Over the past month, Noel has separated himself from the pack to be projected as the top pick in June’s draft. Instantly, Twitter blew up with reaction from fans and journalists ranging from the injury to the gruesome images to his draft stock.
In the days following it was revealed that Noel suffered a torn ACL and is expected to have surgery in the next few weeks. He should be recovered in six to eight months.
Speaking to several executives and scouts from around the NBA, the initial thought about Noel is that he still will be a top-five pick despite the injury. An ACL tear is not the death sentence it was 20 years ago; instead it has become a common injury, and recovery time has been reduced significantly (i.e. Adrian Peterson, Baron Davis, Derrick Rose and Kendrick Perkins, to name a few).
As one scout said, “Noel is going to be full-go by February. So what if he sits or plays sparingly the first half of the year? He could be the best player in the draft.”
Certainly, teams will comb through all of the medical information on Noel’s knee to ensure their staffs know the extent of the injury and how likely a full recovery may be.
Aside from Noel, center remains the deepest position in this draft cycle. There may be upwards of 12 prospects taken in the first round. Even though more teams are playing smaller lineups, having a legit man in the middle is a luxury teams find too tempting to pass up.
Adding intrigue to the draft is the diversity of prospects that could be available, including rim protectors, freakish athletes and offensively capable pivot . I would not rule out Noel potentially being the top pick until May, when the lottery sorts out the order and many of the prospects listed will have possibly had a signature moment in the NCAA Tournament.
Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
The freshman suffered a season-ending injury, but if he checks out medically don’t be surprised to see Noel go somewhere in the top five. Prior to the injury, Noel had really started to flourish on both ends of the court. Compared to his predecessor, Anthony Davis, Noel is very similar in most categories but slightly less efficient. Whereas Davis excelled as a weak-side shot blocker, Noel has demonstrated ability as a rim protector and deterrent to opponents.
Offensively, Noel is a great athlete but lacks the footwork and technique to be effective in the NBA. Noel truly excels when in transition as he is an excellent finisher at the rim. He is an underrated passer out of the post. Raw but improving, Noel figures to be an average post scorer in the NBA.
It is on the defensive side and the glass where Noel will make his NBA living. Blessed with a 7-4 wingspan and great lateral quickness, Noel covers ground in a hurry and not only blocks shots but will also alter many shots.
Noel is an underrated defender as well, averaging over two steals per game. Most of Noel’s rebounds come from out-jumping his opponents, but as he gets stronger and blocks out defenders it would not be a surprise to see him among the league leaders.
Based on his upside and athleticism, teams will view Noel as a player that will need a year to return to 100 percent but could turn out to be the steal of the draft down the road.
Alex Len, C, Maryland
Len has broken out as a sophomore. Having added bulk, Len moves around the key with good agility. Born in the Ukraine, Len played briefly overseas before arriving at Maryland and has looked good when matched up against other highly touted big men.
Len’s calling card is his offense; he demonstrates excellent touch around the basket. For a big, Len has excellent hands and looks to be a great pick and roll or pop partner with most NBA point guards. There have been moments this season where you see Len make a play or move that has “wow” factor.
Len is a very good shot-blocker and rebounder and as his body matures could be a good post defender. He has yet to dominate on a nightly basis, but scouts seem to feel that if he played with a better cast he could legitimately post better numbers.