With all of the hype surrounding new Sixer Joel Embiid, it becomes easy to forget about the uber-athletic big the Sixers traded for a year ago. Nerlens Noel. Sure, everyone is anxious to see him play Saturday in the Orlando Summer League. But, just how good will he be?
To fully understand how good Noel can be on Saturday, or his rookie season for that matter, we need to take a step back and look at what he brings to the table. He's 6-11 and around 220-230 lbs (depending on different reports, his arms are still the size of the spaghetti noodles I had for dinner last night). He could be the fastest player in the league for that height (and in all honesty, probably is). And he can defend. Very well actually (he brings elite rebounding, elite shot-blocking and elite steal rate all to the table). But what does this all mean? What does he bring to the table if he can't shoot?
Well, a lot. At 1.667 points per possession on the fast break, he's clearly a monster running the court like some gazelle galloping across the Sahara. With all of this Embiid with ballet-feet talk, we must remember Noel isn't some slouch. He had a PER of 27.7 on a Kentucky team that didn't maximize his capabilities.
John Calipari tried to use Noel as this athletic, shot-blocking center to terrorize opposing offenses (we'll come back to his defense at Kentucky some other time). But when Noel was on offense, he was always sitting in the paint or low post. We all know and can see that Noel doesn't have a Charles Barkley post-game. Hell, LeBron James has a better post-game than Noel. But that's not where he excels. The assumption is that if Noel doesn't have some polished post-game than he must play like other slender bigs, ala Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan. But Noel might never have their 15 footer. But that's OK!
In that HS video tape, look at what he does when it's not a lob or blocked shot. He's dribbling around everyone and he's getting low. He can clearly drive to the rim when he's given the ball and he's facing the basket. That's what we should expect from him. We have Embiid for a post-game and those two can lob it to each other all day. He does make some good passes, too. So ignore the notion that he's going to develop some post game and some miracle midrange. He's going to be elite on defense (probably able to guard 5 positions), and he'll thrive off of dunks or layups off the dribble.
The conclusion on offense, should be to expect an extremely athletic, skinny (but super quick) big who really has an underrated dribble, but can slam it home from anywhere on the court. Seriously, it's going to look like NBA Street out there with his vertical and height. We all know the Sixers led the league in pace last season, and that only helps Noel's fastbreak game.
However, we should not expect Noel to have his back to the basket (he doesn't excel against stronger bigs in the low post, and we have Embiid coming in next year to dominate that low post). We should not expect some deadly midrange, borderline Doug Collins long two, jumper either.
But we should expect him to set many pick and rolls and cut hard for the slam. We should expect him to play in the high post and knock a few jumpers, too. But the premise of his game will be when the ball is in his hands and he can dribble. He's simply too fast for the bulk of Centers in our league. He'll dribble around them, use some spin moves and get to the basket where he can dunk. He'll get some lobs like DeAndre and score more points than you'll expect this season.
We have an insanely athletic, slender big. He is going to get buckets from the fast break, especially since he could get around 2 steals a game and 3 blocks a game (big numbers, I know, but remember how bloated Michael Carter-Williams' stats were? Plus he IS that long and athletic). He will be a beast from the pick and roll (him and Brett Brown have apparently focused on this all season). He will terrorize Centers with his quickness and get to the rim while drawing a few fouls (with an improved foul shot I might add).
So what are the numbers going to look like?
Well, that's nearly impossible to predict. But his stat line for his rookie season should be around:
Plus, that flat top is going to be awesome to watch.
*This was my first ever post / comment on this site. I religiously began following during the Andrew Bynum trade because of the excellent coverage and insight (comments) about him as a player. The DC long 2 joke was a must. Also, more feedback the better. Be as harsh as Philly fans are, the criticism will help!*