Center or power forward? Power forward or center?
Nerlens Noel spent much of his sophomore season playing out of position while the Sixers worked to determine how to best utilize him and Jahlil Okafor when only one could start at the five spot.
Ultimately, Brett Brown decided at the All-Star Break to shift Noel back to center to maximize his rim protection. Moving into next season, Noel would like to focus on playing a dedicated position.
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"I think it's everything," Noel said. "If I'm able to just play center and just be at that spot primarily and grow from there, not jump around and mess with my tendencies on the defensive end or the offensive end -- I don't think it's benefiting me. So I think being at center primarily will help my game continue to grow."
When deciding how to play a pair of centers at the same time, the Sixers thought Noel's athleticism and defense would make him better suited out of the two to play at the four. Noel started 34 games at power forward this season, averaging 9.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. In his 28 starts at center, he averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Brown planned to use the second half of the season to continue sorting out the logjam. But Okafor played only six games after the break and was sidelined by a meniscus tear, which required surgery. The team would have liked to have seen more of the reversed pairing.
"I feel the injury to Jahlil never allowed us to fully assess how to best pair Nerlens and Jahlil," Brown said. "We started out the year feeling like Nerlens was the athlete amongst the two, and so Nerlens should be the one chasing four men around the perimeter and Jahlil should be back where Jahlil is probably best suited.
"Then after the All-Star break, we realized we've just took Nerlens, an elite shot blocker, an elite rim protector, out of his home plate. ... I think I know where they're both best suited, but I probably would more, we would have learned more, had you had more of a sample size."
Brown pointed out that with the NBA going small, often times fours stretch the floor beyond the three-point line. If Noel was playing that position, he would be pulled away from the basket, where the Sixers need him, to chase his man. Noel was the Sixers leading rebounder and ranked second on the team in blocks.
"I think Nerlens is best suited at the rim, protecting the rim," Brown said. "I see Tyson Chandler-ish, Joakim (Noah)-ish, I think that's where he is best suited."
Listed at 6-11, 228 pounds, Noel is looking to add strength and size this summer. He still wants to be versatile and plans to work on a 15-foot jumpshot, but he has plans to make more of an impact down low.
"(My offseason goal is) to get stronger," he said. "Probably put on 10, 15 pounds. I'm going to eat, a lot of shakes, and lift a lot of weights. I think once I do that, I'll be a lot more of an effective player throughout the whole game."
This season was one of change for Noel. He's pleased with how he approached it and looks forward to having a more defined role.
"It was affecting [my game] at the beginning," Noel said of shifting positions. "It was a new thing. When you take on a new task it's always a little different and you have to adjust. But I think I did a good job of waiting it through and finding my spots."