The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed to the NBA Draft Lottery and there's some debate about who they would pick if they had the first overall pick. That debate is nonsense and should not exist. Here's why.
We've all heard that the 2013 NBA Draft is weak compared to previous drafts. We've also heard that there are multiple players in the running to be the first overall pick. The former may be true. But as far as the Cleveland Cavaliers are concerned, the latter seems to be blatantly false.
I guess you could make the argument for some other players, depending on which team has the #1 pick. But if the Cavaliers get lucky enough to select first, there shouldn't be any debate -- Nerlens Noel is the guy.
Who is Nerlens Noel?
Noel stands roughly 6'11" (not including his hair) and has beyond elite athleticism and quickness. His defensive instincts are off the charts. He's far from a complete player, but the abilities that he has displayed so far in his college career are simply too impressive for the Cavs to pass up. Despite the fact that Noel has a very limited offensive skill set at this point in his development, I can't help but think that the Cavs would sprint up to the podium to take him with the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
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 over 10 points per game on dunks and layups.
Why would the Cavs draft him?
Well, this basically.
But beyond that, it just seems like a perfect fit. The Cavaliers are dead last in block rate in the NBA and allow the 3rd highest FG% in the restricted area. Tristan Thompson can be a very very good defender, but he's much better suited to defender opposing power forwards. Noel seems like the perfect defensive complement. Noel's ridiculous 7'4" wingspan allows him to fly around and protect the rim from opposing big men and guards alike. At 6'11" Noel seems to have the height and length to defend opposing centers (once he puts on some addition muscle).
As stated before, his offensive game is quite limited. But he's incredibly athletic and quick, which should be enough for him to run the floor with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters and score a bunch of points on dunks and pick and rolls. Furthermore, his passing ability is well above average for a man his size. That's an underrated skill and would fit nicely in Byron Scott's offensive scheme. The Cavs could put him in the high post and use him like they had used Anderson Varejao before he got hurt.
Here's what ESPN's Chad Ford wrote about the best fits for the Cavaliers in the upcoming draft.
In 2004, the Cavs drafted Varejao -- a hyper, athletic big man who could rebound and run the floor. For the first seven years of his career, Varejao never averaged more than nine points per game, but he made a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. Noel projects as a more athletic, better shot-blocking version of Varejao.
With the Cavs ranked 28th in defensive efficiency, Noel seems like an almost perfect fit. He's an elite NBA shot-blocker, runs the floor like a guard and once he spends a few years in an NBA weight room, should be a defensive monster. His offensive game is a major work in progress, but with an elite point guard like Irving running the show, he should be able to get 10 points a night just on lobs.
The bottom line is that the Cavs are a dreadful defensive team. They're a pretty bad offensive team as well, but the assumed develop of Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson (along with Kyrie Irving) ought to give them a boost. Defensively, Nerlens Noel could be an absolute game-changer. He shuts down the paint and as you can see in that clip of Kentucky vs. Ole Miss, he has the ability to dominate a basketball game without scoring a single point.
There are plenty of nice prospects in the upcoming draft. Ben McLemore is dynamic and Alex Len could be the next Zydrunas Ilgauskas. But it's likely that nobody will have the upside or the immediate impact of Nerlens Noel. If the Cavs are drafting first overall, Nerlens is the guy.
Plus, look at his hair. It's beautiful.