The Cleveland Cavaliers will have the first pick and the 19th pick in this upcoming draft. In the next few weeks here at Right Down Euclid, we will be profiling players the Cavaliers might draft in the first round on June 27th. Today, we profile Nerlens Noel.
Tale of the Tape
Name: Nerlens Noel
Weight: 206 lbs.
Honors: 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Freshman of the Year, All-SEC 1st Team, SEC All-Defensive Team, SEC All-Freshman Team
2012-2013 Per Game Stats: 10.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 4.4 BPG, 59.0 FG%, 52.9 FT%
Tore ACL February 12th vs. Florida
So, if you haven’t heard, the Cavaliers have the first pick in this year’s NBA draft. Because of this, it appears that Nerlens Noel will be the player that they draft. Even though he is still recovering from an ACL tear suffered last season, Noel is a freak of an athlete and is perhaps the closest we come to a sure difference maker in this draft. Noel is an explosive rim protector, exactly what the Cavaliers need in a draft pick. Since there’s a very high likelihood of Noel being drafted by the Cavs, let’s dive in and look at exactly what he brings to the table.
Noel is a monstrous athlete. That much is for certain. You can tell from any highlight reel or video from this past season that he can jump out of the building, exploding for posterizing dunks or thunderous blocked shots. He’s also incredibly quick for a big guy, running the floor like a guard and using great lateral quickness to cover the weak side on defense and blow by opponents on offense. These traits are what give him such a high ceiling as an NBA post player. His strength and weight are slightly problematic, as Noel weighed in at a very lean 206 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine. However, while he does weigh only two pounds more than shooting guard prospect Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, this is something that can easily be improved on. Noel played at close to 220 pounds this past season, and a lot of his weight loss could be attributed to the fact that he hasn’t been able to really strength train since the ACL injury. Noel’s ACL tear is his big red flag, as many believe that for someone whose entire game is predicated on aerial assault, it will not be easy to return to that level of athleticism. Noel will struggle initially to regain confidence in his knee, that is almost certain. However, it’s reasonable to assume that even though Noel’s game is predicated around his explosiveness, he can reach that level of play in the NBA. I don’t think that Noel’s ACL should be a cause for that much concern. He’s ahead of schedule on his rehab, already back to shooting free throws and should, if he keeps this trajectory, be ready to play come December or January. I don’t think the physical tools are what you have to worry about with Noel.
Noel’s offense isn’t great right now, but he does bring a few really nice tools to the table for coaches to work with. For one, Noel’s mobility and leaping ability make him a devastating open court player. In a high-pace offense, Noel will thrive in finishing on the break and running quick offensive sets. He has a great sense for cutting to the basket and dissecting a defense in the open court, something that will also help him at the next level. If you watch the video above, you’ll see it in action. Noel not only gets down the floor nicely, he also continually makes the correct cuts to efficiently get to the basket. He’s a fantastic finisher as well, hitting 64 percent of his shots at the rim, making him a very viable pick-and-roll threat as well. His post game is a little lacking, but he looks coachable here thanks to his quickness and touch. Something that sets him apart from many of the other centers in this draft class is that he can finish with either hand, something that will benefit him as he becomes a better post player. His shooting ability is almost nonexistent, as he did not attempt a shot beyond 15 feet this past season and shot 53 percent from the line. However, this is one aspect of his game in which I think the ACL tear will help him. Without the ability to run yet, Noel has been working pretty much exclusively on his shooting, which hopefully will result in improved technique and shooting numbers at the line. Noel might not be someone who you can run your offense through right away and probably won’t ever be that. However, his combination of athleticism and instinct will allow him to score if he’s not the focal point of the offense. Overall, I think Blazers blogger Cole Patty said it best on Twitter Wednesday afternoon:
@sam_vecenie with his bounce and height, I think he can athletic his way to 12 points.
— Cole Patty (@Cole_Patty) May 22, 2013
It’s hard not to watch Noel and just sit there in awe of his defensive abilities. The guy can do everything on that side of the ball. Thanks to his length and speed, Noel is comfortable both in the paint and on the perimeter, and after generating a whopping 7.3 combined blocks and steals per 36 minutes last season, Noel is definitely ready to be a defensive force in the NBA. Noel’s real skills are in the paint, where he’s a dynamic shot blocker with great instincts for challenging shots. He’s great at rotating within the paint, working from his man to the weak side to contest shots, and with his length, he can contest shots even when he has a poor angle to do so. His strength makes it difficult for him to maintain position when playing low post D, but I think that will improve, and at the very least Noel should quickly reach the level of Larry Sanders, Serge Ibaka and Javale McGee as a shot blocker. However, what makes Noel special is that he’s not limited to paint defense. Noel is very smart in PNR defense and has the lateral speed to stay out in front of most bigs on the perimeter. He’s got outstanding instincts for disrupting passing lanes or poking the ball away from ball-handlers, and I think that will do him well, even if he suffers some loss in explosiveness or speed due to the ACL tear. Noel definitely has a chance to be an elite defender in the NBA and to start his path to greatness here right away.
Noel’s a very smart player. His instincts are very good, his court vision and awareness is fantastic and he knows how to use his skills to contribute to the overall success of the team. Noel is sometimes very erratic and can be turnover prone, but that shouldn’t be a problem as he matures. He has a ton of potential, and with the improvements he showed over the course of the season, Noel appears to be willing to work toward reaching that potential. Even with the injury, Noel is ahead of schedule, and in every interview I’ve seen with him he appears to be very driven to get back and continue to improve his game. I have no issues with Noel’s character, and I think that he’ll fit in well with any team.
I really think Noel is what we always wanted Javale McGee to be. He has a similar physical build, and will probably be successful in similar aspects of the game that McGee is. Granted, Noel is infinitely smarter than Javale, so I think he’ll be a much better player, but the style of play for both will be similar. Ultimately I think Noel will be similar to what we saw with Dikembe Mutombo or Alonzo Mourning in the 90s; a guy who relishes crashing the boards, contesting shots, scoring on the break and off tip-ins and generally wreaking havoc defensively. Hopefully he becomes as skilled offensively as Zo was in his prime, but if not, he’ll still be good enough defensively that you can consider him a success.
How Does He Fit on the Cavaliers?
The Cavs need a rim protector, and Noel definitely fits the bill. With Noel contesting shots, the Cavaliers defense will improve, even if Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters don’t make big strides on that end. Noel will also form a dangerous PNR combo with Irving, as this is where both players’ strengths are in the halfcourt offense. There is a slight fear of a center logjam with Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller on board, but seeing as Noel should be ready to come back at about the point Anderson Varejao gets injured for the season (kidding, although Varejao hasn’t played a game past February 10th in three seasons), and the Cavs might be looking to make a trade involving Varejao or Zeller, I don’t see this being too big of a problem. Varejao also can slide down to the power forward spot, and playing him and Noel together would be pretty fun from a defensive standpoint. I think Cleveland is a good landing spot for Noel, and ultimately he’ll be a great player to pair with Irving, Waiters and Thompson.