Norvel Pelle

After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

After unusual path, showman Norvel Pelle doesn't 'mess up' his moment

Norvel Pelle is not the typical NBA player.

A native of Antigua and Barbuda, Pelle was a top recruit out of high school — that part was normal. Then his path went sideways.

The wiry center never played college basketball because of eligibility issues. He traveled to Delaware, Italy, Taiwan and Lebanon before signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Sixers this summer and reaching Friday night, where Brett Brown turned to Pelle, in his third NBA regular-season game, as Joel Embiid’s main backup. 

“It’s just knowing that this opportunity is once in a lifetime,” Pelle told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I worked hard to get here and I can’t mess up. So, just getting the jitters out — obviously there are going to be jitters regardless, but just meditating and staying positive throughout the whole thing.”

In 12 minutes, Pelle was exceptionally active. He had six points, five rebounds, three blocks and a handful of altered shots. Every time Pelle has stepped on an NBA floor, it seems he has been immediately challenged by players on a mission to embarrass him. It hasn’t always gone his way. Julius Randle slammed one in over Pelle in his NBA debut in New York and Kevin Porter Jr. dunked on Pelle last Saturday and then flexed in his face despite the Cavs trailing by more than 40 points. 

A member of the G League’s All-Defensive First Team last season, Pelle sees no shame in taking the occasional ferocious dunk to the face. He’s a showman who enjoys playing to the crowd and feeds off its energy, and he never likes to show any fear. 

“Next play,” he said of his mentality. “Next play, next play, next play. At the end of the day, I’m a shot blocker, so if I get dunked on, I get dunked on — that’s my mentality. Next play.” 

After picking up two early fouls, Pelle waited out a series of pump fakes from former Sixer Jahlil Okafor to record his first block of the night, leading to a Ben Simmons dunk. He then denied a slam attempt by Brandon Ingram, creating a fast break that concluded with a James Ennis three. 

“You know every game he's going to bring you energy,” Simmons said following the Sixers' 116-109 win over the Pelicans (see observations). “He loves blocking shots, just risking his body for those blocks and protecting the rim. I love having him as a part of this team.”

Both Simmons and Brown said Pelle reminded them of Nerlens Noel. Like Noel, Pelle’s offensive game is not too extensive — it’s mostly screening and rolling, lob catching and energy. The defensive package, though, is intriguing.

“Just wanted to see what we have in him,” Brown said. “We had a little taste in New York. I wanted to see more. And I thought he was really good. I thought he was really good. He is sort of Nerlens like to me — rim protector, shot blocker, quick off the floor. I thought he was good.”

It’s uncertain whether Pelle could eventually have a consistent role with the Sixers. The man whose job he temporarily took Friday, Kyle O’Quinn, was signed this offseason to be insurance for Embiid. Al Horford should assume the primary backup center position once he returns from the left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness that’s sidelined him the past two games. 

Pelle’s two-way contract also means he can’t be with the Sixers for more than 45 days between the start of Blue Coats training camp and the end of the G League regular season, and he’s not eligible for the NBA playoffs.

Brown didn’t attribute Pelle’s five fouls vs. the Pelicans to being “undisciplined,” but the big man would likely need to refine his game a bit if he was tasked with a regular role.

Embiid wasn’t worried about any of that. 

“I told him if he got the minutes, he would probably lead the league in blocks,” he said. “He has a chance to become a fan favorite, so he should just keep doing whatever he’s doing.”

After all the empathic dunks and dramatic poses and swatted shots in foreign gyms, Pelle had time to reflect Friday night. 

“This was more than what I expected,” he said. “I’m appreciative of everything and everybody. I’m taking it day by day, moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity and just go out there and do what I have to do.”

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Tobias Harris delivers, Norvel Pelle brings the energy (and the blocks) as Sixers top Pelicans

Tobias Harris delivers, Norvel Pelle brings the energy (and the blocks) as Sixers top Pelicans


The Sixers’ home record is still unblemished.

They beat the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, 116-109, to move to 20-7 on the season and 14-0 at Wells Fargo Center. This was New Orleans’ 11th straight defeat. 

Tobias Harris scored a team-high 31 points on 12 for 20 shooting, helping the Sixers to overcome an uneven effort. 

Here are observations on the win: 

Harris and Simmons strike the right balance 

Yet again, Harris struck the right middle ground between letting the game come to him and forcing the issue offensively.

