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Monday, June 3, 2013

Scouting Report: Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel is the 4th youngest player in the draft class, having just turned 19 in April. He reclassified back to the class of 2012 in order to attend Kentucky a year early and become the next Calipari recruit in line for the number one pick. A torn ACL against Florida in February ended his collegiate career and it will at least delay his NBA career from starting for at least a couple of months into the 2013-14 NBA season.

For some teams, Noel missing most of the NBA season may be intriguing as the see it as an opportunity to score another high draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. While only one team will be able to draft Andrew Wiggins, the 2014 NBA Draft is expected to have potential stars located throughout the top 10.

Coming into Kentucky, Noel shouldn't have been expected to replicate Anthony Davis' 2012-13 season. Noel drew obvious comparisons to his predecessor due to his length, elite athleticism, and shot blocking process but he was much more raw on the offensive end. Calling Noel the favorite to be the number one overall pick was realistic, but expecting him to be the same kind of talent Davis was wasn't.

Based on my personal expectations of Noel, I'd say he lived up to his billing in his first and final year in Lexington. In high school, he didn't put up the biggest numbers and seemed preoccupied and disinterested at times. He preferred to play on the outside and handle the ball and didn't always play smart or with energy.

Noel was raw as expected on offense, but he appeared to be nothing but extremely coachable at Kentucky. There was no questioning his energy or his willingness to play inside. He worked on his post game, dove on the floor for loose balls, and became the defensive anchor that he was expected to be. Any questions from Noel's high school days can be attributed to the environment.

Calipari constantly praised his work ethic and character. On the court, he looked like the most mature freshman of the group. His energy was always there and he played his role better than anyone else - making good decisions for the most part. This college season helped erase any of those concerns about him (which may have never been justified in the first place) and for that alone, made the year in Kentucky worth it.

As for his offensive game, it is still extremely raw but you could see him getting better from a game to game basis. He doesn't have strength to hold off defenders in the post and because of this, he had a tendency to rush a lot of his shots. He could get pushed off the ball easily and lose balance in the post and learned quickly that he has to make quick decisions given his current level of strength.

His post game is pretty straight forward now. It consists of a short baby jump hook that he is able to hit with either hand. He almost always faked towards the middle of the court in the post and came back to the baseline to get off his hook shot. Its not very impressive looking, but it was an efficient move and nearly impossible to contest. His range on this shot is very limited however, and he needed to get within 8 to 10 feet of the rim for him to have a shot. That was obviously hard given his lack of strength.

Between his inability to establish post position and his poor free throw shooting, it was very hard for Kentucky to use him as a go-to option on the block - even though he did shoot 59% from the floor. He also came close to having a 1:1 A/TO ratio which is pretty good for a big man, especially a freshman who averaged over 10 points per game.

He's an unselfish player who sees the court well. He isn't able to be a facilitator in the post at the moment because he gets pushed off the blocks to quickly, but can pass the ball when facing the basket. His passing skills date back to his high school days where he would bring the ball up the court at times and gravitate to the perimeter. Those days are gone thankfully, but he's able to find cutters still when he has the ball outside of the paint. Of the draftable big men in this year's draft, Noel only trailed Gorgui Dieng in assists per possession.

Noel's best way to score early on in his career, besides transition and offensive glass points, may be his face up game. Right now, the biggest thing holding him back in that area is the lack of a jumpshot. However, he has an elite first step and is able to drive either way off the dribble. He isn't a great ball handler, but with his quickness and athleticism, he's good enough to put it on the floor once or twice and finish at the rim. He also has good body control at the rim, but his strength hurts him in this area as well. He also has only average touch at the rim and misses some easy bunnies when he isn't able to throw down with a dunk. He shot 71% at the rim, but could have been even better given his physical profile

Defensively is where he will make his biggest impact, as he projects to be a major game changer on that end of the court. Nobody in college basketball averaged a higher combination of blocks and steals per 40 minutes than Noel did. He covered more ground than anyone in college basketball and he was able to do it both vertically and horizontally. He did an excellent job at blocking shots from a secondary level and did so with either hand. He has great instincts when it comes to blocking shots, displayin great timing and anticipation. Noel is blessed with the ability to come over and block a shot at the last minute and doesn't have to cheat to post high block numbers.

Most of his blocks come from helpside defense, as he struggles to hold his position in man to man post defense. He only weighed 206 pounds at the combine in Chicago, although he says he lost weight during the injury. He was above 220lbs while playing at Kentucky and has already added more weight since Chicago just a few weeks ago. By the time he is ready to play next year, I don't think he will have a problem getting up to 230lbs. He still will struggle to hold position inside, but he will at least not be working against the odds as one of the lightest big men ever.

While Noel has great anticipation when it comes to getting blocks and steals, his overall defensive mechanics and awareness need work. He is solid in this area, but relies too much on his athleticism right now.

Noel has a ton of upside, but there is also some injury concerns and risk that come along with picking him. Teams will need to rely on their doctors recommendations, but ACL injuries have been easier to come back from in recent years. At the same time, Noel has very skinny legs and looks like an injury waiting to happen every time he flies into the air or dives onto the floor.

Having the number one pick puts the Cavaliers in a tough spot this year. They could choose to take Noel, but will do so knowing that he could turn into a walking injury and be ridiculed for their selection for years to come. At the same time, there really isn't anyone in the draft that has the same game changing potential that Noel possesses. Passing on him for someone that turns out to simply be just a good starter could create backlash as well.

Given the Cavs roster however, I think they would be smart to consider Otto Porter. The Cavaliers already have a player in build around in Irving and while another star would be great, Porter is the kind of complimentary second or third option that will be guaranteed to help a team win. He also fills a position of need and will make an immediate contribution. Plus the Cavs have recently used a top 5 pick on a power forward who can't shoot and Noel doesn't compliment someone like that much. Noel is more of a power forward currently, himself.

The debate between Porter and Noel is an interesting one and should be looked at with more seriousness. Noel is not the consensus first overall pick in the same way guys like Anthony Davis or even Kyrie Irving was a few years ago. The Cavs can go in another direction at #1 and they seem to be at least considering Porter. They were in love with Porter and would have taken him at #3 if they didn't luck into winning the lottery.

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