Cavs Draft Questions: Can I talk myself into being excited about Nerlens Noel?

I’ve spent the past two days basically trying to talk myself into being excited about taking Nerlens Noel with the no. 1 pick.

As events have unfolded in the 48 hours since the Cavs won the top pick in the NBA Draft it’s become fairly evident that Noel is going to be the pick for Cleveland…at least if you believe all the know-it-all bloggers out in cyberspace. I’m still firmly entrenched in the camp that Chris Grant should do everything in his power to trade the no. 1 pick along with just about everything else not named Kyrie Irving for another All-Star player. I won’t allow anyone to talk me out of dreaming that they could dangle enough enticing assets for Flip Saunders to strongly consider trading Kevin Love.

However, trading the no. 1 pick, especially in a draft as weak as this one, is very tough…or so I’ve been told.[1] Chad Ford of ESPN believes that the Cavs certainly want to trade the pick but doesn’t think they’ll be able to get anything done because again, it’s really tough to trade the no. 1 pick. So this leaves the Cavs with the no. 1 pick and according to most smart people only one real choice: a 6’11.5”, 206 pound center with bad hands and no offensive skill or shooting ability who’s recovering from a torn ACL.

Okay, maybe I came on a little strong there. I’m still working on having an open mind. I’ll be honest though, I’m super nervous about Noel.

I’m willing to concede that of all the players in this draft, Noel has the biggest upside—probably by a long-shot. His athleticism is off the charts. Watching film of him it’s incredible how quick he is with his feet and hands. He’s springy and has a feel for blocking shots that can’t be taught. In this scouting video from DraftExpress it’s draw-dropping how explosively athletic he is. However, the second half of the video that shows his weaknesses is what gives me so much pause.

His offensive move at this point is basically facing up, putting his head down, and dribbling hard at the hoop. You can’t trust him to post up with his back to the basket and make a move by putting the ball on the floor. He’s a turnover waiting to happen in those situations. Not to mention that he might not even catch the ball when you throw it to him in the first place.

He’s freakishly skinny. It’s uncanny to me that it’s even physically possible for a guy who is 6’11.5” to weigh only 206 pounds. I realize that he’s lost some weight due to the injury but that’s still remarkable. I’m 16 inches shorter than Noel but only 26 pounds less; and I’m not fat and I’m not a bulky guy either. I have a moderate build. Calipari believes he’ll put on 40 pounds but looking at him I can’t figure out where he’s going to put it. Guys who are built with that wiry frame have trouble really bulking up. Recent high picks with similar frames that come to mind are Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, and Kevin Durant. They’ve all put on a little weight, but nothing significant. The difference between them and Noel is that they can all step out away from the basket and hit a jumper. That’s a skill that Noel is nowhere near possessing at this point. I’m sure the Cavs hope that he’ll develop one but I’d say the odds are against it judging by how porous his free throw shooting stroke is. It’s not fluid at all, more of a flick move. I don’t know what to call it other than hideous.

At that size he got pushed around a lot by bigger post players. And everyone he plays in the NBA is going to be bigger than him. It’s all well and good in college where he’s way taller than everybody else and there aren’t many offensively skilled bigs so Noel can just hang around and block shots all day. But when other centers get their bodies into Noel he’s not strong enough to hold his ground. That’s a real issue. In a head-to-head matchup against Alex Len (7’1”, 255) Noel did not fare well. Len racked up 23 points on 10-18 shooting with 12 rebounds, 7 offensive and 4 blocks. Noel countered with only 4, 2-6, 9/2, and 3. Now I will point out that this was the first game of the season for both teams and Noel is still super young and likely still developing physically. But he’s going to face much better and more physical players in the NBA than Alex Len. And if he’s getting shoved around by a bigger opponent then he can potentially be neutralized in his shot-blocking ability.

And so you see what happens here? I set out to talk myself into liking the prospect of taking Nerlens Noel and I only make matters worse.

Scott Van Pelt, who watches a ton of college ball, compared Noel to Larry Sanders of the Bucks the other day. He’s probably better than Sanders, who’s a great defensive player. But if I told you that Noel’s ceiling was Larry Sanders would you still be sold on him as the top pick? I for one would not.

The problem of course is that if you don’t want Noel then who are you taking instead? And that’s the problem…no one else is all that special either. I really like Otto Porter (who I’ll spend more time on in the future) but his ceiling as a player is probably not very high. One could make the case that he’s already peaked as a basketball player and that his lack of elite athleticism will really hurt him in the NBA. You can make the case for Len but a big guy with bad feet can be a very real issue. You can argue that Noel’s ACL injury was nothing more than a freak accident and nothing to worry about. But Cavs fans are all well aware of what having foot problems can do to a big guy’s career. People will bring up Ben McLemore but there’s major concerns about his lack of a motor and that small issue where he plays guard but can’t/won’t/is deathly afraid at times of dribbling the basketball. He’s a terrific shooter and an amazing athlete but there’s a lot lacking in his game.

So it appears that we’ve reached an impasse.

Look, I don’t hate the idea of drafting Nerlens Noel. When June 27th roles around I’ll have talked myself into this and will be all on board. But for now, I’m still scared to death that he’ll be injury prone, not able to put on weight, and never develop an offensive game.

Can we just roll this no. 1 pick over to next year? Anyway we could strike up some legislation to make that happen?


[1] One issue I’m having trouble reconciling in my mind: Why would it be so hard to trade this pick if Noel is hands-down the best player? If we can’t have a discussion/debate about who to take because Noel is so good then why won’t anyone want to trade for the pick?

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