He scored nine points in the third quarter, including a three from the right corner when the Sixers were searching for something to wake them up. 

For Harris, this was another game in which he seemed to both understand and provide what the Sixers needed. 

Simmons imposed his physical advantages well and finished with 24 points, 11 assists and just one turnover. He missed three of his first four free throws when New Orleans turned to the "Hack-a-Simmons" strategy, then converted his next four.

Norvel Pelle, undeterred 

Two-way player Norvel Pelle initially received the backup center minutes over veteran Kyle O’Quinn.

In his third NBA regular-season game, Pelle quickly picked up two fouls on aggressive challenges at the rim. The 26-year-old was, as usual, undeterred. He blocked former Sixer Jahlil Okafor, leading to a Simmons dunk on the other end, then swatted Brandon Ingram’s dunk attempt and watched from the floor as the Sixers started a fast break that ended in a three by James Ennis.

Pelle earned First Team All-Defense honors last season in the G League with the Delaware Blue Coats. After an unconventional route to the NBA that took him to Taiwan, Lebanon and Italy, he’s flashed some of the same skills that made him a star attraction at his other stops. On Nov. 30, Brett Brown said he thought Pelle was “an NBA player.”

Whether or not his chance comes with the Sixers, Pelle took another step toward showing he has a future in the league Friday night, though his fouls (five in 12 minutes) are a concern. Despite the irregular playing time and uncertainty about when he’ll have opportunities, he was ready to go vs. the Pelicans. 

“Preparation is the main thing, especially being on this level,” he said Nov. 12. “Getting your number called and coming in, doing what you’ve gotta do — that’s the main thing. Focusing on your job and excelling at that job. I’ve learned moving forward, just be ready. Always be ready.”

What the Sixers do with him moving forward will be interesting. Since he’s signed to a one-year, two-way deal, he can spend a maximum of 45 days with the Sixers between the start of Blue Coats training camp and the end of the G League regular season. He’s currently ineligible for the NBA playoffs. 

Pelle had six points, five rebounds, three blocks and two assists.

Redick’s return 

JJ Redick had 19 points on 6 of 15 shooting in his return to Philadelphia. The 35-year-old guard, who signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Pelicans this offseason, shared his thoughts on Joel Embiid, Simmons and the Sixers’ new offensive identity earlier in the day (see story).

The Sixers showed a tribute video for Redick in the first quarter. 

Redick beating Furkan Korkmaz back door and then sprinting around screens to create a small gap for a leaning three a few minutes later was an odd sight, even if the plays themselves were familiar. 

A lousy stretch

The Sixers started the way they were supposed to, taking a 39-23 lead after the first quarter.

Their defensive execution went downhill from there as the Pelicans went on a 48-31 run to take the advantage.    

Redick, Ingram and the Pelicans deserve part of the credit for their shotmaking, but the Sixers’ defensive intensity — fighting over screens, boxing out, closing out — all deteriorated. 

They looked like a team playing the second game of a road-home back-to-back, confident that their superior talent would win out in the end. Their surge to retake the lead was impressive, though the way they finished the game did not inspire confidence.

Embiid not quite as dominant 

The night after his 38-point, 13-rebound performance vs. the Celtics, Joel Embiid did not reach that same elite level again.

He did look to attack favorable matchups in the first half against Derrick Favors and Okafor and yes, he appeared to be having fun. 

Embiid just wasn’t as efficient as he’d been in Boston (24 points on 6 for 16 shooting), though he mostly did well when double teamed. He had 11 assists and four turnovers over the back-to-back. 

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Sixers shrug off another frustrating 1st half vs. Knicks, come back to win

Sixers shrug off another frustrating 1st half vs. Knicks, come back to win

The New York Knicks have twice had double-digits leads in the second half over the Sixers this season. On the surface, that might be a concerning fact.

Yet the Sixers have twice come back to beat the lowly 4-15 Knicks. Down by as many as 16 in the second quarter Friday night, they shrugged off a poor first half and earned a 101-95 win at Madison Square Garden.

The Sixers, now 13-6, were very shorthanded, without Al Horford (rest), Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) and Kyle O’Quinn (left calf strain).

