RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Nerlens NoelPosted by BHayes on June 27th, 2013
The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of a number of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.
Player Name: Nerlens Noel
Height/Weight: 6’11”/205 lbs.
NBA Position: Center
Projected Draft Range: Top Two
Overview: Nerlens Noel’s freshman season was cut short by a February ACL injury suffered in a game at Florida, but he still had plenty of time to stake his claim to the #1 pick in this draft. Unlike other names mentioned as a possible first pick in this year’s draft last summer (Muhammad, Zeller names that pop to mind), Noel’s individual season did little to take the luster off of his draft stock. Sure, Kentucky endured a historically bad season and Noel won’t be ready for live action until at least December, but when it comes to his future, this season went pretty well for Noel. He showed off the shot-blocking prowess that made him the most sought-after recruit in the country a year ago (4.4 blocks per game), rebounded at an efficient clip (9.5 boards a game), and even found ways to contribute on the offensive end, averaging double figure in the 24 games he played. Throw in an impressively high steals number – 2.1 a game – and you can begin to gather just how disruptive Noel was when healthy. Now, disruptive is great, and NBA teams can expect that defensive activity to continue at the next level for Noel. But with the specter of the top pick potentially looming over his early years in the NBA, there will be plenty of pressure on Nerlens to become more than just a great defender. Only time will tell if he has room for growth on the offensive end, and let’s remember – he did only turn 19 two months ago. For now, Noel has plenty of that one thing that teams crave and analysts blabber about this time of year – upside.
Will Translate to the NBA: Don’t hold your breath: Nerlens Noel is going to have himself a block party or two when he finally makes his NBA debut. With pogo sticks for legs, Noel became one of college basketball’s premier rim protectors a season ago, filling the space that Anthony Davis vacated in Lexington quite nicely. And like Davis, Noel’s length and timing will allow him to continue his shot-blocking ways in the NBA. Noel is a more explosive athlete than Davis, owner of a suddenness that will surprise even NBA-caliber athlete. Shot blocking is Noel’s one bonafide elite skill at this point, and you better believe it will be on full display from day one on.
Needs Work: It’s a bit ironic that the prospect with the longest list in this category is the (once) presumptive #1 overall pick, but it goes to show how much teams are going to be willing to gamble in this draft. Where do we begin here? Noel weighs in at 205 pounds right now, and while he will never be a true bruiser, he will have to add upper body mass to bang with the big boys in the league. The added weight would assist future rebounding ventures, as well as make defending on-ball in the post easier – one of the few things on the defensive side of the ball that Noel could stand to improve at. It’s an entirely different story on offense, though. At this point, Noel’s offensive repertoire consists primarily of dunks and layups off offensive rebounds or feeds from teammates. The easiest development the big man should be able to make is adding a go-to post move or two. He made just 52% of free throws last season – a percentage that will have to improve if he expects to be banging down low regularly. His face-up game is borderline non-existent, and no NBA coach will want Noel launching a jump shot from anywhere outside of ten feet, if that. Asking Noel to turn himself into a great shooter sounds a bit ambitious, but it’s an area of his game that clearly needs to get at least marginally better. Finally, Noel looks lost when asked to handle or make decisions in the high post or on the perimeter. Again, a situation where he doesn’t need to turn into Rajon Rondo, but a little improvement here would go a long ways.
Best Case Scenario: It may be both hard to envision at this point and potentially unfair, but Nerlens Noel is going to have to piece together some sort of offensive game if he is to match some of the expectations that exist out there. If he doesn’t, there’s still going to be a spot in the league for an All-NBA defensive first team type of big man, but it will be hard to ever consider Noel a star. However, if the back-to-the-basket game improves a little, the jump shot becomes functional out to 15 feet, and Noel feels comfortable distributing and handling outside the paint? Now we are not just talking NBA All-Defensive teams, but we can start considering All-NBA teams. The athleticism is dizzying enough to warrant such aspirations, but as is so often the case, to find this best case scenario, the work ethic and the capacity for improvement will have to prove just as elite as that jumping ability.
Best NBA Fit: Noel will not last long on Thursday night, and I’ll dare you to find a team in the lottery that wouldn’t provide a nice home for the springy 19 year-old. However, some teams do offer better setups than others for Noel. Let’s start at the top, where the Cleveland Cavaliers may elect to make the long and active Tristan Thompson the lesser athletic big in the Cleveland frontcourt. Noel and Thompson would be a defensive nightmare for teams. Moving on, Orlando at #2 is another natural fit, as Noel would provide a nice counter-balance for the slower and more offensively-inclined Nicola Vucevic. And while it’s hard to fathom Noel getting past the Magic at #2, the Washington Wizards would be thrilled to use Noel for a new foundation for their aging frontcourt.
Scout’s Take (from NBADraft.net): “One of the best pure shot blockers to come along in a number of years … He’s a more explosive leaper and has better on ball shot blocking ability than last year’s UK freshman intimidator Anthony Davis. While Davis had a little better lateral speed and ability to get to shots as a weakside defender, Noel’s ability to deny his man any daylight to the rim and be a rim protector makes him even more dominant, and a potential defensive enforcer for the NBA… An elite level athlete with great quickness and explosive leaping ability … Great length, reported 7’4 wingspan. Offensively, Noel’s game is rudimentary. He has shown some development but the general perception is that he will never be a strong offensive player, instead he impacts games with his defense, rebounding and athleticism… Won’t be able to “out-athleticize” opponents for baskets at the next level the way he has in college.”