SB Nation is posting scouting reports of each prospect in the 2013 NBA Draft. Learn more about Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel.
NAME: Nerlens Noel
AGE ON DRAFT DAY: 19 years, two months.
MEASUREMENTS: 6'11, 206 pounds (at NBA Draft combine), 7'3.75 wingspan, 9'2 standing reach.
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RELEVANT ADVANCED STATS: 13.2 block percentage and 3.9 steal percentage this season. Those are silly defensive numbers for a center.
SB NATION BIG BOARD POSITION: No. 5.
NBA CEILING: Larry Sanders.
NBA FLOOR: Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
JONATHAN TJARKS' ANALYSIS
The consensus No. 1 player on most draft boards, Nerlens Noel is one of the best shot-blocking prospects to come into the NBA in recent years. He put up monstrous defensive numbers at Kentucky this season, averaging 11 points, 10 rebounds and 4.4 blocks on 59 percent shooting from the field.
However, even if he wasn't currently recuperating from a torn ACL, his transition to the NBA wouldn't have been easy. As an undersized defensive-minded big man without much offensive game, he's got a long way to go to before he will be a starting center at the next level.
He measured at 6'11 and 206 with a 7'4 wingspan at the NBA Draft combine, which is essentially Brandan Wright's frame. A 19-year-old will certainly be able to put on some weight, but his narrow shoulders and wiry frame mean he'll always be giving up size to some of the NBA's bigger centers.
That would be less of an issue if he could drag them out of the paint and use his lateral quickness to his advantage, but he can't. Any comparison to Anthony Davis, his predecessor at Kentucky, is a non-starter. Noel doesn't have nearly the offensive skill, touch or feel for the game of the Unibrow, who played mostly as a power forward as a rookie for the New Orleans
At the next level, Noel's relatively high center of gravity will make establishing deep post position difficult. When he's pushed too far from the basket, he's close to useless offensively, although he did do a decent job as a passer out of the high post this season.
Best-case scenario, if Noel adds a lot of weight to his frame and develops a consistent mid-range jumper, he'll be an above-average NBA center who can impact the game on both sides of the ball with his length and athleticism. However, his lack of bulk and shot-creating ability make stardom a stretch.
Defensive-minded centers, like Tyson Chandler and Larry Sanders, don't usually come into their own until their mid-20's. At the very top of the draft, if you're going to wait that long for a player, he might as well have a higher ceiling than Noel.
DRAFT EXPRESS' SCOUTING REPORT
OTHER SB NATION SCOUTING REPORTS
There is very little in the coverage that is wrong. Everyone who has seen Noel play understands that he is a raw player of remarkable athleticism. Everyone knows that his offensive game is practically nonexistent, and that he's a great shot blocker, and that he suffered an ACL tear.
There are three things that get almost no attention, but should. Noel's good hands are known, but his hands are also incredibly quick. Noel led the Wildcats in steals last year, and had an unheard-of combination of blocks and steals. Very few big men steal the ball well, but Noel steals the ball well for any player in any position. If a big man exposes the ball in the post, Noel is quick enough to poke it lose without fouling. His ability to create loose balls and quickness when it comes free is more than just rare.
Nerlens Noel was touted as the best prospect in the past recruiting class and started receiving comparisons to Anthony Davis before he even stepped on the Kentucky campus. When you get compared to one of the best college basketball players in recent memory, virtually anything you do is going to look like a disappointment. Couple that with the fact that Kentucky as a team has failed to live up to expectations and the general opinion of Nerlens has been that he's had an underwhelming freshman season. But all you have to do is watch him and you should be able to see that that's far from the case.
Noel leads the country with 4.6 blocks per game and is in the top 25 with 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. But those numbers don't really begin to capture the total impact of his defensive presence on any given game. Teams simply refuse to attack the rim with Noel on the floor. The mere idea of Noel darting back and forth across the paint deters teams from attempting layups. His quickness allows him to jump from player to player and put constant pressure on multiple opponents. And although he doesn't have any jump shot or any real post moves, Noel's athleticism alone allows him to score more than 10 points per game on dunks and layups.
