Nerlens Noel Isn’t Anthony Davis, But He’s Close DefensivelyPosted by Brian Joyce on December 7th, 2012
Blocked shots have become a staple of the Kentucky defense under John Calipari. Last season, the Cats blocked 20.2 percent of its opponents’ shots with Anthony Davis setting the bar high with 4.7 blocks per game. However, when a defensive philosophy relies heavily on blocked shots, defenders tend to leave their feet for the block attempt leaving the defense out of position for defensive rebounds if they miss. Kentucky is again a great shot-blocking team in 2012-13, but it has a lower block rate of 17.6 percent while allowing opponents to grab an almost identical percentage of available rebounds (30.7% in 2012-13 compared to 30.8% in 2011-12). So, UK’s big men often neglect boxing out duties to fly in for the blocked shot, making a clear strategic choice. And it is a strategy that works.
By making that choice, are the Cats dooming themselves to be poor defensive rebounders? Is it possible for a standout low post player to achieve high levels of shot blocking proficiency while also performing with strong defensive rebounding numbers? It is, but the feat is rarely accomplished. We analyzed shot-blocking and defensive rebounding percentage numbers from the end of the 2011-12 season and found just two power conference players who had a block percentage of at least 8.5 percent and a defensive rebounding percentage of at least 23.5 percent (those numbers were selected because that placed the player in roughly the top 50 in both categories).
(In case you were wondering — Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State (9.2 Blk%, 25.6 DR%) and Tony Mitchell, North Texas (11.0 Blk%, 28.8 DR%) also achieved this accomplishment last season.)
The 2012-13 season is young, and there are currently four big men from power six conferences in the club. But guess who is dangerously close to joining them? A certain Kentucky freshman is on the verge.
Nerlens Noel is just eight games into his college career, and is clearly Kentucky’s do-it-all player. The 6’10″ freshman is averaging 11.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. Sometimes, it seems as if he is the only player giving it his all for the Wildcats. Calipari blasted his young team after its loss to Baylor last weekend for a lack of effort, but not Noel. “We needed a competitive spirit and we needed more of a will to win,” Calipari said. “We are still trying to find it. Nerlens blocks the ball, I think it’s a three-point game and we just don’t get the rebound. We have a man standing right there and he doesn’t have that will to win to go grab that ball, because we have to have that ball to win the game.”
Eight games into Kentucky’s season, the focus has been on what’s wrong with the Cats. Everyone has a theory on why the Cats have lost three games, but perhaps the doom and gloom has overshadowed what is right. It was repeated over and over before the season began that Noel was not Anthony Davis, but from where we are sitting in these two key categories, he seems pretty close. It takes a special defensive player to block shots at a consistent rate while still pulling down defensive boards at a high level. There are a lot of games left to be played yet, but right now, Noel already looks to be an elite defender. The question that remains to be answered is whether he can bring his team to an elite level, like his predecessor.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.