Norvel Pelle packed plenty of action, energy, drama and joy into his 12 minutes and 38 seconds of playing time Thursday night in the Sixers’ 109-98 win over the Celtics.
Early in the fourth quarter and late in a second stint during which he’d seemingly expended everything he had to offer, Pelle leaped with Enes Kanter, watched the Celtics center’s dunk attempt thud off the back of the rim and wagged his finger like Dikembe Mutombo.
NO— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 10, 2020
- Norvel Pelle, definitely. pic.twitter.com/y2gBcInDBl
As he’s shown in his nine NBA games, Pelle enjoys jousting at the rim. He was credited with two blocks Thursday night in addition to six points and four rebounds, but he altered several other shots.
“Of course,” he told reporters. “Of course. … Blocking shots is like my go-to, as you guys can tell. And that frustration, seeing it in their faces and whatnot, thinking that they got the open lane and got the shot and it's getting thrown into the stands — it's pleasing to me.”
Though Brett Brown experimented with Ben Simmons as a small-ball center in the first half, Pelle was Al Horford’s primary backup Thursday. With Joel Embiid out because of a torn ligament in his left hand, Pelle played over eighth-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn.
Even before the news of Embiid’s injury, the Sixers were approaching a key moment with Pelle. As a two-way player, he’s only eligible for 45 days in the NBA between the start of G League training camp and the end of the G League regular season, and he cannot participate in the NBA playoffs. A source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Pelle has under a week of NBA days left. ESPN’s Bobby Marks puts the number at five.
Brown didn’t directly answer the question of whether he’d been swayed to believe that Pelle deserves to receive minutes and be part of the Sixers moving forward — and, of course, not all of that is in his control — but he did have ample praise.
Look at what he can do. Just zoom into what is his skill set. What is his NBA skill set? And let’s start with here’s a rim protector, and then go to offense and say here’s a roller. Those two things are quite valuable. And he’s quite different to our team. Then you get into OK, who’s going to run the pick-and-roll with him? You’ve got Ben [Simmons] and [Josh Richardson] that are exceptional at doing that. You’ve got Norvel rolling behind that, you can see why we would look at him as, ‘That’s a young prospect that interests us a lot.’ I thought he was excellent tonight.
Relatively speaking, Pelle is not, in fact, “young.” He’s a 26-year-old rookie who had an unconventional route to the NBA that didn’t include college basketball and stopped in what was then known as the D League, Lebanon, Taiwan and Italy.
While it’s possible he has unrealized potential, can polish his game, reduce his fouls and expand offensively, the present version of Pelle can help an NBA team.
Along with Pelle’s dwindling number of remaining NBA days, one reason the Sixers could be compelled to make a decision on him soon is that Jan. 15 is the final day players can sign two-way contracts. If they don’t give Pelle an NBA deal and also don’t waive him before that date, they would essentially have one two-way player with NBA time left in Marial Shayok.
It's a tricky situation, with the Sixers currently at the maximum of 15 players on the roster — meaning they'd need to create an open spot if they wished to add Pelle — plus their two-ways, Shayok and Pelle.
Embiid was in New York on Thursday night as he awaited surgery the following day, but his comments about Pelle on Dec. 14 seemed prescient as the Wells Fargo Center crowd rose for a standing ovation after a swaggering, lob-catching, rim-protecting showing.
“I told him if he got the minutes, he would probably lead the league in blocks,” Embiid had said. “He has a chance to become a fan favorite, so he should just keep doing whatever he’s doing.”
Pelle has indeed quickly risen to the ranks of fan favorite, or so it appears. He feels a connection with Philadelphia, too.
“Definitely, definitely,” he said. “Philly's known for just being hard-nosed and get the job done. Don't cry about it. And I feel like I can dictate that once I'm on the court.”
Like most backup big men, Pelle has flaws and limitations, but he also has skills that transfer well to the NBA, at least judging by the early returns.
And, if one happens to casually flip on a game, it typically won’t take long to know whether Pelle is on the court.
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