The 2013 NBA Draft is shaping up to have a lot of questions marks. Several of the top prospects are freshmen and young sophomores, making scouts nervous about many projected lottery picks' long-term potential.
One freshman whose talent has consistently been on display all season is Kentucky's Nerlens Noel. Coming into the season as the most highly touted big man in his class, Noel's defensive dominance has been obvious. Although only 18 years old, Noel is one of those rare players who can have a profound effect on the game simply with his overwhelming presence. He is a superior athlete, possessing great coordination and timing.
This innate sense of the floor has helped him record a high number of steals and assists for a big man and has to be considered a major plus in his development going forward. Overall, there is little in his game not to like.
Noel's influence goes beyond just simple numbers—although the numbers often are impressive. Tuesday night, for instance, Noel keyed Kentucky's victory over Ole Miss by recording 12 blocks and completely destroying the Rebels' offensive flow throughout the game. Noel finished the game with only two points on one field goal attempt—but he was the best player on the floor.
Efforts like this have been the norm for Noel throughout the season. His play has been surprisingly steady, especially compared to many other highly touted freshman. His defense has been great, and his offense decent.
Yet despite Noel's superior physical abilities, which are clearly better than any other player in college basketball, Noel has not cemented his place as the consensus No. 1 pick in this June's NBA Draft. This is confounding because Noel has exceeded expectations, and no other college player has stepped up and proven to have the dominant talent needed to be considered worthy of the top selection.
Noel is not Anthony Davis, but he is a prototypical big man prospect worthy of being selected first in the draft.
Other players projected as possible first picks in the upcoming draft do not make much historical sense. Another hyped freshman, Shabazz Muhammad, has scored well, but the rest of his game is lacking. Ben McLemore has had an excellent redshirt freshman season for Kansas, but no shooting guard has been selected first overall since 1975. Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller is a player of the year candidate, but possesses few of the tools needed to dominate at the next level.
Unless something dramatic happens in the last six weeks of the season, Nerlens Noel should be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. He deserves to be. He is a great defensive player who also has better offensive skills than expected. Although popular sites like NBADraft.net and DraftExpress do not currently have Noel at No. 1, we should not be fooled.
Nerlens Noel will have his name called first in June, barring a major surprise.