NBA draft 2013 Toss-up: Better pick at No. 1 overall: Nerlens Noel or the field?
Will Cleveland stay in the No. 1 spot? If they do, should they take Nerlens Noel? If they deal the pick, who is the target for the acquiring team? Toss Up examines the state of flux regarding the No. 1 pick.
Is Noel the best prospect in the draft?
Noel’s shot-blocking ability may be one of the most refined individual skills in the draft, but he’s not the most complete player available. That said, he’s a legit 7-footer who played hard amid the growing wreckage of Kentucky’s wayward season. Further, he doesn’t foul a ton for such an active shot-blocker, he swats shots at an absurd rate and, for a big man, he can really get out and run.
Assuming his knee heels properly and he can get onto a fitness regiment that will add some muscle to his very thin frame, he should at the very least be a rim-protecting presence as a pro with upside that will be determined by how well he can defend NBA bigs on the block and how much his currently limited offensive game develops.
Guys like Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo should provide teams with more than one NBA-ready skill, and someone like Ben McLemore can rival Noel as far as being as good in one skill (shooting) as Noel is in his. You can’t teach height, but this is far from a unanimous decision in terms of the best prospect.
Can Noel help you immediately?
Not on the court. He is still rehabbing from an ACL tear suffered in February and almost certainly will miss a chunk of his rookie season. Depending on the team that selects him and how his recovery progresses, it’s possible he could take the entire season off, and be ready to go with added strength and confidence in fall 2014.
Depending on how you want to look at it, Noel’s absence could be a plus but not in the short term. As explained in his draft breakdown, the team that selects Noel could manage his rookie season to help position them for the monster 2014 draft. It would require essentially conceding 2013-14, but, by sitting Noel, a team that’s growing with young talent could potentially add two huge, cap-friendly pieces in advance of the 2014-15 season and make an immediate leap to playoff contending status.
Advantage: The field
Can Noel help you down the road?
As Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders is showing, athletic preternatural shot-blockers who also rebound can make a big impact. In his third season as a pro, Sanders exploded, nearly averaging a double-double with almost three blocks a game in just 27 minutes a contest. Marcus Camby (who actually averaged 20 points a game his final season at UMass) has fashioned a very long career out of being extremely good in those areas while mainly scoring in transition and on dunks/putbacks.
If Noel follows that type of trajectory, becoming a solid rebounder who can block several shots a night while being a general deterrent around the rim, then he’s well worth the No. 1 overall selection. You’re not getting LeBron or Durant in this year’s draft, so you have to temper the expectations based on context.
Whether you think Noel will be more impactful than other possible choices is the main question. I happen to think that Otto Porter is the safest pick in the draft in terms of getting a productive, quality pro, but athletic 7-footers aren’t easy to come by.
If there’s a trade, will it be for Noel?
It’s hard to imagine a team is trying to move up to No. 1 to get anyone else, as there’s no consensus really on the order of the next five picks or so. The only pick you are seeing fairly regularly in mocks is Porter to the Wizards at No. 3, but you can also deal with Orlando at 2 if you think that’s what Washington’s plan is.
The general sense (by no means a lock) is that the Cavs will take Noel at No. 1 if they end up keeping the pick. If they work a trade, you’d think the other team would be interested in selecting Noel.
Noel’s situation is a mix of two old adages — timing is everything and good things happen to those who wait. Noel mixes enough raw upside with enough added value in terms of next year’s draft position to make it worthwhile to take on the moderate risk he poses at this stage of his career. It will be interesting to see if anything happens between now and late June to change this picture, but as of now, Noel is the choice.