When you think of the 76er’s “Process” days, one of the very first players to kickstart this movement was that of Nerlens Noel. The sixth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Noel had an up and down start to his career in Philly before ultimately finding his niche as a role player in today’s league.
The acquisition of Nerlens by the Sixers is what many people view as general manager Sam Hinkie’s first major move. Trading away an established star in Jrue Holiday, the 76ers landed the 19-year-old big man coming out of Kentucky.
As per usual with Sixers rookies, Noel missed the entire 2013-2014 season as he recovered from knee surgery (which he had undergone to repair a torn ACL). Noel made his debut the following year, averaging 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in his rookie season.
Noel would go on to average similar numbers the next season before ultimately becoming pretty vocal about his frustrations with the Sixers organization. With newer draft picks like Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor starting to garner more of the playing time down low, Noel was beginning to get phased out of the rotation.
With Noel clearly wanting out, Sam Hinkie managed to ship him away to the Dallas Mavericks at the 2016 trade deadline, receiving back a future first-round pick. A deal that the 76ers very clearly won.
At this point in time, chatter surrounding Noel pretty much died out. Unless you were a big-time Mavs fan, most NBA watchers were pretty much writing him off as a bust.
Despite what was appearing to be a failed start to his career, Noel impressed the Mavs just enough to receive a quite surprising contract offer prior to the 2017 season. The Mavericks officially offered him $70 million dollars over four years, clearly banking on the fact that they expected the young center to continue developing.
Shockingly, Noel declined this offer, instead opting to take a one-year deal with the team. Noel was betting on himself, hoping that he could earn an even bigger payday the following offseason.
Unfortunately, Noel would undergo yet another major injury the following season, tearing a ligament in his left thumb. Later in the year, he was also suspended for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. After turning down $70 million dollars less than 12 months before, Noel was now looking at a very quiet market for himself in free agency.
Noel signed a league-minimum one year deal (included a player option for year two) with the OKC Thunder in 2018, posting average numbers in a backup role with the team. After the season, he declined his player option, once again hitting the open market looking for a payday. Noone came calling, and he simply returned to the Thunder on another minimum deal.
Before this year’s NBA season got suspended, Noel was actually putting up half-decent numbers in his role with the Thunder. 7.7 points per game on 68.5% from the field, while playing just 18.4 minutes per game.
Ultimately, Noel’s career post-Philly turned out to be a bit silly. After failing to live up to his #6 overall pick hype, Noel was given a shot at redemption in Dallas with that big contract offer. After foolishly turning it down, Noel has now been forced into a role of trying to rediscover himself as a backup. However, at still just 25 years old there’s hope that the athletic big man could one day evolve into a starting center.