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NBA PM: Nerlens Noel Still the Top Pick?
Posted By Alex Kennedy On April 3, 2013 @ 5:19 pm In NBA | No Comments
The prospect who benefited most from March Madness didn’t play a single minute during the 2013 NCAA Tournament. That’s because the poor play of Ben McLemore, Marcus Smart, Shabazz Muhammad, Cody Zeller and many others likely solidified Nerlens Noel as the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft while he was watching the tournament from his living room.
When Noel tore his ACL on February 12 and underwent season-ending surgery on March 12, it was an opportunity for the other top prospects in the nation to move the 18-year-old big man aside and become the top overall pick. However, nobody stepped up and proved that they should be selected ahead of Noel.
McLemore struggled in two of three tournament games. In the tournament, he shot 34.4 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range. While McLemore will still be a top pick because of his potential, he missed his opportunity to take the number one spot from Noel. Had he dominated the tournament, he likely would’ve heard his name called first on June 27, 2013.
Smart was supposed to be one of the stars of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but he only played one game because Oklahoma State was upset by Oregon in the opening round. He had just 14 points on 5-13 shooting as well as five turnovers in the losing effort. Late in the game, Smart’s teammates were going away from him and trying to find offense elsewhere. Smart didn’t help himself in the tournament.
Muhammad had 20 points in UCLA’s upset loss to Minnesota in the opening round, but he was incredibly inefficient, shooting 6-18 from the field including 0-6 from three-point range. Muhammad went 0-7 in the first half and had most of his points once the game was decided. Also, the fact that he’s one year older than previously believed could hurt him as well. Muhammad was discussed as a potential top overall pick in high school, but now it’s hard to imagine him going No. 1.
Zeller was very average during the tournament, and NBA decision-makers weren’t impressed with the seven-footer. Victor Oladipo emerged as Indiana’s best player during the tournament and Zeller didn’t make his presence felt. In the three tournament games, Zeller had just 36 points, 20 rebounds and two blocks. In the loss to Syracuse, he couldn’t do anything against the Orange’s zone defense and shot a dreadful 3-11 from the field. Zeller will still be a top 10 pick because this is a weak draft class, but he didn’t do anything to help his stock during March Madness.
While these players struggled, Noel sat back and climbed draft boards. NBA teams believe he has the most potential of the group since he’s only 18 years old. Also, executives and scouts were impressed with what they saw from Noel prior to the injury. Before tearing his ACL, he was averaging 10.5 points on 59 percent shooting from the field along with 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks. He was on pace to break Anthony Davis’ record for most blocks in a season, which he set during the previous season at Kentucky.
Talent evaluators love Noel’s upside. He’s extremely raw and will need to develop offensively, but he has all of the tools to be successful including excellent athleticism and a 7’5 wingspan. He also has great instincts and timing – things you can’t teach – which is why he’s such a dominant interior defender. Four games before his injury, he blocked 12 shots against Ole Miss and altered countless others. That wasn’t a personal record for Noel, though, because he once blocked 22 shots in a high school game.
Kentucky’s struggles after Noel went down show just how valuable he was to that team. The Wildcats were 17-7 with Noel and 4-4 without their defensive anchor.
The numbers are on Noel’s side as well, as Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com recently pointed out. Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) is a statistic that was invented by Pelton to evaluate players in the context of a team made up of them and four average players. The performance of this team is then compared to that of a team made up of four average players and one replacement level player. The stat finds how many more wins the player would have over the replacement level player. Noel’s projected WARP was 4.0, which was by far the highest WARP projection of any player in the 2013 draft class. The next highest was Otto Porter with a projected WARP of 3.1. The .9 gap between Noel and Porter is enormous, the same as the gap between the runner-up Porter and the seventh-best prospect. Teams that rely heavily on advanced analytics will likely fall in love with Noel because his numbers jump off of the page. Not only is his WARP impressive, he blocked 13.2 percent of shots, had a defensive rating of 81.9 and finished the season with a PER of 27.3.
