With the sixth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Nerlens Noel, a Center from Kentucky. He was the projected number one overall pick on most mock drafts for the duration of the college season, but a torn ACL suffered in February caused him to slip down many draft boards.
After making the selection, the Pelicans shipped Noel and their 2014 First Round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for All-Star Point Guard Jrue Holiday. This gave the 76ers a chance to begin rebuilding after the failed Andrew Bynum trade, and it gave the Pelicans a top-tier Point Guard which wasn’t available in the draft.
Noel spent only one year at the University of Kentucky. He made the All-SEC First Team and was named the SEC Rookie of the Year, even though he missed the last month of the season with that ACL injury. He averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game. Noel set the single-game block record at Kentucky by rejecting 12 shots against Ole Miss on January 29.
Noel’s biggest strength is obviously his ability to block shots. Although he is 6-foot-10, he has a wingspan of 7’4″, and can run the floor like a Guard. He is extremely athletic and very coordinated, which allows him to chase down blocks and help turn defense into offense. Most of his points come from the painted area and grabbing offensive rebounds. Since he is very quick, he has the ability to face up on a defender from 15 feet away and drive by them.
His biggest weakness is his lack of a shooting game. He shot only 52.9 percent from the free-throw line his freshman year at Kentucky and showed almost no shooting touch from anywhere outside the paint. He hasn’t shown the ability to make good passes in a half-court offense, which will need to improve because teams will double him in the post.
Noel has lucked out because he is part of rebuilding team with low expectations. The torn ACL may keep him out the full year, with the 76ers not likely being involved in any race at the end of the year. They would be smart to take it slow with him, let him travel with the team and learn the game at a pro level and hope that he can come back in 2014-2015 at 100 percent. The 76ers have Noel and Michael Carter-Williams along with two likely lottery picks next year to build around these two. This could be a very competitive team in 2016 and beyond.