Well, there's only one way to go from here for Nerlens Noel, and that's up.
Which is ironic because Kentucky's prized freshman center had a great first minute of the game, and not many after.
Let's grade and essentially attack Noel's first game from all angles.
We knew coming in this wasn't the next coming of Hakeem Olajuwon. But after the first minute of the game, you had to question whether or not Noel was even on the floor when Kentucky had the ball.
His first touch of the game was in the post, using a power dribble in the lane to set up the over-the-shoulder hook. It's his go-to move, and frankly, his only move. But he converted it showing a nice touch.
Future defenses will surely take note of this and look to force Noel baseline or make him turn over the opposite shoulder.
Noel was used in the pick-and-roll game a few times, converting his second field goal of the game after slipping the screen and catching a lob at the rim. He set a number of high ball screens, but this was the only one where he saw the ball after the pick.
Noel's limited offensive repertoire and overall raw skill set were made fairly evident against Maryland. He lacked fluidity and grace, bobbling loose balls off the glass, mishandling a lob that should have resulted in a dunk and tripping over his own feet on multiple occasions.
He looked out of rhythm facing up. At one point with the ball at the top of the key, he used a dribble and a hop-step to get into the lane before shoveling an unnecessary pass with no purpose to his target's feet, resulting in a silly turnover. It reflected more on his lack of comfort outside the paint, rather than his decision-making.
Don't expect to see Calipari draw up too many plays up for Noel, unless they can get him isolated on the low block. The pick-and-roll looks to be his best use offensively, but overall he didn't show much range in his first game as a Wildcat.
Noel's shot-blocking abilities will be a constant throughout his career. With his size, length and explosiveness, it's just inevitable.
Below is the most glaring example of Noel's effectiveness as a rim protector. In an isolated attempt, Maryland's Dez Wells takes off from the baseline looking to throw down the hammer but is met by Noel's strong shot-blocking arm way above the rim.
Being able to defend the rim 12 feet in the air will make it difficult for scorers to finish when Noel is in position.
His overall impact defensively, though, was slightly disappointing. Alex Len torched Kentucky for 23 points and 12 boards, taking it right at Noel a number of times and succeeding. Noel will need be to be more physical with his body in terms of pushing his defender further from the basket.
Here's an example of a mental lapse that has more to do with a lack of concentration than a lack of effort. Getting back after a missed shot, Noel is caught jogging without sight of his man. Alex Len hustles down the floor and gets himself an uncontested dunk, with Noel trailing behind.
This type of thing can't happen and will drive coaches nuts. It was Maryland's easiest points of the night.
He grabbed nine boards, but his presence inside wasn't exactly overwhelming. Maryland pulled in 23 offensive rebounds, with seven of them going to center Alex Len. That's too many second-chance opportunities, and Noel needs to hold himself accountable for this down the road.
Eye Test: A
Just strictly by appearance, Noel looks like he belongs. He's got a tremendous basketball body, one you rarely see at 18 years old. For what it's worth, he aces the eye test
It's one game, and his first, no less. But his limited offensive arsenal might look to be a more long-term restraint. Then again, Tyson Chandler hasn't attempted an offensive move in years, and he's a pretty effective NBA center.
His overall grade would have been higher if Alex Len didn't completely show him up. Or if he didn't hit backboard on the first of his two missed free throws.
He'll get better, but this might result in a painful film session for Nerlens Noel.
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