The Cleveland Cavaliers were fortunate enough to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft in Tuesday night’s lottery. Now they have the first shot at selecting Nerlens Noel, the highly-rated prospect out of Kentucky.
Noel is the closest thing to a consensus top pick this relatively weak class has to offer, but there are some concerns about the big man’s health and ability to excel at the next level.
More specifically, the Wildcats star is still in the midst of recovering from a debilitating ACL injury suffered in mid-February and—by his own calculations—won’t be available until Christmas time.
There’s also the worrisome weigh-in at the scouting combine in Chicago last week, as Noel tipped the scales at a gaunt 206 pounds (ESPN Insider protected). While some of this skinniness can be attributed to his injury, it’s hard to picture the wiry prospect bulking up to more than 215 pounds in his rookie season.
However, despite those two red flags, Noel is a perfect pivot for the modern NBA. He’s not going to blow anyone away with his height at 6’11”, but that’s a more than acceptable length—especially when you factor in his otherworldly leaping ability.
Noel utilizes that athleticism to his advantage on both ends of the floor, springing up off the floor to snag rebounds, finish alley-oops and block anything put up in his vicinity.
His coach, John Calipari, believes that the Cavaliers would be foolish to pass on his former player next month.
According to Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, coach Cal had this to say about the potential pairing:
My hope is they take Nerlens because they do their research and say, 'We need that shot blocker behind what we have....We know he's going to gain 40 pounds. We know the trajectory.' They know where he was at the beginning of the year and they know how much he improved because they were here. They saw it. I don't have to explain anything to Chris [Grant, Cavaliers general manager].
ESPN’s Andy Katz caught up with Noel after the lottery and found that the big man is excited about the potential to play alongside superstar point guard Kyrie Irving and the rest of the emerging Cleveland roster.
The prospect believes that his shot-blocking and rim-protection skills would synergize with the existing lineup, while he also projects to provide another option for Irving to feed down low or finish at the rim on the break.
So why wouldn’t the Cavs draft a player that can accomplish all of these things; especially with a roster devoid of that type of talent in the frontcourt?
For starters, there have been some rumblings that the organization is exploring a possible trade.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted that Cleveland GM Chris Grant outright confirmed that he will be fielding offers: "You want to look at all your options and make the best decision for your team," Grant said. "This is a valuable asset that we can add to the group, whether it's in trade or keep it and add a player."
Grantland’s Zach Lowe—who spoke with numerous members of the Cleveland posse on lottery night—believes the team has “almost literally too many draft picks,” as it possesses the No. 1, 19, 31 and 32 selections in this year’s event, and will be fielding offers for all of them.
There’s also the possibility that the Cavaliers simply decide to go in a different direction, as Noel isn’t completely head-and-shoulders above the rest of the projected lottery in terms of talent or upside.
Grant revealed to Windhorst that his club doesn’t have its heart set on anyone, as anything could happen between now and June 27—the night of the NBA draft: "For us, it's wide open. A number of these guys are injured, so there's still an enormous amount of due diligence that's got to be done."
Should the Cavs stay put and not use the pick on Noel, they will likely be looking at either Ben McLemore out of Kansas or Georgetown’s Otto Porter.
The Jayhawks sniper may not be the most ideal fit with the current roster, but he’s arguably the best perimeter player in this class and could develop into an elite scorer.
Porter doesn’t grade out as highly and certainly isn’t a franchise-worthy point producer, but—on paper—meshes perfectly with the makeup of this team.
Without a surefire home run No. 1 selection in this class, Grant wouldn’t be raked over the coals too badly for his decision to pass over Noel—but it could come back to haunt him.
Unless Cleveland receives a “Godfather” offer from a competitor looking to move up to the head of the 2013 draft—and that seems unlikely given the flawed prospects at the top of most big boards—you can expect the franchise to stand pat and tab Noel.
He may not be the lottery prize that Kyrie Irving was two years ago, but the Kentucky center will eventually develop into an instrumental piece of the puzzle for this rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers organization.