We're going to operate under the assumption that Noel will declare for the 2013 NBA draft. Returning to Kentucky so he can miss his sophomore year anyway just doesn't make much sense, especially when you consider the strength of the 2014 class.
However, a team like the Charlotte Bobcats may not be able to wait another year, and that's not even factoring in the time it takes for Noel to develop as a player.
Others may just not want to risk an asset as valuable as a top-three pick on a player with a torn ACL.
Our gut says that Noel won't slip too far in this weak field, that someone will view him as a value pick after No. 1 overall.
Notes for the first round
Oklahoma City gets Toronto's first-round pick, which the Thunder acquired in the James Harden deal from Houston (originally acquired the pick in the Kyle Lowry trade).
If the Lakers miss the playoffs, their pick goes to Phoenix, which is something we anticipate.
Portland gives up a top-12-protected pick to Charlotte from the Gerald Wallace-Joel Przybilla trade in 2011.
The Atlanta Hawks receive Houston's top-14-protected pick, which they obtained from the Brooklyn Nets in dealing Joe Johnson.
Team needs were taken into account, although rosters are likely to change once June rolls around.
Stats current as of February 12, 2013.
Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats can't afford to take any chances. Without any talent on the roster, it would be hard to imagine them using the first pick on Nerlens Noel, who's likely to miss most of next season rehabbing his knee.
Ben McLemore offers the best risk-to-reward ratio of anyone in the draft class. The Bobcats need a reliable starter who can actually make shots, and that's what McLemore does well.
With Kemba Walker looking for a backcourt mate to help take some of the pressure off, McLemore's ability to stretch the defense, convert from the perimeter and finish as a slasher will give him the target he's been looking for.
McLemore is a starting NBA guard at a position that lacks talent across the league, and if the Bobcats can't trade this pick, they'll likely go with the surest thing in the draft pool.
The Orlando Magic need a guy who can generate his own points in the half court.
Shabazz Muhammad's 18.5-point average and 42.9 percent three-point stroke would be a good start. He's a versatile scorer who can play on and off the ball, and despite UCLA's underwhelming record, Muhammad has been scoring consistently, efficiently and in volume.
Many have been turned off by Muhammad's ball-hog mentality, but there's no denying he can score and owns the NBA tools to make it translate.
He may not be the franchise savior teams would want with the No. 2 pick, but beggars can't be choosers in 2013.
Nerlens Noel's season-ending ACL tear could end up being a blessing in disguise for a lucky team in the lottery.
There's no need for him to go back to Kentucky. He wouldn't even be healthy enough to play until March, when he'd have little time to show scouts he's returned to form. And it doesn't help that he'd be competing in the talented 2014 draft class.
Let's assume Noel declares and uses the potential he's flashed already as a selling point to NBA franchises.
There isn't a prospect on the board who can help the Washington Wizards win now, so why not take a guy who can help them win later?
Noel is the most promising NBA prospect in the entire class, and he's only 18 years old. Assuming all goes according to plan, Noel will be back at full strength by the time he's 20, which leaves plenty of room for a long career of productive basketball.
Prior to going down, Noel led the nation in shot-blocking. He offers everything on the interior that Nene Hilario doesn't.
Waiting a year for Noel to rehab is a small price to pay for such a promising prospect at No. 3 overall.
With Kyrie Irving running the show, the Cleveland Cavaliers are closer to winning than the rest of the teams at the bottom of the barrel.
Anthony Bennett is more NBA-ready than most of the prospects left on the board, and he fills a need and a want at the same time for the Cavs.
Bennett's versatility would provide this front line with something it doesn't currently offer. He's an explosive athlete who can play the wing opposite Dion Waiters and generate points in the half court, or you can stick him at the 4 and watch him go to work inside.
He's one of the few prospects with a ceiling that justifies a top-five pick. Whether the Cavs are in best-player-available mode or just looking for a fit, Bennett would be a sound selection in a weak field.
The New Orleans Hornets could use a post-scoring presence to improve the balance and efficiency of an offense that's dominated by guards.
