Nerlens Noel shines in summer league debut for Sixers

Nerlens Noel shines in summer league debut for Sixers
July 5, 2014, 8:00 pm
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(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Before anyone in Washington goes overboard about Nerlens Noel -- and some will -- take into account that Saturday's game was just his first in 18 months and it was in the Orlando summer league.

Noel, who the Wizards interviewed last year but passed on him to take small forward Otto Porter with the No. 3 pick instead, dropped in that draft and ended up with the Philadelphia 76ers because of a right knee that required surgery. He sat out the entire season and technically still is a rookie. This question was asked not too long about the Wizards making the right or wrong call on Noel -- before anyone had seen him play after less than one year at Kentucky when he was injured. 

At 6-11, Noel was fluid and comfortable attacking off the dribble, making a soft-touch floater in the paint and emphatically dunking on his first possession. He scored 19 points against the Orlando Magic and showed his shot-blocking ability, too. 

The Wizards are playing at Las Vegas summer league that runs July 11-21, and Porter will have a chance to prove he can live up to his billing. He didn't last season when he had a right hip injury that lingered soon after he was drafted, forced him to miss the entire preseason and not play until December. 

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They traded their second-round draft pick this last month because they couldn't find the size. Everyone the Wizards had coveted had been snapped up before picking 46th. 

If they had Noel right now, that wouldn't be as much of an issue. But it's understandable why they went with Porter. He was considered the best player available and future replacement for Trevor Ariza who just completed the best year of his career in Washington. Ariza is an unrestricted free agent. His primary backup, Martell Webster, is out up to five months because of back surgery.

Porter will get his chance even when Webster, who likely will be moved as the backup to Bradley Beal at shooting guard, returns. Whether Porter can cash in and seize the playing time in the regular season is on him and of course if they aren't able to retain Ariza that changes plenty.

Noel has just played one game. It's in summer league, against B-level veterans, rookies and free agents who'll never stick in the NBA. Even if Porter were to score 30 points in his first summer league game, it still wouldn't erase the question marks. All it would represent is a good start.