Kentucky Basketball: Nerlens Noel's Defense Has Been Even Better Than Advertised

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Kentucky Basketball: Nerlens Noel's Defense Has Been Even Better Than Advertised
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

When Nerlens Noel decided to bring his talents to the University of Kentucky, most Wildcats fans had a fairly good idea of the type of player they were getting. 

Another long, raw, talented shot-blocker was coming to Lexington.

Inevitably, the comparisons to recently departed big-man Anthony Davis followed in lockstep.

It's a tough act, following Davis and attempting to fill those big shoes. But Nerlens has handled everything well, both on and off the court. His numbers compare favorably to Davis' at this point of the season as well.

After nine games, Noel is averaging 11.1 points, 9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3.6 blocks and 2.7 steals per game.

Let's just focus on Noel's and A.D.'s defensive numbers.

After nine games last season, the Unibrow was averaging 4.3 blocks and 1.6 steals per game. Noel will have his work cut out for him if he wants to challenge Davis' NCAA freshman record for blocks. No doubt, he will give it a good run.

Noel's steals and deflections are even more impressive than his shot-blocking prowess. He has active hands and really makes his man work once they get the ball. Opposing players have to be alert when attempting to go at him offensively.

In his brief college career, Noel has poked the ball away from opponents many times. He has been active in the passing lanes and good at applying pressure out high, away from the comfort of the paint that he protects, all the while showing the ability to stay out of foul trouble.

Again, it's still very early. Noel's career is in its infancy. However, he continues to conjure up memories of old-school legends, one in particular.

I can't help but think of Karl Malone when watching Noel play defense. That's a lofty comparison, and they couldn't be more different.

Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Nerlens is Malone-esque when it comes to making opponents work prior to the shot.
However, when it comes to below-the-rim defense, Nerlens reminds me of the Mailman.

Malone was never going to consistently challenge or alter shot attempts. An explosive leaper, he was not, but he was great at making life miserable for his man prior to the shot.

Malone would reach, poke, grab and do whatever was necessary to keep guys off balance. He was also excellent at stripping the ball as his opponents were going up for shot attempts.

Noel is young, but he's shown a nice knack for doing some of those same things. He has active hands and he wreaks havoc without fouling.

I'm not saying Nerlens Noel is going to be the next Karl Malone. I'm just saying that as long as his pre-shot defense and shot-blocking continue to impress and improve, he will be just fine.

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