Nerlens Noel, PF/C, University of Kentucky, 6’11’’, 228 lbs
2012-13 Collegiate Stats: (all stats courtesy of ESPN.com): 10.5 points, 59% field goal, 52.9% free throw, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, 1.6 assists, 2.1 steals
A highly-recruited player out of high-school, (he was rated as the No. 1 player in the high-school class of 2012 by ESPN) the long-bodied Nerlens Noel is likely to declare for the 2013 NBA Draft, despite suffering an ACL injury on Feb. 12. Prior to his injury, many saw Noel as the obvious first overall pick, but the injury suffered in Florida has shaken things up a little. Regardless, he will still go in the top five. But where would he fit in best? Who needs him the most? Where will he ultimately go?
Noel would instantly change the defensive culture of any team he was drafted to. A premier shot blocker (4.4 per game), in the ilk of New Orleans Hornets forward Anthony Davis, Noel has great timing when blocking shots and has the ability of being able to contest multiple shots in a single possession. A scarily good defensive player is Noel. On a team next to a big man with more bodily girth, he could block and contest shots for fun, while the bigger player could take the oppositions post threat — something which Noel could struggle to deal with in the pros.
His athleticism is pretty scary. A 6’10”/6’11” player than can run the floor like a guard, Noel can go coast-to-coast with ease. He also has a nice touch when it comes to finishing alley-oops and tip-ins around the basket. The Philadelphia 76ers desperately need some athleticism in the front court — Noel would provide that, it’s just a push as to whether the Sixers can lose enough games to land a high enough draft pick. A team like Orlando would probably use their lottery pick elsewhere as they already have an emerging young center in rebounding big man, Nikola Vučević.
Noel can also defend the pick-and-roll pretty well. He can switch onto and defend guards at times, a lá Joakim Noah, and uses his lightning speed to provide help defense to his teammates. A team like the Boston Celtics could desperately use a player like Noel, but it is hard to see him falling far enough down the draft board.
For a bigger player, he has very active hands of defense, which can lead to steals. An average of 2.1 steals per game is very respectable for a power forward/center. The Charlotte Bobcats could definitely use someone like him on the defensive end of the floor. Combine him with defensive stud Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Michael Jordan‘s team would have two of the brightest young defenders in the NBA. I question whether MJ would draft another defensive player though. The Bobcats offense is poor and that will be a priority, I assume. Players like Shabazz Muhammed will be more likely to end up in North Carolina with the Bobcats.
Some teams will find some flaws with Noel’s game. A defensive stud he is, but on the other end of the floor, however, he is not. He doesn’t really have any signature post moves that he uses and relies on the pick-and-roll to find his best opportunities, something that might have to change in the NBA. However, I see him in the mold of a young Tyson Chandler — and he’s carved a pretty good career for himself.
When it comes to the NBA, Noel’s body looks very slight. Remember, he is only 18, so he has time to fill out his body. Having said that, he will never have the girth of a Shaquille O’Neal. Strong centers like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum will try and physically dominate him down low and he will have to rely on his length and athleticism to bail him out. The Cleveland Cavaliers would love to have Noel on board. There have been rumors that the front office want to rid the books of Anderson Varejao‘s large contract, so Noel could be a good option to replace him and would be yet another young piece to add to the impressive amount of young talent in Cleveland. Having said that, they are also in desperate need of a athletic wing player and Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo fit that bill better.
Noel is a top-five talent, without a doubt. Had he remained healthy, I’d have put him as a lock for the number one overall pick. Alas, injuries happen. If I had to pick a team that suited him best, I’d pick the Washington Wizards. Having Noel next to a dominant big man like Nene could prove to be very beneficial for the Wiz. Also, a John Wall and Noel pick-and-roll combination sounds deadly. Throw in a Bradley Beal and other pieces and you have the makings of a playoff team.
Wherever Nerlens Noel ends up, he’ll make a difference — that’s for sure.