While Cody Zeller is the most polished big man in the country, he's also improved his rebounding by almost two per game. That's actually a big deal, considering he only brought in an average of 6.6 per game as a freshman.
Zeller is deceptively athletic and offers a dimension of offense that New Orleans doesn't get from Anthony Davis or Robin Lopez. He'll improve the team's half-court spacing and help get Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon open looks on the perimeter.
The Phoenix Suns need someone with upside. If they can't deal this pick for established talent, then this would be a good time to think big.
Marcin Gortat turned down an extension and is likely to bolt this offseason. Cue Alex Len.
His ceiling surpasses Gortat's, and with time for him to develop, why not take the guy with the most upside left on the board?
Len is 7'1" and can score and shake in the post. With his size and athleticism, it's difficult to physically contain him or contest his high release point.
He has the chance to be a long-term scorer at the center position, and that seems tougher and tougher to find nowadays.
The argument that the Sacramento Kings already have enough guards doesn't hold up when you consider who they actually are.
The Kings need a team-first, high-IQ floor general, and that's just what Marcus Smart brings to the table. If this team wants to satisfy a guy like DeMarcus Cousins, there isn't a better option on the board.
Smart's intangibles, instincts and toughness would be just the injection this team needs to help put a better product on the floor.
Think James Harden, only as a pass-first guard instead of a shoot-first scorer. Either way, Smart can rack up dimes or points based on whatever the situation calls for.
Mason Plumlee would be a great pickup for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook would be in heaven, running the floor with an athletic seven-footer who can sky above the rim.
The Thunder lack athleticism and reliable depth at the 5 position, and Plumlee can provide them with an inside scoring presence and force on the glass.
He has scored 30-plus points in two of his last four games and has become the most dominant offensive big man in all of college basketball. Plumlee is a good selection anywhere in a draft that lacks certainty all around.
The Detroit Pistons need to have their eye on the best player available. Passing on a guy with Michael Carter-Williams' upside because of Brandon Knight's presence would be foolish.
The Pistons need to gather as many assets as possible, and Carter-Williams is the most valuable one left on the board.
Though he's been somewhat inconsistent in terms of ball security and scoring, it's only his first year getting regular minutes at the college level.
Guards that are 6'6" just aren't supposed to lead the nation in assists, but Carter-Williams doesn't seem to care. He's a playmaking machine with big-time upside if his jumper starts falling and his ball-handling tightens.
This fit is too good.
The Minnesota Timberwolves lack athleticism at the off-guard slot, and Victor Oladipo possesses a ton of it.
Oladipo scored 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting against Ohio State on Sunday, and it's become blatantly obvious that this is no fluke. He's completely broken out of his shell and put the basketball community on notice.
No longer is Oladipo just a raw athlete; he's a complete, two-way guard who can score with electricity and lock down the perimeter.
Otto Porter provides great value at the end of the lottery, and if he's there for the Dallas Mavericks, they should swipe him up immediately.
He has his scoring average up to 15.3 points per game despite not even being labeled a scorer. Porter is a glue guy who lets the game come to him, contributing as a rebounder, slasher, defender or jump shooter whenever the time calls.
The Mavericks could use some life on the wing and a motor inside. Porter is the guy to ask.
The Philadelphia 76ers could really use a stretch forward to help space the floor, particularly when Andrew Bynum returns.
Right now, Isaiah Austin's strengths are best suited for this role, as he lacks lower-, middle- and upper-body strength. To put it in simple terms: He's just too damn skinny to bang with the big boys underneath.
Austin is comfortable as a spot-up shooter, and at 7'1", he wouldn't have to worry about anyone contesting his shot.
Because of his size and ability to operate on the perimeter, Austin has a high ceiling, but he unfortunately has a good 20 flights of stairs before he gets there.
In the meantime, Austin could provide depth up front and give Philadelphia a complementary skill set completely opposite of Thaddeus Young's.
At this point, we understand James McAdoo's potential; it's just a matter of when and if he'll reach it.
