What Position Should Nerlens Noel Play in 2014?


After waiting and enduring an incredibly tough season, the 2014-15 season for the Philadelphia 76ers will give fans a chance to finally see Nerlens Noel. The prized big man was on the shelf for all of 2013-14 recovering from his torn ACL, but he’s 100 percent recovered and ready to go.

With the 76ers drafting Kansas big man Joel Embiid with the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, it sprouted questions about how — and if — the two could co-exist in the same offense. It’s quite obvious that the Sixers believe the two can co-exist, but Embiid will miss some — if not all — of this season recovering from a foot injury. While the 76ers will wait for another big man to heal, the 76ers have to figure out what to do with Nerlens Noel this season.

Having two big men is a problem, but sometimes problems can be good. The twin towers potential of Embiid and Noel is scary when one realizes the problems that could make defensively. The offensive side of the ball, however, is where things need to be worked out. Even though Embiid is on the shelf, Nerlens will be playing a full season this year and his position should be settled. If Nerlens is going to be the power forward next to Embiid, then play him at that position this season, the same with the center position.

Since it appears that Thaddeus  Young will be out of the picture, let’s assume that Jarvis Varnado and Henry Sims are going to be in the front court with Noel. Anthony Bennett is a possibility, but that won’t be figured out for at least another week. It’s time to figure out how the 76ers will employ their front court for this season that will embody the 76ers front court of the future.

Jarvis Varnado was brought up from the D-League last season and stuck around with the Sixers for 23 games. Varnado averaged 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game. His per-36 statistics show that he can possibly produce 10 points and seven rebounds per game if the minutes are there.

Shotchart via Vorped.com

It’s not surprise that Varnado’s shot chart from his time with Philadelphia shows a player that didn’t roam out of the point that much. Even though the sample is limited, Varnado still shot very well from mid-range. Varnado was 12-for-20 (60 percent) on mid-range jumpers. But, the sample was very limited and we would need to see a much larger sample to come away with any conclusions about Varnado’s mid-range game.

If it’s Nerlens Noel and Jarvis Varnado on the court together, I’m more comfortable with Noel playing the power forward position. Now, in today’s NBA, positions aren’t as important as they used to be. On defense, the 76ers should always want Noel patrolling the paint and near the rim, but for offensive purposes, it would be beneficial to get him around the perimeter to see how his jump shot is coming along.

Shotchart via Vorped.com

Above is Henry Sims’ shot chat from 2013-14 with the 76ers and Cavaliers. On the season, Sims averaged 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game. From looking at his shot chart, it’s obvious that Sims isn’t comfortable with shooting from the perimeter. There’s a much larger sample with Sims ( 99 shots compared to 20 for Varnado), but 41 percent isn’t good. It’s obvious that Henry shouldn’t be playing the power forward position.

All in all, neither Varnado or Sims are good options at the power forward position. On defense, both are noticeably slower than Nerlens Noel and it would be a nightmare to watch those two try to chase around quicker PFs. Noel is much more equipped to chase shooting PFs around the perimeter and has a better propensity to create turnovers.

However, for the sake of the 2013-14 season, it seems the best option would to be slotting Noel at the power forward position, at least on offense. If he can develop a consistent knockdown jumper from 16 feet than he will be respected on the perimeter, which will only open up his game. The 76ers should still find every way possible to keep Noel around the rim on defense, which I believe they will do.