MINNEAPOLIS - It wouldn't be prudent to call Nerlens Noel the teacher's pet, so let's go with the principal's project. Every day after practice and for about a half-hour before every game, Noel gets a one-on-one session from coach Brett Brown. The drills mostly include shooting, with Brown trying to rid Noel of his guide hand, which often gets in the way of the shot instead of gently holding the side of the ball.
They have shooting contests, the winner usually the first one to make seven. Last night before the team faced the Minnesota Timberwolves, Brown made seven three-point shots from the left baseline to two for the prized rookie.
The time spent together represents teaching lessons, and also bonding moments. As has been said and written many times, it's all part of the plan.
"I'm thrilled with what he's done with his shot," Brown said after his shooting-contest win. "We said from the very beginning that it's an opportunity [to work during an injury] and one that I hope he never has again. We're going to take 8 months - and how often do you get that opportunity in a season - and break his shot down starting from the base. It's like a building. If the base is poor there's a lot of mistakes that are going on up above his knees. We're really trying to concentrate on his footwork and his base. Then we started talking about the hand positioning on the ball and the release point and what he's doing with his guide hand. All the normal things that you have to do to help somebody's shot and break it down.
"He's a total rebuild, a total makeover and we have that amount of time to do it. Now it's December and we said that his guide hand will not come to the ball until after Christmas because it screws up his shot. I'm thrilled with where he's at. He's got a more fluid shot. I think the carry-over in this year's benefit will be significant if we can get it right for his future."
There has been a noticeable change in Noel's body from when the team took him in the June draft. He is constantly wearing tank tops now, some say because he's proud of the bulk he's added to his upper body. His legs are still stick-like, but you can just feel how eager he is to stretch them out again and run up and down the court without limitations. Those days, however, are still quite far away.
"Now he's also a part of video meetings, he's a part of shootarounds, he's treated like a player," said Brown. "He comes in and he's a part of everything we're doing. He's a player who just doesn't play. I want him to hear my words, I want him to be in team meetings where it's happy, it's sad, it's real."
Asked about a timetable for Noel on his recovery from his ACL surgery, Brown said: "Not that I know of and I'm assuming that that's going to be down the road, maybe a ways down the road."
Though he did make the trip with the team and was working out before the game last night, Michael Carter-Williams sat out his fourth consecutive game with soreness in his knee from a skin infection. He appeared to be moving a lot better than he had the past few days, but seeing him play tomorrow against the Raptors in Toronto may be a stretch.
"It's something that was worrying but we're past that and we have it under control," Brett Brown said. "As an organization we did something smart a week ago when we kept him at home and didn't put him in the air and didn't chance anything. I'm thrilled we decided to take that route for him and it proved to be the correct one. It's a skin infection that now is under control and getting better and I think we assessed it right and dealt with him correctly."
While the teams didn't have to play a game in 8 inches of snow the weather in Minneapolis was a big part of the conversation yesterday. Heading to the arena at about 4 p.m., the radio announcer said the official temperature downtown was -1 and that the wind chill was -15. It's normal on game days for coaches and media (believe it or not) and other non-players on the road to take walks in the cities they are in. Some braved the cold yesterday and stuck with the plan. One Sixers employee said that when he was done his 45-minute morning walk he had tears coming out of his eyes that had frozen to his face.