Over the next couple of weeks, we will evaluate the Sixers' roster following the 10-72 season.
Next up: Nerlens Noel
Status: Under contract 2016-17 for $4.38 million
In early-to-mid March, Noel scored in double figures in six straight games. The Sixers actually won one of those. In a victory over the visiting Brooklyn Nets, Noel was everywhere. He scored 13 points (on 60 percent shooting from the field) and added 11 rebounds, two assists, three blocks and two steals. He made only one of three shots from the line, but his overall impact on that particular game was obvious.
Noel in 2015-16
Noel played 67 games, which was eight fewer than his rookie year. He had 16 double-doubles, including three in the final four games of the season. In his second season, he increased his points per game to 11.1 while his rebounds and steals held steady at 8.1 and 1.8 respectively. He had some highlight-reel dunks. His field goal percentage jumped dramatically from 46.2 percent in his first season to 52.1 percent. His free-throw number slipped slightly to 59 percent, and his blocks dipped a touch to 1.5 per game. But in a year when Noel was moved away from the basket and frequently asked to perform different functions on the offensive and defensive ends than he did in his first season, he showed good versatility and an ability to influence games in a variety of ways. Accordingly, his PER increased from a league-average 15.0 to 16.2.
It's no surprise that some of Noel's best games - including the aforementioned stretch in early-to-mid March - occurred with Jahlil Okafor out of the lineup. Brett Brown and the Sixers tried mightily all season to solve Noel/Okafor dilemma. There was a period there, after they re-acquired Ish Smith, when both bigs played well and did so together. But on the whole, the pair made for an odd or at least imperfect fit together.
Noel demonstrated an ability to step out and play perimeter defense against stretch-fours. Noel's length and quickness make him a problem for smaller players who prefer to get to the rim, and he frequently used those same abilities to clog passing lanes and get steals. But Noel's primary talent is still what it was last season - rim protection. The problem is that Noel can't be deployed that way at the same time as Okafor because, as Brown admitted during the season, Okafor's body type and skill set pretty much handcuff him to the paint. Which means Noel is forced to do other things by default.
A year ago, opponents shot just 44.9 percent at the rim against Noel, per NBA.com. That's an outstanding number - better/lower than respected rim protectors like Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan, among others. This year, though, with his new duties, that number spiked - opponents shot 48.6 percent against Noel at the rim. That has a lot to do with how he was utilized defensively, the position he was in when those shots happened and the players he was guarding this year compared to last. But still, the number went up, and it was only slightly better than what defensive liability Okafor managed (opponents shot 49.9 percent at the rim against the rookie).
It was only one season, but the idea of pairing those two together longterm was always a hopeful one. It didn't seem like a great fit in theory, and it wasn't really a great fit in real-world execution. And next season, potentially, the Sixers will have to fold in Joel Embiid. That's a lot of guys who are ostensibly better closer to the basket than they are away from it. It would seem that one of them has to go eventually. Unlike Okafor, Noel isn't a great scorer. But unlike Okafor, Noel does a lot of different things beyond scoring. He's a more versatile player, which makes him a valuable asset whether they keep him or move him.
On Nerlens Noel
"Nerlens, if he's anything, is an A-plus athlete. I think the speed factor can put out fires for us for that reason." (see story) - Brown
"I think it's pretty obvious I do feel more comfortable at the five, but I'm still capable of being a good perimeter defender." - Noel