Nerlens Noel had a unique college career.
Not only was it exceptionally short, as injury issues limited him to 24 total games, but he was also one of the rare college players that was able to achieve extreme accolade and build a buzz largely based around what he did on the defensive end.
Although he eventually slipped to sixth on draft day due to concerns about his knees and the company he keeps, Noel was widely considered one of the most, if not the most, promising prospect coming out of college this summer. Many mock drafts had him pegged as the top pick.
Noel was able to garner all that attention while attempting less than seven shots a game, and posting a total usage of just over 17%. (As a comparison point, C.J. McCollum, the draft’s 10th overall pick, posted a usage rate of 37.2% during his truncated senior season at LeHigh).
Noel wasn’t the focal point of Coach Calipari’s offense last season, but instead compiled most of his ten and a half points per contest on put-backs and dunks. Even Anthony Davis, Noel’s predecessor at Kentucky’s center spot who also posted a comparatively low usage rate of 18.8% during his single collegiate season, would often operate with his back to the basket.
It is very rare for a player whose offensive usage was so limited to be in the conversation as a possible first overall pick. Usually highly-hyped college players demand attention for their offensive abilities. But, Noel is unique and doesn’t compare cleanly to many recent collegiate or professional players. He is the breed whose NBA success won’t be measured plainly in points.
Sixers GM Sam Hinkie for one, sees Noel as a weapon.
“Every coach will see him as a weapon defensively,” Hinkie stated at Noel’s introductory press conference last month.
“I see [Noel] as a guy that can change the game on the defensive end.”
Change the game from the defensive end is exactly what Noel did throughout his short stint at Kentucky. In addition to an impressive two steals per game, the 6’11’’ center led the nation with a staggering 4.4 blocks per contest last season. As evidenced by those stats, Noel is one of the best shot blockers to enter the league in recent memory, and his speed and athleticism should allow him to become a premier paint protector.
“There are so few players that can both protect the rim and rebound, and that’s really critical before we even get to the offensive end,” Hinkie stated, alluding to Noel’s potential eventual import.
A lot of young players can put the ball in the basket, and at only 19, Nerlens Noel has a lot of time to develop that aspect of his game. Far fewer players however, can control a game from the defensive end. Patrolling the paint, altering the opponent’s offense, and creating extra possessions comes naturally to Noel. If he can develop into the defensive anchor that Sam Hinkie and many others think he can become, then he may prove invaluable to the future of the Sixers franchise.