Nerlens Noel has the talent to be an elite defender in the NBA. He has tremendous athleticism, length, quickness, a terrific first step over larger defenders and he’s incredibly difficult to shoot over due to his wingspan. The forward has developed into a very gifted defender.
*** *** ***
NBA Comparison: LARRY SANDERS
When comparing Noel to current NBA talent, it’s hard to match him up with a player because he’s so incomplete offensively and not many players at his position are as rudimentary in their approach to the low post. However, based on his willingness to learn his position, his athleticism, shotblocking ability and his wingspan, he seems to match up best with Larry Sanders from the Milwaukee Bucks.
Both Sanders and Noel are the same height (6-11); the only difference is that Noel is strikingly nearly thirty pounds lighter than Sanders at 206 pounds, compared to 235. Of course, the reasoning behind that is doctors told Noel to lose the weight to help with his rehab, and those folks around the Kentucky product insist he can get up to 240 relatively quickly. But still, 206 is extremely light for a NBA big man.
Putting that aside momentarily, their wingspans also are similar: Noel has a 7-4 wingspan and Sanders boasts a 7-6 wingspan. Additionally, they both scream “modern NBA center,” not because of the traditional back-to-the basket mentality, but in the fact that they are athletic, tall, long-limbed and have unmatched agility.
Offensively, their packages around the basket are almost mirrored. Even though Sanders has taken a great step forward offensively, he’s still raw in the low post and from the midrange, averaging just 9.8 points a night last season. Noel has the same problem, struggling to consistently hit a midrange jumper past five feet this season for the Wildcats while finishing with a 10.5-point-per-game average. The way both of the frontcourt players will find their points is from offensive rebounds and put-back opportunities. Sanders finished with 3.2 offensive rebounds a game this season.
Noel has much more upside entering the NBA at age 18 compared to Sanders, who came in at 21, but if there has to be any comparison to the two players, it is the upside Noel has to offer. Any indication of that can come from how well Sanders played for the Bucks this season.
Noel is an athletic specimen. With a bulk of his points coming in transition off of dunks and due to his vertical leaping ability, Noel’s athleticism far surpasses that of any big man in this year’s draft and may surpass some guards.
When it comes to having any post skills, Noel proves how rudimentary he is. With a lacking jump shot, tear drop, and an inconsistent hook or other post moves, he isn’t really dependable on the low block… or anywhere offensively for that matter.
NBA READINESS: 4
With an undersized frame, narrow shoulders, and very light calves, combined with the inability to really create his own offense, it’s hard to really see how “NBA Ready” Noel is. Coupled with the fact that he may miss half the season due to an ACL tear, and he won’t be contributing that much to whichever team lands him.
One of the positive qualities about the draft’s best flat-top is that he has a load of potential and upside for any team. He immediately brings in an elite level of shotblocking and defense desperately needed now in the NBA. He has also demonstrated how coachable he is under John Calipari. That shows his readiness to learn his position.
Noel doesn’t really bring noticeable heart or intensity to the floor as soon as he steps on the court. But after an exciting block or an emphatic stuff, it does make his teammates more willing to step up in their respective roles. Depending on the game and how much he plays, it’s always hit or miss.
• Athleticism, explosive leaper, good frame at 6-11
• Best pure shotblocker in years to come through the draft
• Length: 7-4 wingspan, Standing reach: 9-1
• All-around defense: 2.1 steals per game, 4.4 blocks per game, 6.8 defensive rebounds
• Potential to develop offensively in the low post
• Great offensive rebounder at 2.7 a game, willing to bang in the post and finish around the rim with emphatic put-back dunks and layups
• Doesn’t turn the ball over much, boasts a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio
• Great foot speed, can get by average defenders at will
• Offensive game is very limited; has developed a small hook shot, still ineffective in the low post
• Might not be able to use his athleticism to get by defenders in the NBA
• Has to have strong guard play to truly be effective at the next level; scores mainly off put-backs and dunks on clear paths toward the rim
• Post game is weak, tries to face-up on players in the high post and use ballhandling skills to breeze by defenders; Doesn’t embrace a back-to-the-basket mentality
• Lacks a soft touch around the rim
• Needs to improve his footwork to make it elite
• Poor shooting form, lacks a fluid shooting motion, just pushed the ball forward
• Lacking a strong frame, only 206 pounds at 6-11; very lanky, calves are extremely thin for an NBA player
• Obvious concern over knee injuries following a torn ACL
• Needs to bulk up
• Horrible free throw shooter; averaged 53 percent during his freshman season.
Draft Projection: First Round, Pick No. 1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers (won’t fall further than No. 3 to Washington)
Even though Noel is lacking many pieces offensively, his defensive skills, athleticism and wingspan (not to mention, his willingness to learn his position) make him a vital piece to any team lacking players in the frontcourt. The glaring issues with Noel are his lack of a jumper and his continuing recovery from his ACL tear.
At the end of the day, he can be a vital asset to any team whether on the floor or coming off the bench and playing good minutes