After scoring 20 points or more in back-to-back games, McAdoo caved once again. He shot 3-of-12 in a disastrous loss to Miami on Saturday, giving credence to the notion that he's not a prime-time player.
When you look at McAdoo, you see a physical specimen with a body that was meant to play professional sports. Sometimes you just question if he picked the right one.
McAdoo struggles to create easy scoring opportunities for himself and wastes too many possessions on shots that wouldn't fly in an NBA offense.
Right now, he's just an athlete trying to figure out the game, but his upside is big if it ever clicks.
Michael Jordan won't make the same mistake twice and pass on a talented mid-major prospect like he did with Damian Lillard.
C.J. McCollum is more of a natural fit at the point guard position than Kemba Walker because of his ability to manage a game.
Either way, McCollum is likely the most promising prospect on the board, and the Bobcats can't afford to address team needs first.
Though he's likely out for the year after breaking his foot, we've already seen all we need to. His 23.9 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting from downtown tells you all you need to know.
With Josh Smith likely gone and Kyle Korver occupying the wing, the Atlanta Hawks will need to inject some athleticism back into the middle of the lineup.
Jamaal Franklin is the most dynamic athlete on the board, and though he's not the go-to scorer that Lou Williams is, he manages to average over 17 points a game off slashing, tip-ins and easy points in transition.
The fact that he's second in the Mountain West in rebounding at 9.5 per game despite having the size of an NBA 2-guard says a lot about his athleticism. Franklin is a high-flier who plays above the rim and makes things happen without disrupting the flow of the offense.
Now that Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa have both joined the torn ACL club, the Boston Celtics need someone to handle the ball.
Trey Burke is the best option on the board and one that Doc Rivers is sure to love.
Boston probably won't find a long-term starter in this draft anyway. Every team needs point guard depth, especially when the only one you have isn't healthy. Why not grab a good one when the opportunity presents itself?
The Milwaukee Bucks aren't a threat athletically on the wing with Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Dunleavy, and they could use some easy baskets coming off slashes or in transition.
Alex Poythress is a combo forward who can attack the rim and finish with authority. Basically, he's the polar opposite of what the Bucks have.
Poythress isn't someone you'd give the ball to and watch him work, which the team does enough of with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings.
He's a project who offers solid value in the late first round of a weak draft.
Rudy Gobert would provide the Atlanta Hawks with length that could disrupt passing lanes and finish easy baskets in transition.
They don't necessarily have length up front, nor do they have an above-the-rim presence from any true 4 or 5.
We're still unsure just what Gobert is going to be, given his unprecedented 7'9" wingspan and 7'2" mobile frame.
But in a weak draft, taking a shot on Gobert seems like a pretty enticing play.
The Utah Jazz should come out of this draft with at least one point guard and one shooting guard.
Isaiah Canaan is our top point left on the board and one that should land a job whether it's in Utah or somewhere else.
He has takeover ability and unlimited three-point range, averaging 21 points per game as Murray State's lead guard. Canaan just has too much going for him as a leader and offensive threat for him to slip too far.
The Brooklyn Nets are in need of a scoring punch off the bench, particularly one that can shoot.
Tim Hardaway Jr.'s ability to score off the ball would be a nice complement to ball-dominators such as Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
He could thrive in a role where all he's asked to do is catch, shoot and slash. Hardaway struggles most when he tries to do too much.
Brooklyn would be a fitting setting for his skill set and needs.
The Chicago Bulls need athleticism at the 2-guard spot, because they aren't getting it from Richard Hamilton or Marco Belinelli.
Archie Goodwin's strength is slashing off the ball, something neither of Chicago's other guards does well.
He's got work to do as a shot-creator, but that won't be his role at the next level.
Goodwin is an explosive attacker off the bounce, and if he sticks to his strengths, he could find time early on.
Consider Kentavious Caldwell-Pope one of the hottest-trending prospects around.
