Nerlens Noel’s Offensive Game Still Limited

Feb 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) at Wells Fargo Center. The Orlando Magic won 124-115. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) and Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) at Wells Fargo Center. The Orlando Magic won 124-115. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Nerlens Noel is a great NBA player and rim defender, but his offensive abilities are still quite limited.

Nerlens Noel‘s achilles heel since he first stepped on an NBA court has been his offensive game. The defensive natural has found ways to mold himself into a valuable young player, mainly with athleticism and a knack for big time blocks. Noel has seen a decrease in offensive usage since the arrival of his polar opposite center in rookie Jahlil Okafor, but what has been disappointing in Noel’s game is the lack of development on the offensive side of the ball.

Noel has been known for posterizing dunks and blocking potential posterizing dunks, but is that enough to build a team around him? Reports of him working on his jump shot were released in August, yet we have hardly seen that translate to in-game scenarios. Noel is shooting just 31 percent from 10 to 16 feet, and 24 percent from 16 feat to just before the 3-point line. The lack of this development has led to a spacing struggle between Noel and Okafor, although the pair has been improving together lately. Okafor has shot slightly better from the same distances, shooting 35.3 percent and 27.4 percent respectively.

In addition to the poor shooting performances, Noel has shown tentativeness in the paint. Noel has struggled to finish on the left side of the basket, and has struggled to finish what seemed to be his go-to running left-handed hook shot. Noel’s quickness should provide him with an advantage over bigger centers, but he has struggled to gain any leverage with his shaky post-ups and lack of face-up moves. He has also rushed short range attempts by quickly trying put in standing floaters over defenders. It is clear Noel is still trying to find his ways to score other than transition dunks and lobs.

His offensive limits are reminiscent of a lesser version of Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who is also known for his blocking and incredible dunks. The question the Sixers must ask is whether Noel can ever effectively polish an adequate offensive game that will take him from promising talent to an overall star. Hope for Noel to become more effective offensively should not be totally lost, however. The Clippers saw huge improvement from forward Blake Griffin, who started to shoot consistently from mid-range after his second season, never dipping below 35.6 percent from 10 to 16 ft. since the 2011-12 season.

Noel still has a tendency to call for the ball near the 3-point line adjacent to the left elbow, which often leads to tough drives with his weak hand or turnovers due to poor handles. It is encouraging to see aggressiveness from otherwise shaky center, but it hinders the flow of the offense when contested layups are put up by what can be considered to be least fundamentally skilled offensive players in the team’s starting five.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 1.11.16 AM
Nerlens Noel’s 2015-2016 shot chart as of March 1st, 2016. The chart shows Noel’s tendency to go towards the left side of the basket. (Courtesy of /

For Noel to take himself from the third scoring option on this bottom-feeding Sixers team to a solid second option on a competitive playoff contender, he must start showing major improvement on the offensive side as soon as possible. With big men Joel Embiid and Dario Saric set to join a clustered front court, Noel’s time to prove that he could be a cornerstone player is starting to close ever so slightly. Noel, at worst, could be a Tyson Chandler-type on a playoff team. Impacting the defensive side is important, but is imperative for Noel to develop a more solidified offensive game.

Next: Will the Sixers be shopping for guards?

This is why the call to trade Okafor by some seemed baffling. It seems that some view Noel as the guy to build around, but trading the team’s most consistent scorer as a rookie would continue to set the team back. Noel will be apart of this Sixers squad for the long haul, but it is up to his willingness to improve drastically on the weak parts of his game to define his role with this team. For Noel, the difference between solid role player and dominant player could be just a jump shot or post move away.