Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky (FR) [4/10/1994] - 7'0", 215lbs.
The former #1 recruit in the 2012 class, lived up to the billing in his one short season at Kentucky. Blessed with rare athleticism, movement skills and defensive abilities for a big man, the one-and-done Nerlens Noel figures to be a top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. If not for a late season ACL tear, Noel would likely be the consensus #1 pick. But with any major injuries, there are always questions regarding recovery especially for players likely to be drafted high.
For Noel, it all starts on the defensive side of the ball where his value lies. Playing in the shadow of Anthony Davis while at Kentucky, Noel lived up to Davis and even surpassed him in terms of defensive presence. Noel is one of the best shot-blockers to enter the draft within the past few drafts. Able to block shots with either hand, his shot-blocking instincts are what stands out. While his athleticism and length allow for him to be a lethal weakside shot-blocker, his timing also allows for him to be difficult defender to get shots off against in one-on-one situations. His defensive value extends outside of blocked shots to steals, which he gathered at an extremely high rate for a big man. Thanks to his quick hands and lateral quickness, Noel was able to pick up steals all over the court---in pick-and-roll situations, in post-up situations and even in playing the passing lanes.
Noel’s defensive ability right now lies in his playmaking ability and his ability to completely shut down the paint at times during games. Where he needs to continue improving in his strength. Currently, Noel can get bullied down-low versus bigger post men which can result in easy baskets. Opposing bigs are able to establish position due to Noel being long and lanky and not having too much lower body strength as of now. Noel does show good fight in battling for position down-low and doesn’t back down from bigger, stronger post-men. As Noel develops, so should his body. Having just turned 19 years old and being the youngest player in the draft, his body is further behind those much older than him as expected. While Noel will never be a bulky, overpowering big man, he will be able to bulk up to be an effective post defender.
His athleticism also shines through on the defensive end in his ability to effectively guard pick-and-roll, make rotations quickly and get back in transition. For a defensive coach, he will likely fall in love with Noel’s versatility on defense because of his unique physical profile for a big man. With the NBA switching to a pick-and-roll oriented offense, bigs like Noel hold even more value because they aren’t liabilities when pulled away from the basket.
Noel also shows good rebounding instincts to pair with quick leaping ability that shows up in his rebounding numbers. He will able to be a strong rebounder in the NBA that will go outside of his area to gather rebounds. This is another area that he will need to develop his strength but as he matures, so will this area of his game.
Another part of his game that will need to be developed will be his offensive skills. Noel will never be asked to be a low-post threat but he is still very raw on this end. Right now, his main source of offense is off of hustle plays, rebounds and shots created for him near the basket. He isn’t much of a threat in post-up situations and hasn’t shown any semblance of a jumper. He has a bit of a hitch in his shot and his free-throw shooting is a potential problem in late-game situations.
But despite Noel’s limitations on the offensive side, he does possess some skills that other bigs don’t. His athleticism shines on this end that combine with his ball-handling ability to be able to take bigs off the dribble. While this wasn’t a common sight during Kentucky games, he has shown the ability to beat bigs due to his quickness and good handles for a big man. This is one aspect that he relies on in the NBA and develops counters off of.
Surprisingly, Noel also is a good passer and reliable decision maker with the ball. He will be able to operate offense at the low and high post due to his good vision for a big man. His passing ability will allow for him to be more involved in an offense and involved in different ways that can use his abilities.
Like most big men that stay near the basket, Noel is a very good finisher. His length and athleticism are often on display when finishing, as he dunks everything in sight. Coming off of pick-and-roll opportunities and when he’s near the basket, he displays good hands and rarely turns the ball over down-low.
The key question for Noel will be how healthy his knee is. ACL injuries are much different then they were years and even decades ago when they were thought of as career-ending injuries. With today’s medical advancements, players are able to come back and even sometimes stronger after their injuries.
By all accounts, Noel is good kid with a strong work ethic that should help in his recovery, his need to gain weight and develop more on offense.
But where Noel holds the most value is on defense, where teams will see a big man that has Defensive Player of the Year potential and the ability to clean up his teammates mistakes. While raw on offense, he will be able to contribute on that end and may even surprise some with some of the skills he does possess.
Noel is one of the highest ceiling players in this draft, which combined with his age make for him to be an exciting talent to watch at the next level.