Nerlens Noel, Brett Brown meet to lay out roadmap upon his return

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Nerlens Noel, who has been out since October following knee surgery, is getting close to returning to action.

It’s going to be a different front line than the one Noel played in last season — Joel Embiid is now on the court and looking like a franchise cornerstone at center. There is Ersan Ilyasova starting at the four, Jahlil Okafor is getting run off the bench, Dario Saric is showing promise (and will ultimately be a stretch four), and at some point this season the Sixers hope to need to fit Ben Simmons into the rotation (maybe as a big three). Brett Brown is trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together, and where Noel is in that mix.

Noel and Brown sat down and talked about that, reports Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“First, (I want Noel) just embracing the team aspect of everything,” Brett Brown said after practice. “To come into this and to try to draw his own line in the sand and reclaim minutes that he will want. This is going to be on a deserved basis. We have a lot of people at that spot. We will help him. I will coach him. I will put him in an environment where he can succeed and get him back in shape and integrate him with the team….

“He’s different than all of our five men,” Brown said. “He’s probably more like Richaun (Holmes) than he is anybody else. He’s an elite roller. He gets out of pick-and-rolls quick. He is a big lob guy …  I think that defensively he’s very disruptive in his pick-and-roll defense. … He can make plays at the rim, he’s an elite shot blocker.

“It’s just Nerlens being Nerlens. Notice I haven’t said anything about just becoming a really reliable 18-foot jump shooter or really becoming a 90 percent free throw shooter. It’s just effort, athleticism, fitness, energy stuff.”

Noel used that energy to get 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game last season. This season he’s going to have to carve out a bit of a different niche — he struggled at the four last year but he’s not starting over Embiid. That energy could make him a good backup, but if he wants a bigger role than that he needs to carve it out. Can he do that?

If Noel plays well upon his return — and likely even if he doesn’t — his name is going to come up in trade talks. The Sixers are going to need to move some from that logjam in the front court, and athletic rim protectors are in demand around the league. Teams have concerns about his maturity (it’s something discussed around the league) but that potential is hard to overlook. That said, teams will want to see him healthy and playing before they do anything.