Why Nerlens Noel Won't Be the Next Big NBA Draft Bust

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

Even if Nerlens Noel sits out the entire 2013-14 season, it's far too early to consider him a lost cause.
Even if Nerlens Noel sits out the entire 2013-14 season, it's far too early to consider him a lost cause.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

After the Andrew Bynum fiasco, you'll have to forgive Philadelphia 76ers fans if they're in a tizzy over the news about Nerlens Noel potentially missing the entire 2013-14 season.

Rest easy, Sixers faithful: Noel's situation is not a repeat of the Bynum mess from last year.

Even if Noel misses the entire year to continue rehabbing his torn ACL, there's no reason to believe he'll be afflicted with knee problems throughout his career. Whenever he does return to the court, whether it's this season or next, he'll quickly fortify the Sixers' defensive backbone.

Sixers coach Brett Brown dropped the bomb about Noel's 2013-14 season being in jeopardy before the team's preseason game on Oct. 21, as reported by Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com.

I doubt, I think everybody doubts he is going to play this year. But he is with us in every way in terms of practices and shoot-around, film session. It is a classroom opportunity for him to learn [about] me and the NBA. We don’t want to waste this year.

Given the way the Bynum situation unfolded, most Sixers fans won't have the stomach for another big man missing an entire season due to knee problems. The "will he play, won't he play" act with Afro Drew-Drew grew increasingly tiresome as the year wore on, making a mutual separation this summer the best thing for both parties.

It's easy to draw parallels between Bynum and Noel, as in both cases, the Sixers sacrificed significant assets to acquire each player. The team lost Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless and a first-round draft pick for Bynum in 2012, then shipped out All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for Noel and a top-five protected 2014 first-round pick this past summer.

A team can't afford to give up assets like those and get nothing in return like the Sixers did with Bynum. One ill-fated gamble like that, even if it was the right move to make at the time, can set a franchise back years.

Sixers fans grew all too familiar with seeing Andrew Bynum in a suit last season.
Sixers fans grew all too familiar with seeing Andrew Bynum in a suit last season.Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Bynum and Noel situations aren't entirely identical, though, and that's important to keep in mind.

When the Sixers acquired Bynum, he was set to reach unrestricted free agency following the 2012-13 season. They traded for him anyway, understanding that in the worst-case scenario, he could be a massively expensive one-year rental.

Noel, on the other hand, has no such contractual out after this season. If so desired, the Sixers can control his fate through the 2016-17 season since he's on his rookie contract.

If Noel's knees do prove to be as sturdy as papier mâché, the Sixers could always cut ties with him after 2014-15 by refusing to pick up his third-year option. That's their emergency option.

Noel's upside, however, is too great to ignore.

Most draft experts projected Noel to be the 2013 No. 1 pick despite his torn ACL because he's widely viewed as a potential game-changing talent on defense.

During his one year with the Kentucky Wildcats, Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals per game. He set a single-game school record with 12 blocks against Ole Miss on Jan. 29, four more than former UK big man Anthony Davis ever notched in one game.

He's very rough around the edges offensively, however, lacking the requisite fundamentals that would enable him to dominate on both ends of the court in the NBA. Davis scored 23 points in his Kentucky debut, for instance; Noel's career-high at Kentucky was 19 points.

That's what makes this rehab period such a potential boon for Noel.

Instead of feeding the rail-thin big man to the NBA's lions right away, he'll have at least a few months, if not a full season, to build up his strength and improve his offensive game.

Brown hinted at that plan on Oct. 21, per Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio"We don’t want to waste this year, I think, from all perspectives, it's an opportunity to break down his shot, really work on his free throws, and start a bit from ground zero. He’s bought in and been great."

If Noel does sit the entire season and develop a legitimate offensive repertoire, the ACL injury could end up helping his NBA career more than hampering it, as strange as that may sound. Giving him a full season to build up strength will only aid him in the long run.

Blake Griffin missed his entire rookie season, after all, and hasn't proven any worse for the wear. Sitting out last year also appeared to help Derrick Rose become a more complete player, if his 2013 preseason performance is any indication.

So, before burying Noel as the next major NBA draft bust, keep Griffin and Rose in mind. Frustrations mounted in their absence, but both players have proven to be worth the wait.

Given Brown's propensity for player development, Noel could easily follow in the footsteps of those two All-Stars.