m able to go out there and still affect the game, change the game multiple ways,” he said to Pompey.
With this fresh perspective, it appears that Nerlens Noel has finally put the controversy behind him. He’s focusing strictly on helping the Philadelphia 76ers win ball games. The entire time, all Noel wanted was minutes. He wasn’t asking to start, or to be the focal point of the team. All he wanted was to contribute, but with quality minutes attached to it.
Are the Sixers Shopping Nerlens?
The counterargument to Nerlens Noel’s increased minutes is that the Philadelphia 76ers are still feeling out offers for him. Obviously, it makes sense that the team want to keep all options on the table. Outside of Joel Embiid, it wouldn’t be outlandish to think that Bryan Colangelo will listen to all offers.
Although, rumors have centered around Jahlil Okafor as of late. According to Chad Ford of ESPN, a deal could be in the works as soon as the trade deadline. The idea here is to give Okafor a fresh start, due to lack of fit on the Sixers.
While it does make sense, it does raise the question of whether of not Noel stays. Just because one guy gets moved, doesn’t mean the other doesn’t. It’s not completely out of the question that Noel is safe. But, the signs are all pointing to him remaining with the team.
Inevitably, this signals that Nerlens Noel should expect a huge payday from the Philadelphia 76ers. After dealing with an ACL tear a few years back, years of losing, and the trade drama, this extension is well deserved. For the most part, Noel has been a professional throughout. Obviously, frustration did get to him, but at the end of the day Nerlens Noel might be staying in Philadelphia after all.