A few weeks ago I said, barring a major surprise, Nerlens Noel would be selected first in the upcoming NBA Draft. But Noel's unfortunate ACL injury is exactly the kind of terrible surprise worthy of making him drop in the draft.
However, the news could be worse. While a torn ACL is a major injury, many of us feared something even more dire before the diagnosis was released Wednesday afternoon.
Injuries and medical histories are the untold part of the draft process that few people know about. Only NBA teams really have direct information regarding the extent of a player's injury and the possible ailments it could imply down the road. Scouts and NBA Draft writers do not have the medical background and information needed to speculate on such things—or to necessarily understand why some players drop in the draft for medical reasons.
So Noel's injury creates a cloud over the 2013 NBA Draft. If he truly is expected to make a complete recovery, Noel will probably still be taken first in June, even if he does not play for much of the 2013-14 NBA season. But if teams look at Noel's medical records and anticipate this injury is a precursor for possibly worse medical problems down the road, then Noel is unlikely to hang onto the No. 1 slot.
Significant injuries for young players are very scary. Even if Noel makes a complete comeback from this ACL injury and plays well for a NBA team next year, we will never look at him exactly the same again. There is no guarantee of success for even the brightest of prospects; the specter of debilitating injury is always lurking somewhere in the background. When it rears its head, careers can go downhill quickly.