Nerlens Noel has played only two games this season after recovering from elective knee surgery, and already the frustrations he expressed about the Sixers' roster at the start of training camp have come to the surface.
After playing only 8:02 — all in the first half — of the Sixers' 100-89 loss to the Lakers on Friday night (see Instant Replay), Noel voiced his frustration with his lack of playing time and constitution of the roster. He scored two points (1 for 4 from the field) with five rebounds and a blocked shot.
“I just want to play basketball,” Noel said in response to whether or not he wanted to be paired with another center. “I don’t really care who I’m playing with. I’m not an eight-minute player so I don’t know what that’s about. I don’t really care. I need to be on the court playing basketball. I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”
Noel was listed as questionable throughout the day and was cleared to play just over 30 minutes before game time. He had suffered a sprained left ankle in his return on Sunday and sat out Wednesday’s game.
Fellow big men Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor played 29 and 24 minutes, respectively. Even with Noel clocking eight minutes, Richaun Holmes did not play.
“It was a matter of minutes,” head coach Brett Brown said. “I felt like when they started going small something had to give. And Nerlens was a casualty to that, as well as his health is not 100 percent."
The Sixers have been trying to maneuver their overcrowded frontcourt, a challenge that’s carried over from last season. One approach has been playing (and starting) Embiid and Okafor together. Brown has the option of trying a new duo of Embiid and Noel, or giving Noel and Okafor another look. On Friday, Noel played the traditional four-five combination with Ersan Ilyasova.
Noel understands Brown has a tall task on his hands trying to get all his players on the court with only so many minutes to go around. Playing two centers has also meant taking Ersan Ilyasova out of the starting lineup and shifting Dario Saric to small forward in many instances.
Noel is not surprised by the current obstacles created by the abundance of bigs. Prior to his return, he commented, “I don't think the roster's changed” in regard to the logjam.
“I anticipated this,” Noel said. “Like I said before, I think it’s just too much on the coach’s plate. Pretty much, I think like I said, the guys that run the operations, they do what they do.”
Noel is not hiding his strong opinion of the state of the Sixers. At the same time, there is only so much he can do. His job is to play basketball, not make roster changes.
“I control what I can control,” Noel said. “I’m that smart. I know I’m still in a situation. The smartest thing I can do is control what I can control and work hard and work on the things I need to work on. But like I said, it’s just too much on the coach’s plate. So regardless of who handles it, I think there’s a lot of frustration.”
But if it were up to Noel, what would he like to see happen?
“Ideally, I’d just like to be playing basketball,” he said. “Just doing my thing carefree.”