67RIEFNS No. 29: Nerlens Noel’s long-awaited debut

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

I would have drafted Nerlens Noel No. 1 in 2013.

Yes, his injury worried me, but not because he might not contribute for a full year. The Cavaliers, who had the top pick, didn’t make the playoffs anyway. What did they gain by allowing Noel to fall (all the way to No. 6, where New Orleans picked him and traded him to the 76ers).

I wasn’t even worried about Noel falling behind. The list of players picked so high since the NBA-ABA merge whose debuts were delayed an entire season, though far from perfect, is pretty impressive:

  • Jonas Valanciunas
  • Ricky Rubio
  • Blake Griffin
  • Greg Oden
  • Danny Ferry
  • David Robinson
  • Larry Bird

The only real concern was the injury robbing him permanently of even a little athleticism, a skill necessary for his game. [Interjection: As high as I was on Noel just a year ago, I had to spend time now reviewing his game to write this. I seriously forgot so much about how he played. That’s what a year off will do. It’s also why I’m so excited to see him in action].

Noel was/is a phenomenal leaper, which allowed him to block a ton of shots and finish at the rim. Add agility to guard the pick-and-roll and quick hands to get steals, and Noel has ridiculous defensive potential. His offensive game is raw, but as long as he sticks to doing what he does well – working in the paint – he should be fine. If the tanking 76ers want to let him spread his wings while they’re interested in losing, that’s fine, too.

For Noel to succeed long-term, he must show his athleticism has remained in tact. That’s the big question he can answer this season.

In time, he’ll have to refine his game, but there’s no rush in Philadelphia. As long as Noel’s athleticism — i.e., his upside — hasn’t escaped him, the 76ers can afford to be patient.

The key is getting Noel on the court so he can test his athleticism — and show off that hair.