The other day in the comments on a random post, someone made a comment that went something like this:" People are going to be surprised when Nerlens Noel becomes Kevin Garnett and not Tyson Chandler". And for me, it's been an ongoing question I've been struggling with, not specifically if Noel will be Garnett-ish or Chandler-ish, but that I didn't exactly agree with what the consensus thinks Noel will be in the NBA.
Most folks, including myself at certain points, settled with the comparison of Noel to DeAndre Jordan or Chandler. The long, slim, athletic rim protector type that finished lobs and putbacks. And the power of group think kinda made that acceptable for the most part. Deep down inside though, I didn't exactly feel that's what Noel will be. And while reading this article, I saw a video that further complicated how I felt about Noel.
In that article, they discuss how Joel Embiid and Noel will fit next to each other. Joel is by all means a different, more safe product than his new front court mate. With Joel, the only questions we have are his long term health and his shooting range. You know he'll provide half court post scoring with his back to the basket and the occasional short to mid range jump shot. Once Joel adjusts and maybe strengthens a bit, he's sure to demand double teams and improve on his passing out of the double, something he improved upon over the course of his tenure at Kansas.
Nerlens tenure at Kentucky taught us a lot about who he is as a player also, and it's seemingly going ignored. For 1, in games vs Duke and Maryland, Nerlens got routinely pushed around in the post by Mason Plumlee and Alex Len. Now if this was a foot race from baseline to baseline, you wouldn't find too many true 4's or 5's in the NBA who could beat Noel down the floor, but in order to be a Center in the NBA you've gotta be strong enough defend the post. It's a must (and thank goodness we now have a 5 who should provide strong post defense in Embiid). Combine that with the broadness (or lack there of ) of Nerlens frame, and his trouble gaining weight and it becomes obvious that Nerlens is not a 5 in the NBA. And the only reason people call him a 5 is due to the lack of displayed skills that most NBA 4's possess, like ball handling and a jumpshot to stretch the floor.
Now here comes the video in that article that helped change my perspective in terms of who Nerlens is.
I know, the first thing that comes to your mind is, "that's high school level and means absolutely nothing". And I'd say this to you.... DeAndre Jordan can race down a court just like Noel, but do you think he moves that fast with a basketball in his hands? I'd bet he doesn't, and that's whether it's vs high school kids or in an empty gym. You look up guys like Chandler and DeAndre's highlights, and you don't see them doing what Noel did in that video at any point in their careers.That is a skill, untapped potential. Reminds of of Blake Griffin in that video, being a big man who can push in transition. And not only being able to push and create a shot for himself, but other's. Is it far fetched to think Noel could regularly do this in the NBA? I don't think so. And I actually think it's a strength.
I look at Noel's agility and quickness and I see more Serge Ibaka than Chandler. Tyson is more of a stationary big, a camper who's sole purpose is to alter shots at the rim on defense. He can't effectively switch on to wing players, let alone guards (something I think Noel can do). While Noel could obviously thrive in that role, it's not making good use of the rest of his tools (quickness, agility and speed bursts). At Kentucky, he regularly stole the ball from guards, stepped into passing lanes in the mid court and near the perimeter, made pro rotations and hustled onto lose balls. That's who he is. And now that we have a bigger, stronger player like Joel Embiid, I feel that when they play together it will be better for Joel to play the rim camping, shot altering role while Noel roams, rotates and plays passing lanes. It might hurt Noel's blocking stats, but that's a small sacrifice for better team defense.
Offensively, it gets more vague as to what the future holds. Brett Brown said we'd be surprised by Noel's 16 foot jumper, and I hope so. Once guys have to respect that shot for Noel, it will really open up for what he can already do. He's nimble and fast even with the ball, so if NBA 4's play him close he can easily drive past them and finish. And with the vision displayed in that video above, look for him to create offense for others that way once he gets more comfortable in that role. Noel did pretty well in college finishing in the paint and through contact, so it'll be exciting to see him pump fake his defender and go right to the rim.
With Joel Embiid on the team, I don't expect Nerlens to ever turn into a 20ppg guy offensively. But I think early on he'll do a lot more offensively than guys like DeAndre and Chandler. I doubt they've ever successfully handled a ball on the fast break on any level, and I doubt that they've ever been expected to take and make16 footers in NBA games. I suppose Nerlens agility and quickness with some semblance of a mid range shot makes Serge Ibaka a better fitting comparison to Noel, although I expect Noel to be more of a lob target than Ibaka is. Man, saturday can't get here quick enough.
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