Nerlens Noel has been the focal point of the Sixers’ center debate all season. He has been outspoken about the current logjam, and on Sunday, Brett Brown announced Noel will not be part of the Sixers’ regular rotation as he'll continue to start start Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.
Noel is not the only five-man impacted by this new-look lineup. He felt the effects of the pairing in his second game of the season, playing just eight minutes on Friday against the Lakers. Noel missed the first 23 games with elective left knee surgery, and completed the first part of his rehab in Birmingham, Alabama, away from the team.
A healthy Richaun Holmes has been impacted the entire season.
“I feel worse for Richaun,” Brown said, when asked after Sunday's win whether Noel has received a fair look in his two games. “I think that when I put my human hat on and then you go coach a team ... make decisions, show leadership, that stands out to me as much as anything. Nerlens missed everything. Twenty minutes before the game last week (Friday), I learned he was going to play. He hasn’t been a part of us.
“I’ve spoken freely about my fondness for Nerlens Noel,” Brown said. “I’ve been with him since he was here. We will help him. I will coach him and I will help him. What that means, we won’t see on the floor and maybe that’s where I could help him the most. But I don’t believe at this moment that that is best for our team. So that’s what we’re going to do. There is nothing more important than the team.”
Noel has played a total of 18 minutes in two games this season. He made his return on Dec. 11 and suffered an ankle sprain during his first game against the Pistons. He sat out on Dec. 14 because of the injury and clocked eight minutes on Dec. 16 against the Lakers. After the game, he spoke out again on his frustration.
Holmes has appeared in 21 of the Sixers’ 27 games. He received two starts, utilized as an understudy for Embiid and Okafor. Holmes averaged 23.0 minutes in those starts and averages just 15.3 off the bench.
Those numbers don’t paint the full story, though. Holmes’ playing time has fluctuated depending on the availability of other bigs, his minutes ranging anywhere from 3 to 34 based on his role. He played less than 10 minutes in six of his games.
Brown consistently has commended Holmes’ work ethic and willingness to stay ready in spite of limited minutes dating back to his rookie year last season.
And while the roles of both Noel and Holmes are taking hits with the Embiid-Okafor pairing, Brown isn’t going to change his big-man approach for now. At some point, an assignment to the D-League could be an option to get Holmes playing time.
As for Noel, Brown will continue to work with him away from games if there are not minutes for him to play.
“I think this conversation goes to a higher level, a more real level in a few weeks when he’s (Noel’s) actually had some practices,” Brown said. “Richaun’s been here from day one (this season). I feel that is something that’s on my mind as much as Nerlens.”