2013 NBA draft: Nerlens Noel's value could extend well beyond his defense

Friday June 7th, 2013

Nerlens Noel Nerlens Noel is recovering from a knee injury, but expects to be ready to play by Christmas. (John Sommers II/Icon SMI)

In examining Nerlens Noel, the NBA draft pick, you have to discuss two major components: Noel, the long-term prospect, and Noel, the '14 draft aid.

Noel the prospect comes with plenty of questions, even as he still appears to be the front-runner for the No. 1 overall pick. He was an extraordinarily prolific shot-blocker in his two-thirds of a season at Kentucky before an ACL tear ended his campaign in mid-February. Per Synergy Sports Technology, Noel was also an outstanding post defender at the college level, holding foes to 30 percent shooting and a total of 40 points on 79 post-up attempts. Noel was the major reason an erratic Kentucky team was looking like it would still make the NCAA tournament before his injury derailed the team's season, too.

Noel was also coming along offensively prior to the injury, having scored in double-digits in eight of his last 10 games before the Florida game in which he was injured, including a career-high 19 against Texas A&M in early February. He's still extremely raw on this side of the ball, but you're not picking him at this point for what you think he'll give you offensively.

At nearly 7-feet, 206 pounds, Noel is also extremely thin for his height and projected role in the NBA. Noel was closer to 220 pounds during the season before losing weight post-surgery, but according to ESPN's Chad Ford, that would still make him the lightest center prospect drafted in the past decade, a few pounds lighter than Joakim Noah and Larry Sanders. The latter may be the closest comparable, and as Ford notes, this past season, Sanders weighed between 230-235 pounds.

Needless to say, Noel is going to have to add a lot of strength to be a consistently effective post defender in the NBA. In sum, at this point, he's almost exclusively a weak-side rim-protector, one with the ability to get out occasionally and finish in transition.

So, Noel the prospect certainly has his share of questions (as does everyone in this draft). Drafting a big man who already has had a knee injury is a base risk, and then you have to hope he will add weight and stay healthy so he can continue to develop.

But that injury also factors into Noel's ancillary value, a very key part of his potential draft status with the 2014 draft expected to be loaded, and with Andrew Wiggins as the hugest prize.

Earlier this month, Noel said he was ahead of schedule on his rehab, but ESPN's Ford notes in the link above that some teams believe Noel will require the entire season to fully recover from his injury. In a bizarre way, that actually increases Noel's value in the short term.

If Noel doesn't play at all this season, a lottery-level team will have used its draft pick and received no help for the 2013-14 season. The obvious implication is that team will not be considerably better next season. If it's Cleveland that takes Noel with the No. 1 overall pick, it could let its young existing talent mature for another season, then add in a fully healthy Noel and a stud from the 2014 draft for the 2014-15 season. That double influx of lottery talent would be an enormous boost, and that doesn't even begin to discuss free-agent possibilities for next summer, where a really inviting core including Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and these next two draft picks would look awfully nice to join. So yes, if you're using a top pick on an injured, rail-thin big man with limited offensive game, there is some risk involved. But in this particular case, Noel's injury actually may add some immediate value to his selection, rather than diminish it. If everything breaks right for the team selecting him, Noel could end up being a double bonus, and the team could be well on its way to contention as early as the 2015 playoffs.

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