I like Nerlens Noel. A lot. I like like him. So when reports began coming out that Cleveland is considering “all” options at the first overall pick (all is in quotation marks because there’s only one option), I began to get worried. Don’t get me wrong, I like Alex Len, Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett and Victor Oladipo. But I don’t like like them. So I thought I’d do a quick scouting report on the top prospect of the upcoming (TEN DAYS!!!) NBA Draft.
Nerlens Noel has constantly been getting compared to Anthony Davis ever since he committed to Kentucky, but always with a mention that he is a lesser version. I’m here to argue against this notion. Not to say that he’s better than Davis, or that the ‘Brow wasn’t as elite as a prospect as some thought him to be, just that Noel, despite being the projected number one overall pick in the draft to Cleveland (woooohoooo!!!!), is still underrated. If Nerlens and Anthony had swapped teams (Nerlens playing on the ‘11-12 National Champion Wildcats and Davis on this past year’s clusterf*** of a team) that there would have been very little, if any difference between these two players.
In the first 24 games of their college careers (the 24th was Noel’s last after he tore his ACL)
31 minutes, 13.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.8 blocks, 1.5 steals
31 minutes, 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, 2.1 steals
Very little difference here. Anthony looks slightly better at blocking shots, but Nerlens might be more adept at disrupting lanes. Rebounding is essentially the same, as reflected by their rebounding percentages (18.2% and 16.8%). The biggest thing separating them would be the offensive side of the ball, as Davis posted 62% from the field while Noel managed 59%. Keep in mind, Noel played on a vastly inferior team. Davis’s Wildcats had 4 first rounders drafted in 2012 while Nerlens is the only player likely to go in the first, with Archie Goodwin the only other play on NBA team’s radars. Let’s look at some more statistics…
Block%: 13.8 / 13.2
FG%: 62 / 59
Usage %: 18.8 / 17.4
Defensive Rating: 80.3 / 81.8
Team Assists: 481 / 403
FT%: 71 / 53
FTApG: 5.1 / 4.3
As you can see, when it comes to their offensive production, (the perceived biggest difference) Davis averaging roughly 3 more a night can be argued to be essentially irrelevant, as Davis had far superior guards getting him the ball and was also nearly 20% better from the charity stripe than Nerlens. Anthony was also used more often, and more efficiently, due to the better supporting cast. That, on top of the free throw shooting, easily makes up for that 3 point disparity.
Another thing to remember is that Nerlens wasn’t as good as Davis right away- he walked into Kentucky a much rawer player. If it weren’t for Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, it probably wouldn’t have been a horrible decision for him to stay at Kentucky, rehab, and dominate college basketball when he comes back. But he isn’t. Instead of silencing any doubt of his status as an elite prospect, he’s chosen the riskier route, although it has a much higher reward (first overall pick) than sticking around for the ‘14 Draft.
To sum it up, Nerlens deserves a lot more respect than he’s been getting, and should be the number one pick to Cleveland without a doubt. Out of all the questions and concerns posed towards him, the only with any traction is the ACL tear. But he’s supposedly weeks ahead of his schedule, and doesn’t have any other history of injuries. So despite the fact that Noel’s career started off on some struggles, he still replicated similar numbers to Davis. And if it weren’t for his knee injury, who knows what the second half of the season would have brought for him. For one, Kentucky probably would have made the NCAA tournament. It’s not outlandish to think that he would have even surpassed some of Anthony’s statistics.
Next Thursday, one player is going to be the last first overall pick to shake David Stern’s hand. Might be Alex Len, or Otto Porter, or a darkhorse like McLemore and Bennett. But if the commish hugs anyone other than the high-top faded 7-footer from Everett, Massachusetts, this Cleveland fan will be very upset.