He's always had promise, if only he could start making shots at a more consistent rate. Now here we are, just a few months from the draft, and Caldwell-Pope has finally found the zone he's been searching for all this time.
In a four-game stretch against Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee, Caldwell-Pope shot 31-of-46 from the floor, a sizzling stat when you come to realize how he gets his points.
He's a perimeter scorer who can light it up from downtown, yet has the athleticism and a 6'6" frame built for defending NBA guards.
Utah's backcourt needs help desperately, and this would be a good guy to ask.
The Denver Nuggets have six wings, two reliable point guards, a quality young power forward and two reliable centers.
However, none of them provide the interior presence of Willie Cauley-Stein. At 7'0" of pure muscle, he eats space, grabs rebounds and finishes with ease above the rim. And this is before he develops as an NBA player.
It might take a while for him to come around, but I wouldn't argue with this pick anywhere outside the lottery. You shouldn't either if you've seen his physique.
Nobody will ask Doug McDermott to step in and average over 23 points a game like he currently is at Creighton.
They will ask him to catch and shoot, which he does as well as anyone in the country.
McDermott is shooting 48.3 percent from long range, and he would give the Indiana Pacers a three-point specialist. Every good team needs one, and the Pacers don't have any.
He's a high-IQ player who would fit right in with a high-IQ team. Plus, I'm not sure how happy Indiana is with Sam Young providing depth at the wing.
We've seen lately that Glenn Robinson is awfully vulnerable to being taken out of his element. Hence, his slip down the board.
He's scored four points or less in three of his last four games and has shown little in terms of threatening the defense off the dribble.
Right now, he's just an NBA athlete who can finish in traffic and spot up from downtown. He should return to Michigan for developmental purposes, but with serious talent in the 2014 class, it wouldn't be surprising if he gets out while he can.
The Knicks don't have a backup center or power forward on whom they can realistically rely. How about getting both in one pick?
Mike Muscala has the size and physical demeanor to handle two positions, and he is currently fourth in the country in rebounds per game.
An inside-outside threat who can post up down low or pop out for a jumper, he simultaneously fills a need and fits the offensive system.
New York won't be looking for an All-Star, but rather a reliable source of depth, rebounding, interior scoring and mid-range shooting. Though not your prototypical NBA athlete, there's a reason Muscala is able to average 18.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
The boy has skills regardless of what league he plays in.
The fact that this guy isn't tearing up the Sun Belt Conference is alarming.
Tony Mitchell is an incredible athlete—maybe the best pound-for-pound athlete in the draft when you consider his size, strength, power, mobility and coordination.
But he's not making shots on the perimeter, and he's struggling to score half-court baskets.
Without the ability to create off the dribble or knock down 25-footers, Mitchell is just another athlete looking to find a niche in the league.
He has big-time upside if he ever settles down and figures out how to consistently contribute.
Kelly Olynyk has been one of the breakout stars of 2013, averaging 17.7 points per game out of nowhere.
Seven-footers who can score will always draw attention, but it's not tough to notice Olynyk's awkward mobility. He's not the best rebounder and stays planted below the rim, but Olynyk has the skill set to score half-court points in the post.
He'll earn a role as a backup center somewhere, and with the Los Angeles Clippers in need of some help behind DeAndre Jordan, this wouldn't be a bad match.
Something tells me the Oklahoma City Thunder aren't thrilled with their backup point guards.
With so many point guards available in this draft and so few openings across the league, someone is going to get a steal when one inevitably slips down the board. Lorenzo Brown is an excellent candidate to be that guy.
Brown is a crafty ball-handler whose mission is to create offense for his teammates.
There shouldn't be any concerns over the physical transition process, as he possesses ideal size and athleticism for a point guard.
If his pull-up jumper starts falling with regularity, that's when you know whoever gets him got a steal.
Every team needs a backup center, which is a role with Jeff Withey's name on it.
He's one of the top shot-blockers in all of college basketball and has learned to finish with either hand at the rim.
Withey isn't athletic enough to body up with the power centers in the NBA, but his touch and defensive timing can both be used in a limited role.