A lot happened in Nerlens Noel‘s life during the 17 long months between his appearances on competitive basketball courts. There was his long drop from No. 1 in 2013 mock drafts to No. 6 in the actual 2013 draft. Falling down the draft board must have been disorienting, and to some degree demoralizing for Noel, but he ended up landing in what is perhaps the best possible scenario for a young player.
As a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, Noel has been afforded time to completely and totally heal from his ACL tear. Now healthy, he will receive ample time to grow and develop when the regular season rolls around.
As I discussed earlier this week, the Sixers coaching staff has been nothing but methodical and thoughtful in rolling out Noel for the Summer League, his first minutes on an NBA court. Noel has received 25.8 MPG of playing time over five games, with those five appearances being judiciously spread out across both the Orlando and Las Vegas sessions of the Summer League.
In those minutes, Noel has looked as impressive as any of the Summer League participants, including the many heralded members of the 2014 draft class. Noel’s personal blend of length and strength is one of the most intriguing — and aesthetically pleasing — skill sets across the entire NBA.
Nerlens was drafted in order to bring substance to the defensive end, but he’s brought along a fair bit of style as well.
Before Noel was drafted, statistical models and projections were quite enamored with his potential as a prospect, in no small part because of his preternatural abilities in stealing and blocking balls from the defensive end. These are skills that are believed to translate over to the NBA, and far more reliably than, say, scoring ability. (The logic here being that somebody has to take the shots in college ball, whereas steals and blocks do not necessarily have to take place — steals and blocks are proactively attained by a naturally superior defender.)
There are loads of caveats that must go with looking at Noel’s Summer League statistics up against the statistics he posted during his lone year with the University of Kentucky. Not insignificant amongst those caveats: these are Summer League statistics. Also not insignificant: Nonetheless, here is a look at Noel’s numbers, with each category listed by Noel’s numbers per 40 minutes:
If the drop-off in blocks seems like cause for concern, consider that, last season, shot-blocking machine Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans led the league with 2.8 blocks a game, while receiving 35.8 minutes of playing time per game. Were he to continue at this rate, Noel would quite clearly be the league’s best shot blocker.
The serious rise in fouls and the serious drop in rebounds also look alarming. But remember: it has been 17 long months since Noel’s last turn on a competitive basketball court. If a player is sidelined in the middle of the regular season with an injury, fans and coaches alike institute a sort of unofficial grace period, so that the player can have time to readjust and re-enter the flow of the game. It’s unrealistic to expect a player to be at their best even if they’ve just been sidelined for a month.
If this is what Noel looks like after a year and a half on the shelf? Watch out.
Statistics via sports-reference.com and nba.com.