I was planning on waiting until the season was half over to post this, but I figured we could use something to distract ourselves from the recent news of Andy's injury.
(Note: stats followed by per 36M PA = per 36 minutes and pace-adjusted)
My first list only featured one wing player in the top 5, but since then a number of wings have impressed me and there are now 3 in my top 5. But none of them were good enough to knock Nerlens Noel out of the top spot. In fact, I feel that he has distanced himself from the field.
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, PF/C ( same )
2. Ben McLemore, Kansas, SG/SF ( up 8 )
3. Otto Porter, Georgetown, SF ( up 7 )
4. Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF ( up 3 )
5. Alex Len, Maryland, C ( down 3 )
6. Anthony Bennett, UNLV, SF/PF ( up 2 )
7. Rudy Gobert, France, PF/C ( down 2 )
8. Cody Zeller, Indiana, PF/C ( down 5 )
9. Isaiah Austin, Baylor, PF/C ( new to list )
10. Alex Poythress, Kentucky, SF/PF ( down 6 )
In recent years it has become popular to say things like 'Anthony Davis is Tim Duncan 2.0' or 'Bradley Beal could be the next Ray Allen' or 'Alonzo Gee is a poor man's Iguodala'. So here's a challenge for you: Find me a player to compare Nerlens Noel to. I doubt you can. I certainly haven't been able to. No one puts up defensive numbers like him. He currently has a block rate of 11.0% (#28 in D-1) and a steal rate of 4.9% (#32 in D-1). Big men are supposed to block shots and protect the paint, not get copious amounts of steals. Since 2007 there has only been one other player who was both 6'10" or taller and placed in the top 100 in steal rate. It was Greg Monroe in 2009, finishing with a steal rate of 3.7%. But he only had a block rate of 5.1%, so his steal rate came at the expense of protecting the paint. How about in the pros? Using a search criteria of 1230 minutes played, block% = 5.5%, and steal% = 2.5% I came up with this: search result
Only 10 seasons in the history of the NBA, using percentages that are just half of what Nerlens is currently doing. Andrei Kirilenko (x4), Hakeem Olajuwon (x2), Ben Wallace (x2), David Robinson (x1), Bo Outlaw (x1). Not a bad group. I believe that Nerlens will be at least this disruptive on defense at the professional level. He has a unique blend of size, length, explosiveness and anticipation that I'm not sure we've seen before. Take a look at his block & steal rates again. 1 out of every 6 possessions he will either block a shot or steal the ball. This doesn't factor in the altered shots that lead to defensive rebounds, or when his length forces bad passes that his teammates pick off.
I don't necessarily think he is the best fit for our team. His offense is very limited, and his FT shooting is bad. But 3 or 4 years down the road I think that NN & TT could be the best defensive frountcourt in the NBA. Factor in Kyrie at PG and any team playing us will be in for a long night on both sides of the court.
I suppose I can talk about someone else for a while. Ben McLemore has been very impressive so far this season. He is an excellent shooter (3P% = 40% while attempting 5 per game, FT% = 88%), rebounds his position well (6.4 REB per 36M PA), and has good defensive potential (1.3 STL & 0.8 BLK per 36M PA, but needs to improve consistency). One of the best athletes in this class, and he plays best off the ball. If Chris Grant / Byron Scott want to use a 3 guard lineup he would probably be capable of guarding most SFs.
Otto Porter has also been excellent. Noteworthy is his 42% shooting from 3-pt range, but even more impressive are the defensive stats he is putting up. With 2.3 STL & 1.4 BLK per 36M PA it appears that he has improved on this side of the ball, which was my biggest concern with him entering the season. He has a perfect frame for a SF, and I think it's about time we start thinking of him as a potential top 5 pick.
Shabazz Muhammad has improved considerably from the beginning of the season. What is particularly noteworthy to me is the 3-pt shooting (40% at 3.5 attempts per 36M PA). If that keeps up then we certainly would have to give him a long look. But the lack of defensive numbers is concerning. Zero blocks and only 5 steals on the season doesn't exactly bode well for the future.
Alex Len has continued to impress since his season opener against Nerlens Noel. The reason he moves down this list is that he can only play center, and right now we already have two centers on the roster (Varejao & Zeller). Based on his play this season and the fact that he is now having knee surgery I doubt Andy will ever be able to guard PFs again.
Anthony Bennett has continued to be extremely impressive. I'm not sure how we could put him & TT on the court at the same time, but it is something to think about because this guy is really good. Based purely on talent I'd put him top 3.
Rudy Gobert is really an unknown. If the Cavs pick him then I'll just assume he's good. He could go anywhere from #1 overall to late lottery if he declares for this draft (not a given at this point). We know Z went overseas to scout him, so it's safe to say the FO knows more about him than we do.
Cody Zeller is an excellent college player. I'm just not fully convinced his game translates to the pros. Probably the hardest player for me to make up my mind on in this draft.
Isaiah Austin is finally starting to show his excellent potential. He's a 7-footer with 3-pt range, and has potential to be a shot blocker down low. Probably better off as a PF, but I'd be just fine with him & TT as our bigs. Keep on eye on him, he could rise quickly if he continues to progress.
I really want Alex Poythress to be the right player for us. He has so much potential, and he plays the position we need most. But the results have been thoroughly disappointing so far. To be fair, he is shooting a ridiculous 68% inside the arc and 40% outside. Impressive, but remember that he is a tertiary scorer on a loaded Wildcats team. What concerns me, however, is that he was touted as an excellent defender coming out of high school, yet in 347 minutes playing on the wing he has only managed 2 steals. It's not like he's a high volume scorer using all his energy on offense. Kentucky's defense produces steals at an above-average rate, so it's not the defensive philosophy. Does he focus on staying in front of his man rather than gambling for turnovers? It's not like he's shutting his man down. Over the last 4 games he's averaged just 21 mpg, and only played 15 minutes in a close loss to Louisville. Seems like Calipari is seeing some problems too. Keep an eye on him, but for now I wouldn't be willing to spend our first pick on him.
Thanks to KenPom & Basketball Reference for all the numbers I used in my research. Please discuss, and if there are any other players you are interested in I'd be happy to research & share my findings.
Who do you want the Cavaliers to use their first round pick on?
1. Nerlens Noel (24 votes)
2. Ben McLemore (9 votes)
3. Otto Porter (6 votes)
4. Shabazz Muhammad (11 votes)
5. Alex Len (4 votes)
6. Anthony Bennett (2 votes)
7. Rudy Gobert (2 votes)
8. Cody Zeller (2 votes)
9. Isaiah Austin (0 votes)
10. Alex Poythress (2 votes)
Other (3 votes)
65 total votes