When speaking of under-utilized and wrongly-cast players in today’s NBA, perhaps no player personifies those terms better than newly acquired 22-year-old Dallas Mavericks big Nerlens Noel.
Noel is a rim-protecting center at heart, and a very talented one at that, but, thanks to a log jam at his position, he only managed to see the floor for 19.7 minutes per game in Philadelphia. The defensive-minded Noel was also primarily used out of position at the power forward spot for the majority of this season, leading to career lows in just about every statistical category.
In 29 games this season, Noel averaged 8.9 points, five rebounds, and .9 blocks per contest, with a 21.01 player efficiency rating according to ESPN. However, if you extrapolate those stats over a per-forty-minute basis, an 18.2-point, 10.2-rebound stat-line, shows a player who has the potential to be very productive if utilized correctly.
Advanced stats (offense) are fun ...
At 6-11 and 228 pounds, Noel is a bit on the skinny size, and needs to add some strength to take the constant beating in the middle required of a center in today’s NBA. However, he does have the ideal length and athletic ability the most NBA teams covet out of their rim-protectors.
On the offensive end, Noel still needs some development. He struggles to shoot from anywhere outside the paint, but does have the ability to finish at the rim. He also has solid handles for a big man, and can take the ball off the dribble and finish at the basket remarkably well. There is a good feeling about how he might benefit in the Dallas pick-and-roll game.
Defensively, however, is where Noel earns his paycheck, and when you watch him, it’s not hard to understand why.
Possessing a 7-5 wing span, and an explosive vertical jump, Noel has the ability to not only bother passing lanes with his length, but he can also easily contest and alter shots of just about any player he’s matchup up with. For his career in fact, Noel averages 1.6 blocks per game with the Sixers, and while those numbers were down this year, it’s reasonable to expect them to begin to climb back up when he’s utilized at the right position.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the Mavs who ranked last in the NBA in rebounding as of the All-Star Break, Noel is a terrific rebounder. Over his career, Noel has averaged close to eight rebounds per game, over a career average of 28-minutes per game clip. Though he averages just five per game this season, again, that is mostly due to smaller minutes, as well as the emergence of Joel Embiid.
There are injury issues here. But there is great promise, a 22-year-old who enjoys the game, works hard, and can grow into something special. The next Tyson Chandler?
That seems a stretch. But ...
Fish has handled the trade side of the equation here in the breaking story, and we'll have more on what the trade does to the roster and the summer cap. But DB.com is calling this a "Fake First-Rounder'' given up for Noel. And the value is huge. Overall, the Mavs needed a young, athletic, rim-protecting center that can rebound at a high level to put next to Dirk and Harrison Barnes, and by all accounts, they have acquired exactly that in the former Kentucky who was a premium pick in his draft three years ago ... and under Rick Carlisle, will get a chance to play like one.