(I'd like to apologize in advance for the length. I completely understand if you wanna say TL:DR and jump straight to comments)
Alright, since the trade deadline is over, and the Cavs have no real shot at the playoffs, I figured it's time to get focused on the draft. I wanted to do quite a few of these, but the only team whose full games seem to be on the internet is Kentucky. So instead of a series, consisting of centers Noel, Len, Austin, and Zeller, and SFs Porter, Muhammad, Poythress, and Robinson, I may be limited to just Noel and maybe Poythress. Anyway, on to the main topic: Nerlens Noel.
When I first started this, I hadn't really ever watched Noel play, but I had heard a few things:
1. Defensively, he's a machine. Nothing he can't do.
2. Offensively, he's extremely raw.
So after collecting some information and watching 6(Maryland, Baylor, Louisville, Duke, Notre Dame, and Ole Miss) games, here is what I came away with:
Noel is 6'11'' in shoes with a 7'4 wingspan and a 9'1.5'' standing reach. He has a slender frame, only weighing roughly 220 lbs. Athletically, Noel is about as gifted as they come. His quickness is absolutely amazing for someone his size. His vert probably comes close to 40'', and he gets off the ground incredibly quickly.
Nerlens shoots 59% overall, with 10.5 points per game. He struggles at the FT line, shooting just 52.9%. Defensively, the kid is a stat sheet stuffer. Per game numbers: 4.4 blocks, 9.5 boards, 2.1 steals, all while averaging only 2.6 fouls per game. His advanced stats are pretty encouraging, as well, giving him a 26.7 PER. Click here for full set of statistics.
Noel can dunk. And with authority. His length and athleticism make him a great guy to throw lobs to. He is also, a very good roller off of screens. He rolls extremely hard on almost every screen he sets and is looking for the lob (even if Kentucky's guards didn't always give it up). It's pretty safe to say Noel's future in the NBA on offense is primarily as a finisher off the pick and roll, a la DeAndre Jordan.
However, there were other areas where Noel was impressive. He has a knack for finding the open space in the defense. He is also above average around the rim. He has shown the ability to finish with either hand (actually seemed to almost prefer using his left). Also, when he doesn't rush himself, he is above average in the post as well. Similar to TT, Noel flashes above average hook shots with both hands. As an offensive rebounder Noel attacks missed shots well, and has a number of out-of-nowhere putback dunks. One of the most surprising things I noticed about Noel offensively, was his ability to drive from the free throw line. He always (I mean always) went left, but his quickness allowed him to get to the rim pretty effectively.
The most obvious weakness is his shot. He didn't attempt any jumpers in the games I watched, and was not good from the stripe. It starts with his form. One of his main problems is that is elbow is way out. He also lacks fluidity in his shot, and his arm seems to never fully extend on his follow through. It will be interesting to see how his form changes in the NBA. Another thing I noticed was his hands. They aren't good. While it wasn't all the time, there were a decent number of passes or rebounds that he couldn't grab or hold on to. His strength also hurt him while in the post, finishing, or on the offensive glass.
Another major weakness of Noel's is his passing ability and decision making. Quite a few times, he would try to pass to a cutter or another big who just wasn't open. Other times he passed to open teammates, and the pass was completely off target or bad enough that they had to adjust to it and were no longer open. Nerlens also seemed to rush everything on offense. The difference is very noticeable when Noel slows things down versus when he rushes and forces things. When he is rushing, he becomes a bad finisher, bad in the post, and turnover prone (especially when double teamed). But when he slows it down he flashes all kinds of abilities. It would have been interesting to watch how this progressed as the season went on, and he would have had the chance to become accustomed to the college game a bit more.
Everything. Okay, not everything, but close enough. He has terrific instincts blocking shots and getting in passing lanes. He boxes out. I was stunned to see a kid with his athleticism turn around and find his man every time a shot went up. He doesn't foul. He has amazingly quick hands. During the 6 games I watched, there were probably 20-25 times when he knocked the ball away from his man, or a guard on a fastbreak. It's honestly incredible. I've never seen a man his size have the ability to knock the ball away from anyone at anytime. The number of ways he can impact a game simply on the defensive end is astonishing.
Two main things I noticed. One, strength, and two, discipline. His lack of strength shows up quite a bit. Even though he boxes out his man, he often gets pushed too far underneath the rim and is unable to hold his position. The same holds true in the post. He often had poor position because his man would be able to get to wherever he wanted. His discipline is the other thing that shows up on film. He is often in a poor position when off the ball, which leads to him being easily screened. He also tends to over rotate and leave his man and his feet for an attempt at a blocked shot. Something else that was odd that I noticed was that he almost never seemed to aggressively hedge a screen. With his ability, I would think he would be an extremely effective hedger, but it just seemed to never happen. All of these things are correctable, though, and quite understandable given that he is only 18 years old.
As we all know, Noel recently tore his ACL. While this is a setback, I don't expect it to majorly affect anything the he is able to do. It may actually allow him to focus on getting his upper body stronger, and to work on his shot. So while obviously a torn ACL is not what you want, I don't think its the most damaging thing in the world either. Nerlens also seems like a great kid. By all accounts, he is a hard worker and isn't a dumbass.
Overall, I walk away thinking the sky is the limit. Offensively, he's not as bad as you think, and defensively, he's probably better. And he's got room to grow in both areas. If he truly is a hard worker and good kid, I see no reason (barring injuries) that he doesn't become a future all-star and DPOY.
Feel free to share any thoughts, concerns or questions in the comments.