The Los Angeles Lakers should keep an eye out on center Nerlens Noel, who accepted the qualifying offer from the Dallas Mavericks.
While he isn’t a superstar, Noel’s ability to impact the game on the defensive end and remain out of the way offensively is valuable. Los Angeles, despite the addition of Brook Lopez this offseason, Lopez will become a free agent at season’s end and Los Angeles will look for someone to take that starting center role over. For what’s needed, Nerlens Noel makes the most sense.
Regardless of what happens moving forward, Los Angeles has to improve the defense. In four of the last five seasons, the Lakers were in the bottom five in terms of defensive efficiency. Part of that is incorporating younger, more inexperienced players into the fold, but the Lakers’ defense is a key contributor in their slide from contender to lottery representers.
Noel has defensive ability in spades.
Last season, Noel was traded from Philadelphia to Dallas in a salary dump and had a decent season, averaging 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Noel’s defensive tools made him an ideal frontcourt fit with Dirk Nowitzki and was one of the key factors in helping Dallas improve its defense in the second half of the season.
When you look at Noel’s per 36 numbers, however, you see Noel averaged 14.0 points and 11.2 rebounds – suggesting that his numbers would be stronger if he played more.
More importantly, Noel averaged 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, one of 16 players in the league to average at least a steal and a block last season. Noel’s combination of mobility, size and ability to make impact events on the defensive end makes him one more intriguing players in the entire league.
Noel is the modern day Tyson Chandler. Chandler placed it all together when he got to New Orleans as a rim-running center with Chris Paul throwing him lobs. He captured a championship ring in Dallas and then anchored the best New York Knicks team in recent memory, earning him the NBA’s Defensive Player of The Year award.
More importantly, Chandler did it while finishing in close to 70 percent of his field goals and very little complaining while cleaning up any and all defensive errors by teammates. Noel, in his short NBA career, has shown some flashes of Chandler-esque play on the defensive end, and while Noel may never reach Chandler’s zenith, he could emulate some of his stronger seasons.
The more intriguing aspect of Noel’s career is that he’s never been with a real point guard. When Noel was teamed with Ish Smith in Philadelphia, he thrived as a roll man. He’ll never be someone to thrive with post touches, but catching lobs, finishing on the pick-and-roll and cleaning up on offensive rebounds still have value and Noel can thrive in that area.
The issues for Noel, however, are also reminiscent of Chandler. Injuries have held him back, preventing him from playing 82 games in all three seasons, including a torn ACL forcing him to miss an entire season. He’s also a bit of a malcontent behind the scenes – highlighted by him taking the qualifying offer this offseason instead of getting the near-max he wanted from Dallas.
It is telling that Dallas — a team with very few assets heading into a post-Dirk Nowitzki era — had a financial limit for Noel, who makes for a perfect pick-and-roll partner for rookie Dennis Smith Jr.
Regardless of who Los Angeles brings in this upcoming season, Noel should rank highly on the list of targets because of his defensive value and the need at the position. Noel is a perfect foil for a team like the Warriors because of his ability to step out on the perimeter and stay with opposing guards.
Brook Lopez should be a decent player this upcoming season, especially if he continues to shoot threes. However, Lopez is a bit out of this core’s age range and the Lakers could look to move on. Youngsters Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac just don’t bring enough at the moment to warrant Los Angeles ignoring the position.
If the Los Angeles Lakers are going to accelerate their window and try to win in the near future, guys like James and George make sense. However, another name — Nerlens Noel — makes a good amount of sense, thanks to his ability to defend the rim, defend the floor and provide energy on both ends without absorbing a ton of offensive possessions.
If the price is right, making Nerlens Noel a member of the Los Angeles Lakers would be a smart move.