Teams don’t seem to be concerned about Noel’s recovery either. They believe he’ll be just as effective and explosive once he returns from his injury. Also, if there was any question about whether Noel would enter the draft, consider the fact that he had his surgery performed by Dr. James Andrews for the sole reason that Andrews is “one of the few surgeons that NBA franchises use regularly [so] Dr. Andrews’ involvement will allow the NBA personnel to have the most updated post-surgery information available in regards to Nerlens’ medical condition,” according to Kentucky athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy in a statement released last month. It would be a huge shock to everyone in NBA circles if Noel decides to return to Kentucky.
Even though he hasn’t played in nearly two months, Noel seems like the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. A lot can change between now and then, but he seems to be the favorite since none of the other top prospects stepped up in his absence. Teams appreciate what Noel accomplished during the season and drool over his potential, which is why it wouldn’t be a surprise if he goes first on June 27.
The 2013 Free Agent Class
Yannis Koutroupis and I discuss the NBA’s 2013 free agent class. To see the full list of 2013 free agents, click here.
Seattle Group Gives Presentation to NBA
The group has made it clear that “the pieces are in place” for Seattle to have a successful NBA franchise right now. Hansen and Ballmer have an agreement with the Maloof family to purchase the Sacramento Kings, but the deal needs league approval.
The plan to bring a team back to Seattle has been in the works for over two years.
Real estate for a new arena has been purchased, tickets have been requested by over 44,000 fans and local government is supporting the movement to bring an NBA team back to the Emerald City.
George Maloof expressed his family’s “strong” desire to go forward with the Seattle deal. Hansen addressed the media, but didn’t reveal any new information.
NBA commissioner David Stern described both presentations as very strong, but wouldn’t say which group has the edge.
“The committee concluded that this is quite complex,” Stern said. “It’s not at all clear what our timeline is. … We’ve never had a situation like this. The stakes are high.”
Sacramento Group Makes Pitch to NBA
Shortly after the Seattle ownership group gave their presentation the NBA Board of Governors on Wednesday afternoon, the Sacramento ownership group countered and gave a pitch of their own to the Board of Governors.
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson couldn’t have been happier with how the presentation went. As he entered the interview room to address the media, he was applauding.
“I’m proud of everyone who represented Sacramento,” Johnson said. “I can truly say we had our A-team and we brought our A-game. I’m proud to be the mayor of Sacramento. The NBA let us tell our story. … We got a chance to lay out, what we feel, is a very compelling case.”
Johnson said that the Sacramento group’s presentation focused on three key points.
First, the group made it clear that Sacramento has a historically strong market. Johnson cited the team’s excellent corporate participation and fan support, as well as the fact that they’re a one-team town with a top-20 television market.
Second, the group said that there would be a new arena for the Kings. Johnson said that the city is prepared to make a significant investment to make this happen. The group feels confident on this front since business magnate Ron Burkle is leading the way. Johnson cited his excellent track record since he delivered a new arena to Pittsburgh as part-owner of the Penguins.
Finally, the group showed they have plenty of local support. Senator Darrell Steinberg took a red-eye flight to be part of the group’s meeting with the Board of Governors. Johnson said that the Senator’s presence shows that the local government supports the plan to build a new arena.
Johnson left the meeting with the NBA feeling very confident. The group argued that the Sacramento market has been more successful than the Seattle market over the last few decades and that the case for Sacramento is more compelling than the case for Seattle. Johnson believes the Sacramento group has done everything asked of them to keep the Kings.
“We’re talking about the revitalization of a community. We’re talking about the globalization of a franchise. We’re talking about a transformation of a team,” Johnson said. “We left it all on the floor. It’s ultimately in their hands. I’m very proud.”
The 2013 NBA Draft: Who’s In, Who’s Out?
The 2013 NBA Draft is coming full speed ahead. NCAA underclassmen have until April 16 to decide whether or not they are returning to school in order to preserve their eligibility. HOOPSWORLD is keeping a list of players that have declared and announced that they’ll return. It will be continuously updated leading up to the deadline, keeping you up to date on who is in and out of the draft. Check it out here.
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