By LARRY VAUGHT
Nerlens Noel just ended his sixth NBA season by playing in 77 games where he average 4.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 13.7 minutes per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s had better numbers but in the three previous seasons — with one Philadelphia, two with Dallas — he had played a total of only 81 games.
“It’s definitely been a great fun year for me to actually experience a team like this that has winning intentions and a mentality like that,” Noel said after Oklahoma City was eliminated from the playoffs. “Definitely opened that up for me, to see the playoffs. But locker room full of veterans has been a major part of my growth, my maturity, and I definitely feel good about that.”
He was happy to be part of a “resilient” team, including NBA superstar Russell Westbrook.
“I think it’s helped us countless times throughout the year to be resilient, come back through games, and as close-knit as the team was, it’s definitely been a great position that we’ve put ourselves in at certain points of the year to be successful,” Noel, the sixth pick overall in the 2013 draft, said. “But me personally, I took it all in. It’s all pretty new for me to be in this environment, this atmosphere and this culture that was built. So I felt great about the year.”
Noel calls this a “major” offseason coming up for him and his team.
“After you lose in the playoffs, there is definitely a new hunger that builds inside of you, a bad taste in your mouth, especially for me I can say. But I definitely want to have a very, very big summer, working on a lot of my weaknesses, and try to become — just become that much better over the summer. Have no weaknesses when I come back, build up my body, and just try to come back a monster,” Noel said.
Just like when he was at UK, Noel says he still needs to get bigger, stronger to make his game “that much better” and let him become a more reliable player.
“Everything else is just adding on, floater, 15-footer, just simple things to my game that will take me to another level, as well,” Noel said.
Noel has a player option he could use to leave Oklahoma City if he chooses. He’s not sure what might happen.
“I love this team and all, but I’m going to let my agent handle that situation. I’m just going to simply focus on my workout regimen, try to be the best player I can be throughout this whole summer and let him figure all that out,” Noel said.