Rick Carlisle was impressed with the Nerlens Noel’s production in the Dallas Mavericks’ 112-87 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.
In 17 minutes, the fourth-year center produced 14 points and seven rebounds and was 5-for-7 from the field. But since Noel was four games removed from missing three straight games with soreness in his left knee, there was no way he would play extended minutes in a one-sided loss.
“[Noel] did a lot of good things [Tuesday] night, but I’m not going to play a guy coming off a sore knee meaningless minutes in a blowout,” Carlisle said. “So if you’re asking for garbage minutes, that ain’t gonna happen.
“The knee is doing extremely well, but why put a guy out there in a 25-point blowout in the last six minutes? That makes no sense.”
What does make sense to Carlisle is making sure Noel expands his game the way the Mavs believe he can. They think the 220-pounder will add weight to his 6-foot-11 frame, and that could take his game into another stratosphere.
“There’s a lot of upside,” Carlisle said. “I think when you think from the standpoint of his physical makeup, he can get stronger certainly.
“He is stronger than you would think looking at him. He has wiry strength, on weight-lifting tests and things like that, his legs are strong even though he’s a slender guy. I think he can put on a little more weight as time goes on.”
The Mavs acquired Noel in a Feb. 23 trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. While Noel’s talent and ability to control the paint are obvious, it’s also obvious that he’ll be better with a full training camp with the Mavs.
“I think the skill set is there, but it’s got to be definable stuff where his teammates know where to get him the ball and he knows where his shots are and where they aren’t,” Carlisle said. “A full training camp certainly will help all of this, but we’re doing a lot of this stuff now — it’s a bit on the fly.
“Again, one danger with young players is giving them so many options out on the floor that it confuses both them and their teammates. We want to keep this simple for him and the guys playing with him, but overall I’m very pleased with the trade. I like him very much as a kid and he’s done many good things.”
Noel has averaged 9.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 22.5 minutes in 10 games for the Mavs. He said he’s been able to digest “a pretty good amount” of Carlisle’s defensive and offensive schemes.
“We added a couple more things today that I wasn’t familiar with from when I wasn’t here,” Noel said. “Now I’m learning everything pretty steadily.
“I know the foundation of the whole system. Now with everything he has, it’s a lot easier to pick up, because I know the sets, and Rick works out of the main sets.”
Noel has started just one game for the Mavs, and he established what he thought would be an excellent precedent. In that March 3 start, Noel scored 15 points and grabbed a career-high tying 17 rebounds against a rugged Memphis Grizzlies front wall that includes Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
All that performance earned Noel was a trip back to the bench, where he’s been coming off for every other game he’s played with the Mavs.
“Coach Carlisle runs things differently here,” Noel said. “I’m definitely holding out on when he gives me my shots and continuing to play at a high level with high minutes.
“I’m just cooling right now and just waiting for him to give me that opportunity. Then I’ll be ready to go.”
The Mavs (30-40) hope Noel will be a factor Thursday night when they host a Los Angeles Clippers (43-29) front line that includes 6-11 DeAndre Jordan and 6-10 Blake Griffin.
“The important thing for him in our system is that he’s a real definable asset,” Carlisle said. “For instance, I like his mid-range shot when he’s open, but when he hesitates and recoils on it, he loses rhythm and he doesn’t make it.
“He’s got to be decisive and step into those, and our guys have got to learn the spots that he’s in when that’s available. It’s pretty obvious that his rim-rolls are a big factor for us. We need him to continue to work on the timing of when to screen and when to roll hard and all those kinds of things. But overall I’m very pleased.”