The 2013 NBA Draft is just over three weeks away, and few have any idea who the Cavaliers will select with the first overall pick. While there has been speculation regarding players such as Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, and Alex Len, most of the debate has focused on Nerlens Noel, the player widely regarded as the best in the draft, and Otto Porter, who many consider the best fit for the current Cavaliers roster. Today we will look at both players in multiple categories and hopefully determine who the Cleveland Cavaliers should select on June 27.
Character: This is one area that is more important to the Cavaliers than most other NBA teams, and with good reason. Players with solid character are more likely to work hard to maximize their potential, focus on winning versus simply padding their stats, treat teammates, coaches, and fans with respect, and represent the franchise in a positive manner. The Cavaliers are known to put heavy emphasis on their interview process when deciding whether or not to draft a player, although they did not interview Dion Waiters or Tyler Zeller before last year’s draft. That being said, both Noel and Porter have reputations as solid young men who are intelligent, work hard, focus on winning, and are wonderful teammates. Each player’s college coach speaks highly of his character. This ends in a draw.
Potential: First, let’s look at this using a player comparison method. While this isn’t an exact science by any means, it will hopefully give us an idea of each player’s potential. Porter’s worst case scenario seems to be Wesley Johnson, a former high lottery pick who has been a bust in the NBA. The fact that Johnson and Porter are very similar physically is the main basis of this comparison, although Johnson was several years older than Porter is now when he was drafted. The more common comparisons for Porter are Corey Brewer, Tayshaun Prince, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng, and Danny Granger. All of these players are solid to excellent defenders, with offensive games that range from solid role player to borderline All-Star. Granger and Deng are both two-time All-Stars, which would be a very solid ceiling for Porter. Noel’s worst case scenario is Greg Oden, a defensive force who is never able to contribute due to constant injury. Beyond that comparisons include Larry Sanders, Marcus Camby, Dikembe Mutombo, Tyson Chandler, and Joakim Noah. All of these big men are/were excellent defenders whose offense ranged from limited to efficient and solid. Chandler, Mutombo, and Noah have been All-Stars, and Mutombo, Camby, and Chandler have won defensive player of the year awards. Teams who are high on Noel are looking for that kind of impact. Another look at each player’s ceiling was Kevin Pelton’s excellent piece ranking Noel first and Porter second in this draft when predicting future WARP. That being said, the difference between Noel and Porter was roughly the same as Porter and the seventh player on that list. Edge: Noel
Athleticism: Porter is considered to be an average athlete at best, and it has been a major knock regarding his upside. That being said his combine measurements found on DraftExpress compare favorably with those of Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Kevin Durant on the same site. While Porter does not have an overly athletic game, neither do Granger or Durant. Porter does seem to be athletic enough to continue his success in the NBA. While Noel was not able to participate in any athletic tests at the combine due to his injury, there is little doubt that he has elite athleticism that is special even in the NBA. Edge: Noel
Offense: While scouts do not see either player becoming a go-to offensive player in the league, both have the potential to make a significant offensive impact. Porter is a well rounded offensive player with a variety of skills. He plays extremely well off the ball, is an excellent cutter and passer, shows some potential in his post game, and shot 42% on three pointers this year. All of this was good for a PER of 27.3 to go along with 16.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, and .590 true shooting. Noel is very raw on offense, but to his credit he stays within his limits. By staying close to the basket Noel matched Porter’s PER of 27.3 (despite a relatively low usage rate) by averaging 10.5 ppg, 1.6 apg, and .583 true shooting, which was brought down by Noel shooting just under 53% on his free throws. While he undoubtedly has offensive potential, Nerlens Noel is definitely a defense-first prospect. Edge: Porter
Defense: This one is really no contest. Porter projects as a good, if not lockdown defender. He uses his length well on that end and accumulates a decent amount of steals, rebounds, and blocks for his position. There are some concerns regarding his lack of bulk and lateral quickness on the defensive end. Porter’s off-the-ball defense also leaves something to be desired, which is typical for young players. If Noel is selected first overall on June 27, it is due to his potential as a defender. In his lone college season Noel averaged 7.3 combined steals and blocks per 36 minutes. The only NBA prospects to better this rate were David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwan, two of the best defenders in league history. With time Noel could become one of the best paint defenders in the league. Edge: Noel
Motor: No complaints about either player in this area either. Both Noel and Porter are known for having tremendous activity levels and never taking plays off. Amin Elhassan says that Otto Porter may have the best motor in the entire draft, while Chad Ford frequently mentions Noel’s motor as one of his elite qualities. Along with Victory Oladipo they may have the best motors in the entire draft. That being said, Porter can occasionally become passive on the offensive end. Edge: Noel.
Physique: Both players have similar pros and cons in this area. They both have ideal height and length for their position, according to their combine measurements. This is a positive for Porter in particular if one relies on the data from Kevin Hetrick’s recent work at Hardwood Paroxysm on the importance of size in small forwards. However they both need to gain muscle mass as Noel weighed 203 pounds and Porter came in at 198 pounds at the draft combine. Both players are young and should be able to add muscle mass easily as their careers progress. While Noel had the excuse of having lost weight as part of his rehab, he needs to gain at least 40 pounds to be at a competitive weight for a center. Porter on the other hand, would be more than fine with an additional 20-25 pounds. Edge: Porter
Health: This one is a no-brainer. Noel is currently recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. He will not play until December at earliest. Noel also fractured the growth plate in his left knee during his sophomore year of high school and missed his entire sophomore season. Porter has suffered no major injuries thus far in his career. Edge: Porter
Immediate Fit: Both players fit needs for the Cavaliers. Despite Anderson Varejao’s solid defense (which can be debated), and the depth the Cavaliers have at center with Varejao and Tyler Zeller, they have neither their center of the future nor any sort of shot blocking presence. Noel would more than adequately fill both of these needs, particularly on the defensive end. However, the one thing the Cavaliers don’t need is another injury prone core player to go alongside Irving and Varejao. Until he begins playing and proves otherwise, that pretty much describes Nerlens Noel. Considering offensive and defensive skills of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the ideal small forward to play alongside them would be a large wing that can play off the ball offensively, hit open jump shots, and play solid defense. Otto Porter undoubtedly fits that description. Edge: Porter
After grading them against one another in nine different categories, Nerlens Noel and Otto Porter each finish 4-4-1. While Noel is almost undoubtedly the prospect with more upside, his injury also makes Porter the safer pick. Both players would be a tremendous addition to the Cleveland Cavaliers and there are clear reasons why fans and the Cavs’ front office would prefer either player. My personal preference would be for the Cavaliers to take Otto Porter with the first pick on June 27. I am simply too nervous about Noel's injury history to be completely comfortable with him. Let me know if you prefer Porter, Noel, or someone else.