Poor work ethic keeping former Sixer Nerlens Noel benched in Dallas

By Brandon Apter, Sports Talk Philly editor

One of the biggest theme's of Sam Hinkie's process was to acquire assets and build through the draft. One of the first moves he made as the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers was trading Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for defensively-gifted big man Nerlens Noel. The former Kentucky standout sat out his first season with an ACL tear, but quickly became a fan favorite in Philadelphia due to his rim protection skills and pace of play on offense. Over the process years though, the front court became jammed with big men. The Sixers drafted Joel Embiid in 2014 and Jahlil Okafor in 2015 and although Embiid missed two seasons to start his career, the logjam of centers became a hot topic around the team and some of that still remains.

Fast forward to where we are now and the Sixers have themselves a superstar in Embiid, Okafor's still on the trade block and they've parted ways with Noel. Last season, it was widely believed and reported by multiple outlets that the Sixers were very close to trading Jahlil Okafor to New Orleans. That ended up falling through, the Pelicans got DeMarcus Cousins, and Jah remains on the Philadelphia's roster out of the rotation.

Fans were shocked, and frankly angered, when Nerlens Noel was then dealt to the Mavericks as Bryan Colangelo dealt the more skilled player and got practically nothing in return. Noel was going to have a chance to be the Mavericks starting big man and showed flashes of brilliance in his first partial season with Dallas, but boy have things changed. This season, he's started six of his 18 games, but has played six minutes or less in 11 of Dallas' last 14. He's missed the last three due to a thumb injury, but even before then, Noel was falling out of the rotation. During Noel's time in Philadelphia, some questioned his work ethic and attitude. It seems that trend has followed him to Dallas. Newy Scruggs of the Dallas Morning News reports that Noel's poor work ethic is why he's not being played, which is quite shocking for a guy trying to get a max contract.

My sources tell me that Nerlens Noel is not known as a hard worker.

I cannot for the life of me understand that if a player decides to turn down a 4-year, $72 million contract to bet on himself getting a max deal why that player would not be in top shape and perform at a level the club has never seen. This should have been a career year for Noel. Now he is stuck on the bench with too many DNP-Coaches decision for a stat line.

Noel, 23, was reportedly offered a four-year, $72 million contract prior to the season, but it was rescinded after he requested a max deal and instead took a one-year qualifying offer worth $4 million instead. That put him in place to play himself into a max contract situation next offseason. For a guy who said he was "too good" to be playing just eight minutes a night in Philadelphia, he's not even doing enough to get on the court for anything but garbage time on a team without a logjam of centers. The Mavericks are even better with him defensively when he is off the floor. He's got a team-worst net rating of -22.7 and defensive rating of 115.7, which is a bit surprising for a player known for his defense. His net rating of -22.7 is 419th in the NBA among guys that play 12+ minutes per game and 95th among centers, ahead of only Cristiano Felicio (CHI, -28.6) and former teammate Jahlil Okafor (-33.7).

So far this season, Noel is averaging just four points and 4.1 rebounds per in 12.5 minutes per game and has been reprimanded by coach Rick Carlisle on numerous occasions. Carlisle tells his players that minutes must be earned, and right now, Noel hasn't earned them over his teammates.

“Minutes have to be earned,” he said. “If it’s between him and Salah, Salah has earned the minutes. There’s no doghouse here. It’s pretty simple. You compete, and if you earn minutes, you get minutes. And you’ve got to compete to keep them, because it’s a competitive situation.”

Looking back on the trade now, Noel still would've signed with another team after the 2016-17 season, so he was not going to be a Sixer. Bryan Colangelo dealt Noel to Dallas for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and two second round picks. Bogut, to no one's surprise, did not suit up for the Sixers. One of the two second round picks was dealt to the Clippers on draft night and the other one is not due up until 2020. That leaves us with a trade that looks like Justin Anderson straight up for Nerlens Noel. At the time, people were furious about the return, but now, it's a bit easier to swallow. Sure, Justin Anderson isn't a regular rotation guy for Brett Brown, but his energy, activity on defense and presence on the bench/locker room seems like a win for the Sixers, especially with how the Noel situation has developed.

Since the trade, Justin Anderson has played in 34 games, averagin 7.4 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 44.3 percent from the floor. Anderson's defensive rating is a 110 and he's a -0.6 in offensive box +/-. Those numbers won't blow anyone away, but it's baffling that they are even close to the numbers of Noel, a guy who has been heralded as an NBA starting center by many in his first few years in the league. Noel, since joining the Mavericks, has played in 40 games and is averaging 6.5 points and 5.6 rebounds. He's shooting 56.1 percent from the field with a defensive rating of 102 and an offensive box +/- worse than Anderson (-2).

Let's be real. Nerlens Noel has a better skillset than a guy like Justin Anderson, but at this point, Anderson's qualities on and off the court seem to outweigh Noel's issues in Dallas. 

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