The New Orleans Pelicans selected Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel with the sixth pick in the 2013 NBA draft on Thursday night, adding the talented center to a core that includes Anthony Davis, another former Kentucky big man.
However, it didn't last long, as the Pelicans have reportedly flipped Noel in a draft day blockbuster to the Philadelphia 76ers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
New Orleans has traded Nerlens Noel to the 76ers, source tells Y! Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 28, 2013
Philadelphia sends Jrue Holiday and a first-round pick in 2014 to New Orleans for Noel, league source says.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 28, 2013
Wojnarowski later clarified that New Orleans would be sending the first round pick to the 76ers.
Correction: New Orleans sends a 2014 1st round pick to Philadelphia in the deal.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 28, 2013
Noel had to wait a lot longer than anyone expected, as the Kentucky star was passed over by numerous teams that could have used a player of his stature on the interior.
His ascension to the NBA comes just two years after he was walking the stage as a high school graduate.
Noel was one of the best prospects in the nation in his 2012 high school recruiting class, and chose John Calipari and the Wildcats to bring him out of his Massachusetts upbringing. The choice was a wise one—Noel is the 12th Wildcat taken in the first round since 2010, joining a long list of Kentuckians that includes John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
He was having an outstanding season for Kentucky during his freshman campaign, averaging 10.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game on nearly 60 percent shooting through 24 games. Despite some early setbacks, Kentucky looked poised for a strong second-half in SEC and tournament play.
But an ACL injury derailed his freshman year and put Kentucky in a bind over the final month of the season. Noel would not return for a chance to help his teammates and defending champion Kentucky would not make the Big Dance.
With three years of eligibility left and all the excitement that college basketball can bring to a young player, Noel had another choice to make after his first season at Kentucky was over—stay at help the Wildcats rebound from a disappointing NIT appearance, or go to the NBA and be a top-ten draft pick.
He chose to the latter, and despite a longer than expected wait, he's headed to the NBA
What grade would you give New Orleans for the selection and trade?
Noel isn't expected to be ready for the start of the 2013-14 regular season, but once his knee is fully healed, New Orleans could place him in the starting lineup and see how his defensive prowess translates to the NBA during his rookie season.
Or, they could focus on a slower development.
While concerns about the knee are the primary topics of conversation these days, Noel also has a limited offense game right now. He was able to play above the rim and use his athleticism to survive in college, but as we've seen with any number of NBA'ers, that doesn't fly at the next level.
According to Sam Amico of Fox Sports, Noel has been working on improving that part of his game while he rehabs from ACL surgery:
Quick NBA Draft note: As a result of limited movement during rehab, source says Nerlens Noel developing 12-15 foot spot-up J.— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) June 14, 2013
Another concern about Noel is his frame. Listed at 218, Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld tries to calm you down with this tweet about a future Hall-of-Famer who came into the league as just a skinny boy:
Nerlens Noel weighed in today at 218 pounds, according to his camp. That's basically what Kevin Garnett weighed when he came into the NBA.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 17, 2013
Noel told Kennedy he's ahead of schedule with the knee earlier in June (via USA Today), and the other aspects of his game (offense, frame) that concern scouts can easily go away with the right amount of coaching and hard work on both ends of the floor.
We already know Noel is going to bring it on defense when he does get a chance to suit up for the Pelicans, but his NBA career will likely be defined by an ability to get better on his weaker end of the floor.
As a member of the Pelicans, Noel will have the chance to both star alongside a young set of growing players and establish himself as a force at center. Only time and opportunity in uniform will tell us if he will be an NBA draft success or flop when we look back in a few years.