They’ll play the Pacers on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center ( 7 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the win: 

First-half frustration 

The Sixers’ offense was clunky in the first half, scoring a season-low 39 points, and it didn’t help that they missed a bunch of open looks and hit just 2 for 18 shots from three-point range. Their collective frustration culminated in a technical foul on Brett Brown late in the second quarter. Ben Simmons also was T’d up in the third. 

Brown has been consistent in his view that he’s not satisfied with his team’s offense, and that its evolution will take time — at the moment, he’s tinkering and searching for solutions with an unorthodox, massive team who tends to look bad when they don’t knock down threes.

He ran a couple of snug pick-and-rolls between Simmons and Joel Embiid in the second quarter, an action the Sixers showed occasionally last season, too. The first produced an and-one for Embiid. With Simmons still not attempting threes or being regularly stationed off the ball in the corner, it’s at least a way for the Sixers to have two men down low simultaneously with a result besides just congested spacing. 

Simmons and Embiid’s winning plays 

Both Simmons and Embiid were a level or two below their best in New York, but both made winning plays. 

Simmons, as he did during the Sixers’ win over the Knicks last Wednesday, picked up his defensive intensity after the Sixers fell behind and was strong on that end in the second half. 

His steal of an inbounds pass intended for RJ Barrett and slam dunk with a little over a minute left gave the Sixers a seven-point edge.

For the game, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists and five rebounds. 

Embiid never found a true groove offensively, but he still managed 27 points on 7 for 19 shooting, 17 rebounds and three blocks, including an impressive chase down rejection on Julius Randle with 3:39 to go. 

He went right into Mitchell Robinson’s chest with 2:33 left, drawing the sixth foul on the Knicks’ center and converting an and-one to give the Sixers a 90-87 lead and snap a scoring drought of over four minutes. 

The replacements

The Sixers started Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz in place of Richardson and Horford. Neither came close to giving the Sixers a comparable level of production. 

For Korkmaz, it’s been clear for a while that he typically needs to score and to shoot at a high percentage in order to have positive value. The 22-year-old is in better shape and a bit sharper defensively than he was last season, but what Brown finds most appealing about him is his shooting ability. After going 3 for 8 from the floor Friday, he’s 43.4 percent from the floor this year, 35.7 percent from three-point territory.  

Thybulle, after scoring 15 points, making all five of his shots and recording four steals in Wednesday’s win over the Kings, was scoreless in 21 minutes. 

Perhaps Brown will consider starting James Ennis, who scored a season-high 20 points and knocked a trio of important second-half threes, the next time the Sixers need a spot starter. 

Welcome to the NBA, Norvel Pelle

Norvel Pelle sure isn’t afraid to challenge shots — the 26-year-old blocked three per game last season and was a member of the G League’s All-Defensive First Team. 

Less than a minute into his NBA debut, he didn’t shy away when Randle rumbled down the lane, rising in the air with the Knicks’ forward. Randle welcomed Pelle to the NBA with a powerful dunk in his face. 

But Pelle didn’t hesitate a few minutes later when Frank Ntilikina drove toward the rim, swatting away his attempted dunk. In the second quarter, he confronted Randle again at the rim and won, denying him another dunk. 

The big man, who’s on a one-year, two-way deal with the Sixers, had a winding path to the NBA. He’s played in the G League, Taiwan, Italy and Lebanon.

“It matured me, mentally and physically,” he said on Nov. 12. “I started young, so I had to grow up fast. Mentally, it just matured me. I know the different things I need to do and what it takes to stay consistent.”

Pelle admitted then that the transition to not having regular minutes was “hard,” but he was focused on staying ready. As he displayed Friday night, he’s always ready to block shots. 

Whether he has the other skills needed to stick in the NBA is still an open question, but his attitude and athleticism were impressive in his first action in the league. 

He had three points, four blocks and two rebounds in 13 minutes against the Knicks. 

Harris goes into attack mode, eventually 

With Richardson and Horford out, the Sixers needed Tobias Harris to initiate more than usual on offense.

He didn't take on that job early, going scoreless and taking just two shots in the first 15 minutes of the game.

Brown has talked often about wanting Harris to attack more offensively. Ideally, the Sixers would like for Harris to take charge without needing any extra encouragement, but his first instinct is to be selfless. 

However, Harris was in an aggressive mode to start the second half and scored the Sixers’ first five points of the third period on a driving lefty layup and a corner three. He scored nine of his 19 points in the third and helped spark the Sixers’ surge back into the game. 

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