Standing at nearly 7 feet tall, Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel is a towering presence. And with a body fat percentage of just 4.2, he’s a far cry from the old school, 300+ pound centers of the NBA's past. The new-age center is extremely tall and lean, combining height with unmatched quickness at the position. It's this unique skill set that propelled Noel to the top of the NBA Draft in 2013. The no. 6 overall pick found himself in Philadelphia via a trade on draft night after his draft stock took a slight hit due to a torn ACL.
The ACL injury occurred during his lone season at Kentucky, nearly 18 months ago. Since then, Noel has been preparing for his NBA debut with 18 months of intense rehab. He's even taken the time to develop a new weapon in his arsenal by working on his jump shot with Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown. The two spent time on the court before every 76ers game last season in order to completely rework Noel’s jumper. As a result, Noel feels more confident in his J than ever. The young big man was taking jumpers during his games at the Orlando Pro Summer League, which is a huge step considering that Noel didn’t register a single mid-range jump shot under John Calipari at Kentucky. His next big step will come when he finally appears in a real regular season game for the Philadelphia 76ers, which looks to be on October 29 in Indiana.
Last week, Noel was in attendance at Rucker Park, taking in the action between the EBC Rucker Park All-Stars and Reebok Breakout Camp All-Stars. Noel was sporting a pair of Reebok “First Ballot” Question Mids, which are a tribute to 76ers great Allen Iverson and AI's recent eligibility into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The “First Ballot” Question’s were launched on Friday, August 15th for $125 at retailers including Finish Line, Champs, Jimmy Jazz, Eastbay, Footaction, and Reebok.com. We caught up with Noel at the Rucker to talk about his relationships with 76ers teammates Michael Carter-Williams and Joel Embiid, his chances to win Rookie of the Year, and where he wants to spend his NBA years.
What’s your involvement with Reebok here today?
Just being out in this environment right here at Rucker Park, the mecca of New York basketball. I'm seeing what EBC and Reebok have put together with these great, young hoopers. I’m definitely excited to see what they put on tonight.
In Summer League on your first possession, you got the ball in the post, immediately went to a pump fake and dunked. How did that feel?
It felt great. Just to step on the court and have that be my first play. I tried to snap all of my jitters and I definitely did that. I was able to play the rest of that game confidently.
With the ACL rehab, was there anything you feel you had to limit or scale back in your game in Summer League?
Nah, I didn’t have to limit anything. I prepared for that moment for 18 months and I took it full force ahead. I didn’t showcase everything I wanted to, but I’m going to continue to work on it and improve my game.
You and Michael Carter-Williams were teammates in AAU, so how’s it been to reconnect with him on the Sixers?
Oh, it’s been fantastic. To grow up with Michael and be drafted to the same NBA team—I can’t put it into words. We already have chemistry from back in the day, so I’m real excited to start implementing that in the NBA.
Are you glad to be in a situation in Philly, where you can come in and play right away, rather than going behind someone and learning the ropes?
Y'know, I think I’m in a great position regardless, even if I had to go behind someone. We have a great GM in Sam Hinkie and I think he’s really going to put us in a great position to win and to get better as an organization.
So, what’s your relationship like with Joel Embiid?
I haven’t actually met him, but we’ve had brief texting conversations. Obviously you see from what he puts on Twitter that he has a great personality. I’m definitely looking forward to meeting him and developing that relationship and brothership we need to have in order to be a great tandem.
When you two do step on the court together, do you know who’s going to play the four and five, or is that something that’s just going to get worked out?
It’s definitely going to get worked out. I really see nothing wrong with playing with him. I’m sure a lot of people don’t either. I’m sure, defensively, you don’t really have to say much for that and I think offensively it’s going to be able to work. We both are going to be able to develop our games by the time he starts playing, and we’ll be able to complement each other on the court very well.
I know Brett Brown worked with you on your jumper before every game when you were rehabbing last season. How do you feel with your jump shot right now?
I feel a lot better and I have so much more confidence to perform with it. I’ve come so far with it. Being able to continue to work on it and to hit it consistently during the game will take my game to another level.
Your free throws were going down consistently too. Did you go 7-for-7 in the first Summer League game?
Yeah, the first time. I still have work to put in, but that was a good start.
With the loaded rookie class this year, not a lot of people are talking about you for Rookie of the Year. Maybe they don’t realize you’re in the running. Do you feel like you have a good shot to win the award?
I mean, why not? It’s not the biggest thing out there, but if I can go out there and play hard, I can potentially win it. It’s not the biggest thing. I just want to get better as a young player in this league and continue to do well.
With Michael Carter-Williams winning it last year, would it be special for you to win it this year? I don’t know if two teammates have ever won it in back-to-back years.
It would definitely be special for me and Michael, but mostly for the city of Philadelphia. That’s a special thing to be done. Has it been done?
I’m not sure, I don’t think it has. [Ed. Note—It has happened four times in NBA history. The last time it occurred was in 1973 and 1974 when Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio each won the award as teammates on the Buffalo Braves.]
Yeah, me neither. But that'd be good for the confidence for the future of Philadelphia, to win it back-to-back, especially with Michael being the first Sixer to win it since A.I.
Is there anyone that you look up to in the NBA?
I definitely look up to Kevin Garnett. He’s one of my role models and favorite players to this day. I steadily watch his game and try to implement certain things into mine.
Do you want to be the player that stays in one place his whole career?
Oh, definitely. I want to be in Philly for the rest of my career. It’s a great city, so passionate. That’s all I wanted in an NBA team. I’m here, so I really want to make the best of it and bring the most to that city.