SALT LAKE CITY - Nerlens Noel is no longer making a fuss about his time on the court - or on the bench - in the 76ers' overcrowded center situation.
"I think it will make me stronger mentally," said Noel, who is averaging a career-low 7.8 minutes per game this season. "These last four years have been nothing but adversity, from getting hurt in college to getting drafted to the tough situation with all the losing."
The 6-foot-11, 232-pounder was projected to be the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft. However, he slid to the sixth spot after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Despite his desire to play, the Sixers sat him his entire rookie season. Including that season, he has endured 19-, 18- and 10-win campaigns.
So at this moment, Noel will publicly state that playing 21.6 minutes below his career average is just another bump in the road. It's one that he believes will only make him stronger.
But that doesn't sound like the guy who voiced his displeasure on Dec. 16 after he played only 8 minutes, 2 seconds in that night's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Nor does it sound like the guy who said on Sept. 25 that "it doesn't make sense" for the Sixers to have three starting caliber centers in Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jahlil Okafor.
"I think my will has grown a lot," Noel said. Right now, he is focused on controlling what he can control.
One day after logging only 3:21 in a 102-100 road loss to the Sacramento Kings, Noel joined Hollis Thompson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for a workout Tuesday at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Thompson and Luwawu-Cabarrot did not play Monday, so the workout helped keep those three active while their teammates had the option of light shooting or stretching.
Instead of complaining, Noel worked hard, just as he has been at the Sixers' practice facility in recent weeks.
"He's been great," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "He's been working hard to get in shape and understand what we are running. I think we are going to see him on the court more and more."
On Dec. 18 - two days after Noel complained about his playing time - Brown said he would be out of the rotation for the foreseeable future. That, however, lasted just six quarters. The 22-year-old has played sparingly against the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, and Kings.
Noel had missed the first 23 games with inflamed tissue in his left knee. Then he was sidelined another game with a left-ankle sprain.
Because of the layoff, the Sixers said Noel's lack of game conditioning and unfamiliarity with the team's sets have contributed to his sparse minutes.
"I feel good," Noel said of his conditioning. "So I don't think that's anything that has to do with it. Just moving forward, I'm working on what I've got to work on, making sure I'm ready whenever I get the call."
For now, he's dealing with being a seldom-used reserve for the first time since he began playing organized basketball. Noel goes into games not knowing when or if he's going to play. But he is no longer complaining.
"If I can't be on the court helping, I'm going to be a vocal leader and try to help across the board," he said. "I can try to help them get back [on defense], try to help show them something I use. I try to break out the small things, the little things, and help them get over the top."
Shooting guard Gerald Henderson is not expected to play Thursday against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena because of a sore and stiff left hip. His status for Friday's game in Denver against the Nuggets has not been determined. . . . Brown met individually with all of the Sixers on road trip Tuesday.