LAS VEGAS -- Early in the second quarter of a summer league game against the Cavaliers this week, 76ers coach Chad Iske pivoted on the sideline and walked toward the end of the bench. He looked up, down and back onto the floor. Anywhere, really, but in the direction of Nerlens Noel, the 6-foot-11 big man with the Kid ‘n Play flat top eagerly trying to make eye contact.
“He always wants back in the game so quick,” Iske said. “Every time I look at him it’s, I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready."
Summer league rosters are generally divided into two types of players. There are the rookies, such as Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, who are making their NBA debut. And there are fringe players -- the second-round picks, the journeymen, the vagabonds and the soon-to-be vagabonds -- who are hoping to do enough to earn an invitation to training camp. In some ways Noel, 20, who missed last season while recovering from a knee injury, fits into both categories. The sixth pick in the 2013 draft is a ballyhooed prospect and a curiosity, a product of Kentucky’s pro-producing factory with something to prove.
“He definitely wants to impress,” Iske said. “He wants to prove he’s the guy many thought that, if healthy, would have been the No. 1 pick.”
To recap: A defensive-minded human pogo stick, Noel was on track to lead a less than stellar draft class before tearing his left ACL against Florida in February of his freshman season. Noel slid to No. 6, and New Orleans promptly traded his rights to Philadelphia for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. The rebuilding Sixers, Noel said, “put no pressure on me” to return. In fact, Noel says he could have come back in late March. But after discussions with his agent and team officials, he elected to sit out the remainder of the season.