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Better Know a Prospect: Nerlens Noel, C - Kentucky

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Nerlens Noel is almost certain to be the first pick in the draft due to his freakish combination of size and athleticism.

Andy Lyons


Nerlens Noel was born into the tight-knit community of Everett, Massachusetts, to working-class Haitian immigrants. His parents, Dorcina and Yonel, worked as cleaners at a local hospital. Nerlens and his siblings, perhaps too young to know, told friends that their father was a doctor. With his parents working such long hours, Nerlens and his older brothers were largely raised by their community. By the time he hit high school, he was an AAU star for BABC, a team based in Boston. In his senior year, he was already being considered a likely first overall pick in the NBA draft.

At Kentucky, Noel played in 24 games before he tore his ACL. Nonetheless, he's almost a lock to be the top pick in the draft, due to his freakish athleticism and dominant shot-blocking.


Nerlens Noel is, once again, a Kentucky big man being drafted for his defense. His ability to block shots is certainly his greatest skill. Measuring 6'10" without shoes and sporting a 7'4" wingspan, Noel has a massive frame to go along with his freakish leaping ability. What's unique about Noel's shot-blocking is that, unlike most shot-blockers today, he gets the majority of his blocks against his man, instead of as the secondary defender. He provides no daylight to his marks and blocks their shots with shocking regularity - he blocked 5.4 shots per 40 minutes pace adjusted, best in the DraftExpress Top 100. He does a good job of rotating off defenders and is able to move into the lane to contest shots. He's patient on defense and usually makes the right decisions about rotations, moving quickly laterally to get into the lane to contest shots.

Despite his focus on shot-blocking, Noel is an elite defensive rebounder, nabbing 8.3 rebounds per 40p, good for 5th among NCAA centers. Unlike Davis a year ago, Noel has solid fundamentals in rebounding, consistently blocking out his man and getting solid position for rebounds. He projects as a true center in the NBA, and he will certainly be one of the most athletic centers in the game at the start of his career.

His hands and awareness on defense are exceptional - he routinely jabs and pokes the ball away from his marks, often times against guards. Impressively, these swipes almost always seem to send the ball right to a teammate or to himself. Noel also has a great ability to read passing lanes, and generates a good number of turnovers around the perimeter by jumping the lanes.

His weaknesses on defense stem from his lack of strength - he only hangs 216 pounds on his enormous frame. As a result, his opponents are routinely able to carve out extremely deep post positions against him. It's not uncommon to see his opponents receive the ball in the post with Noel's feet inside the circle. This is partially due to his lack of strength, but also results from his poor form in the post - he's generally upright and doesn't bend his knees enough to get leverage.


Noel hasn't shown an ability to create for himself on offense. He is absolutely fearsome when catching lobs, however - his dunks have a tendency to significantly bend the rim. And on pick and rolls, he displays a good understanding of space and can finish well while rolling to the basket, once again, usually finishing with ferocious dunks. With his height, athleticism, and leaping ability, he can finish even at highly difficult angles. He should be able to contribute immediately on the offensive end as a pick and roll player.

As a shooter, however, Noel falls short. He makes 53% of his free throw attempts, and has no perimeter game to speak of. He used only 18% of his team's possessions, eschewing shots in favor of high-percentage dunks. This yielded sky-high efficiency stats - 27 PER, 0.97 points per play. He gets to the free throw line with regularity - 0.67 FTA/FGA - but once there, he can't really convert, due to his poor shooting.

Noel has yet to develop a post game. Converting only 45% of shots where he began the possession with his back to the basket, Noel generally lacks basic post moves, instead relying on getting a running start and using his athleticism to generate offense. Incredibly, Noel turns the ball often more over than he draws a foul. Considering how quick his hands are on defense, they're not particularly soft on offense - it's common to see Noel drop simple entry passes.


Noel will be an immediate contributor as a defender, and likely be useful on offense as a rebounder and as a pick and roll player. His athleticism alone makes him worth the number one overall pick, but I doubt that he'll take Rookie of the Year honors. He'll have to miss some time due to his recovery from ACL surgery, and he'll likely have limited offensive impact in his rookie season. But as he adds weight and develops his shooting, the team that drafts Noel can expect to have a defensive star for years to come.

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