Noel was billed as a top-tier defensive specialist coming into the season, and his college production did nothing but build on that hype. As an 18-year-old freshman playing in a major conference, Noel recorded 2.5 steals and 5.4 blocks every 40 minutes. This combination of defensive statistics is special. Here is the complete list of collegiate seasons where a player averaged 2+ steals and 5+ blocks per 40: Hakeem Olajuwon '83 (2 and 7.5), David Robinson '86 (2 and 7), Nerlens Noel '13 (2.5 and 5.4), David Robinson '87 (2.4 and 5.2), Hakeem Olajuwon '82 (2 and 5.4). That is two of the greatest centers in NBA history and Nerlens Noel. Not bad company.
Don't let your imagination run too far with those comparisons, though. Nerlens collected several fewer rebounds and scored half as many points per 40 as Robinson and Olajuwon did in those seasons. Noel has a long way to go before his game warrants comparison to hall of famers. Still . . . Noel is the first pick in this draft. His injury makes things awkward, but you don't pass on a player with Noel's combination of length, athleticism and evidence of putting them to use (even if only on one end of the court).
Noel has the makings of a true defensive anchor at the next level with the ability to dominate the game in ways other than scoring. Players such as Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler and even a modern day Kevin Garnett are irreplaceable commodities to playoff teams. They not only emerge as leaders on the court due to their smarts and hustle, but can completely change the outlook of a game based on their presence alone in the paint.
Of course, the Noel deliberation begins and ends with the ACL tear he suffered back in February. Questions about his athleticism post-injury are, of course, the hotbed of discussion, as well as taking a gamble on a 6'10 18-year-old that has dealt with two knee injuries in the span of four years. While it's foolish to compare Noel to the likes of Adrian Peterson, it's hard to ignore the advancements in medicine, along with improvements in the rehab process for ACL tears. He has only begun to scratch the surface, and for the sake of discussion, it's not hyperbolic to assume he makes up for any lost athleticism with a more refined game or a better understanding of defenses.
"225 is where I was about," said Noel on Friday at the combine. "That's where I got to in the offseason while I was at Kentucky. I'm definitely looking to get back up there and I know it won't be hard. I put on weight pretty fast."
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 only glaring issues with Noel is 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 within a squad's rotation.
I think Noel could become much like the player Joakim Noah has become in the NBA. He's not nearly as strong as Noah and he doesn't finish through contact like Noah, but with added strength these are things that could be developed in time. Lucky for Noel, he's only 19 years old. He has plenty of time to add weight. He has plenty of time to develop offensively. He'll most likely never become a dangerous low-post threat, but if he can add a high-post game at the NBA level with his already dominant defense, then he'll be an excellent overall player for years to come.
Despite suffering a torn ACL injury this February, Nerlens Noel is the No. 1 pick on most draft boards. At worst, he'll be selected with the second pick, which means the Bobcats have a decent shot at landing him. Noel's 4.4 blocks per game have given way to Larry Sanders comparisons, but I prefer to call him mini-Dwight. He's not nearly as athletically overpowering as Howard was upon entering the draft, but he's darn near close. The 6'10 freshman out of Kentucky has an otherworldly 7'4 wingspan, allowing him to physically dominate his opponents on both ends of the floor. However, he's going to have add a great deal of strength if he wants to be able to bang with bigs in the NBA. And like Dwight Howard in his early years, Noel struggles to score from the low post. In the high post, though, Noel is more than adept at taking his man off the dribble and finishing explosively.
There isn't really a consensus No. 1 pick in this year's draft, but perhaps the closest is Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel. Noel had his season cut short after suffering a torn ACL about two-thirds the way through. Still, Noel showed enough goods and potential to warrant a top pick. Noel was one of the best shot blockers in the NCAA, nearly as good as last year's No. 1 pick, Anthony Davis. Noel reminds me a little bit of Davis, as both have a similar frame and weight. Unlike Davis, Noel's offensive game needs a lot more polish. Noel doesn't have much of a jumper at all, and his Free Throw Percentage is barely above 50 percent. Still, there is a lot to like here.
A little hiccup in common perception is that length, not girth, might be the most valuable physical tool in a defender's arsenal, be he an interior or perimeter stopper. That's good news for Noel, whose expansive measurements are just a bit smaller than [Larry] Sanders despite being about an inch taller. Perhaps even more encouraging is that Noel averaged 1.2 fewer fouls per 40 minutes than Sanders during each's pre-draft seasons. Noel may already be more refined on defense than Sanders was coming into the league, despite his age. That he played for a very good coach at the NBA Production Facility of Kentucky can't hurt either.
For more coverage, visit SB Nation's NBA Draft 2013 section.