Nerlens Noel: Is He Underrated as an Offensive Threat?
Nerlens Noel is probably the most interesting prospect in this year's draft. He was pegged as Anthony Davis 2.0 at Kentucky, but before he tore his ACL, he had failed to produce offensively like Davis had in his year.
Defensively, it's a no-brainer.
The two are elite defenders with absolutely incredible length and leaping ability, and both are going to be major shot blockers in the NBA in their prime. Noel displayed an extremely high defensive IQ at age 18 during his time at UK, which is shown in his 4.4 blocks per game, and the overshadowed statistic of 2.1 steals per game.
No matter how you look at it, whether it's using his quick hands to poke the ball away from a man driving to the paint, or his ridiculous shot-blocking abilities, Noel is a defensive gem. He stays on his man and he guards the paint like a tiger to her cubs.
The transition for Noel from college to the NBA will be no problem defensively.
His biggest knock as a prospect has been his offensive tools. Noel doesn't have a strong jump shot, and while he's great at finishing at the rim, many believe (myself included) that the 18-year-old prospect will have to bulk up some more to be able to back in on opposing defenders.
But with his elite height and length—6'11" and 7'4", respectively—I think Noel is going to evolve into a very effective post threat in the NBA.
At 18 years old, Noel has probably already hit the limit on his height—though it's not out of the realm of possibility for him to grab one more inch. His length likely won't change either. But with an NBA level strength and conditioning coach, Noel is going to bulk up. Those twiggy legs are going to gain muscle, and his frame is going to become much more imposing.
This will make one of his biggest problems—backing in—virtually disappear. Remember, Dwight Howard was a little twig when he entered the NBA, now he has arms as thick as trees.
Let's take a moment to look at the tools he already has, and uses effectively: a solid hook shot, the ability to box out his opponent and put back a missed shot, finishing at the rim in general and his extreme athleticism allowing him to run the court like a guard.
It can be argued that Ben McLemore and Victor Oladipo are the best athletes in this draft, but there's no denying the fact that Noel's leaping ability, explosive finishing and ability to sprint across the court are all signs that he very well may be the best overall athlete in the draft.
Noel averaged 10.5 points per game before his injury roughly two-thirds of the way into the season. That's pretty decent, considering he's supposed to be a massive project offensively.
He is a capable passer, and does an excellent job of catching and keeping the ball in traffic. He does the non-statistical things like setting screens, pick and rolls, etc. very well.
Noel will miss all of summer camps, summer league and about two months of the regular season—which will certainly stunt his development. But if Charlotte brings in the right coaches to help the big guy, his ceiling is very, very high.
Noel is going to be a rebounding, shot-blocking, defensive menace at the 4 or the 5—there's no doubt about that. But once he gets his feet wet and continues to grow (again, still only 18), his offensive abilities and IQ are going to begin to match his abilities on the other side of the ball.
McLemore and Otto Porter are the most polished players in this draft, and I think McLemore is going to be a star shooting guard. But going to a team with development on their mind, Noel is going to eventually excel.
He's going to make as much an impact as anyone in this draft.
I can't wait to see where Noel goes—my guess, assuming the Orlando Magic get the first pick, and the Charlotte Bobcats get the second—the Magic's need for a shooting guard of the future will outweigh their need for Noel, which would be excellent for the Bobcats, who desperately need frontcourt help.
Once he steps onto an NBA court, watch out.
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