Adding to the prolonged disappointment of the 2013 rookie class is the fact that Nerlens Noel -- one of the most tantalizing first-year players in the league -- has yet to play a single NBA game. That could soon be remedied, as Noel tweeted out a date without explanation that just so happens to align with the Sixers' game against his hometown Celtics.
— Nerlens Noel (@NerlensNoel3) March 9, 2014
According to Keith Pompey of the Philadeliphia Inquirer, that date is more of a personal target for Noel than anything, and one he had not yet disclosed to the Sixers as of Sunday. Still, we're entering the stage of the season where Noel's appearance is at least a reasonable possibility, despite the long-held contention from the Sixers that he could miss the full 82-game campaign. Noel's extended absence is due to an ACL tear he suffered in February of last year, before his NBA career even began.
Since being selected with the No. 6 pick in last summer's draft, Noel has undergone a steady training regimen to get his knee and his game ready for the rigors of the NBA. Early in the season the Sixers undertook what coach Brett Brown characterized as a "complete rebuild" of Noel's shooting form -- a lengthy, deliberate process to help him become more of an offensive threat. That kind of shooting work was perfect for a player working on a shaky knee, and allowed him to progress in his skill work while rehabilitating his surgically repaired ACL.
Noel has progressed to the point where he looks confident pushing and jumping off his knee in practice, and of late he's begun actually working against live bodies rather than drills exclusively. Still, Brown has emphasized repeatedly just how far away Noel is from even scrimmaging at this point, much less playing in a full-speed, full-contact game. He might yet play on April 4th as intended, but between now and then Noel will need to clear a few diagnostic hurdles to wrap up his rehabilitation, and progress as to satisfy both himself and the Sixers.