By Art Beitchman, DOCBLOG
The much anticipated NBA debut of Sixers center Nerlens Noel created quite a buzz last Saturday in the nondescript outpost of Orlando’s Amway Arena.
Sporting the PHILA No. 4 jersey, and with less than a minute played, the 6-11, 228-pound Noel got the ball on the right block, jab-stepped, turned and went up strong with the right hand and powerfully slam-dunked his first two NBA points.
It was only a Summer League game, but he was making the statement — “I’m here and I’m here to play!”
With a flurry of offensive moves to the rack, a short left-handed hook shot, a slicing dash through the lane with a scoop shot, and one, for the old fashioned three point play, Noel didn’t look like a player off for a year and a half. Rather, against an Orlando Magic team he looked like a player who would be worthy of the first overall pick in the NBA draft last season without the knee injury. Noel’s line read 19 points, 4 steals, 1 block, and 2 rebounds, a very solid first game in a game his team lost.
NN was given the day off for the back-to-back games the 76ers were playing, and it’s a smart move to take it slow with a major building block. And, on Tuesday night he scored eight points and had six rebounds in 24 minutes in a win over Houston.
On a bit of a somber note, point guard Pierre Jackson was playing terrifically for the 6:55 of playing time he got in the first quarter. Suddenly, he was on the floor writhing in pain, later diagnosed as a ruptured Achilles tendon. A terrible break for the young guy who looked to be in line for the back up point guard role this coming season.
Noel’s playing time will be monitored the rest of the Orlando league play. The 76ers will also participate in the Las Vegas Summer League, which will begin July 11. Noel is not on the roster for that trip.
The second game for the Sixers in Orlando was on Sunday, and as I was charging my cell phone in the media room before the game. In walked GM Sam Hinkie, and I told him, “I’m on board” with the moves he has made and his draft picks. He walked over and I introduced myself and Hinkie shot back with a wry smile “You’re the only one.”
As game time approached I went out to the court to find the best seat, front row side line, foul line extended. Minutes later Hinkie and coach Brett Brown found seats on the second row right behind me.
Right off the bat the quality of the Thunder game was sharper than the first. Point guard Casper Ware was directing action, taking the place of the injured Jackson. Ware might be the front runner for back up point guard.
Travis Bader was knocking down 3-pointers from the corner with ease, and he’s another guy getting a good look from the Sixers brass. Bader went to Oakland University, and amazingly holds the NCAA record for 3-pointers made, 504. Bader has good size at 6’5” and has gotten interest from other clubs, including the Warriors, for whom he’s going to play in the Las Vegas Summer League.
I was a bit surprised how these rookies and free agents were busting their butts in these games, and I asked Brown what he thought of the effort. “Oh yeah,” he said, “these guys are really competing out here for jobs”.
One of those guys is rookie free agent Talib Zanna, who played at Pitt last season. At 6’9″, 232 pounds, he was all over the place in the first half, on the boards, blocking shots, taking charges. Look for Zanna to be a sleeper to make the team come fall.