Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown compared big man Nerlens Noel to Dikembe Mutombo and Bismack Biyombo, via the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey. Yes, there is a world of difference between the Hall of Famer and the Orlando Magic backup center, but both Mutombo and Biyombo knew their teams needed them to be defensive stoppers (and Biyombo sometimes wags his finger after blocks, Mutombo-style). Brown wants Noel to embrace that role and not worry much about expanding his offensive arsenal:
“Personally, I don’t care if he ever makes a jump shot for the rest of his life,” the coach said. “I mean that. That’s not how his bread is buttered.”
“Nerlens has got elite gifts,” Brown said. “He’s as athletic and quick off the floor and quick rim to rim as anyone that I’ve coached, as any big man in the league.”
Brown wants to tap into that.
“Do your job and we will help you,” he added. “The league will reward that. The 76ers will reward that. He will be rewarded for playing like that.”
Brown is right. Biyombo signed a four-year, $70 million contract with the Magic this summer despite only averaging (a career-high!) 5.5 points for the Toronto Raptors last season. Mutombo averaged 9.8 points over his career but is remembered as a dominant defensive force. Noel is more mobile than both of them, and his quick hands mean he’s one of the best big men ever when it comes to getting steals. In today’s NBA, his skills are more valued than ever, so he doesn’t have to change his game to get a huge contract when he hits restricted free agency.
The key, though, is what position Noel plays. At a recent Philadelphia Eagles game, a fan asked Brown whether Noel would play the 4 or the 5. Brown answered like this:
Ding ding ding. As a power forward, Noel’s rim protection is less useful and his weak jump shot is more harmful. When the Sixers played him next to center Jahlil Okafor last season, the results were ugly. Even though Noel is a pretty good passer and he moves his feet like a wing player, it is clear that his best position is center. And that’s why Brown’s comment that “the 76ers will reward” Noel is questionable.
Philadelphia has been reportedly shopping both Noel and Okafor for months. They’re both best at the 5, and the same is true of Joel Embiid, the potentially franchise-changing big man who says he is healthy after missing two seasons because of foot surgeries. Investing in Noel could be a misallocation of resources for Philly.
It’s funny that Brown says he doesn’t care whether Noel ever makes a jump shot. If Noel could consistently make jumpers, then playing him alongside Embiid and Okafor would be a lot more manageable. Sometimes, though, what’s best for a player’s development isn’t necessarily best for his team. In a similar situation a couple of years ago, the Utah Jazz tried to turn Enes Kanter into a stretch big man, encouraging him to shoot 3-pointers so the floor wouldn’t be cramped when he played next to Derrick Favors. That experiment failed miserably.
The Sixers are obviously going a different route. Brown wants Noel to do what he does best, and that means playing him primarily at center. With this frontcourt logjam, Noel’s minutes could be reduced in a contract year.
If that’s the case, then Brown should again point to Biyombo. In Toronto, the defensive specialist averaged just 22 minutes, and that number was inflated because starting center Jonas Valanciunas missed 22 games. Biyombo flourished in that role, though, and earned himself a massive payday. If Noel isn’t traded, that’s a good model to follow.
Source: CBS Sports / Sixers coach Brett Brown isn’t worried about what Nerlens Noel can’t do