I have yet to finish the starting five for 2012-13, and now that Nerlens Noel is officially on his way to Lexington, it's time to get that job done.
We've all heard about Nerlens Noel's shot blocking, his #1 ranking, and his high-top fade. As the day of Noel's matriculation to UK sits only 2 weeks hence, we are beginning to hear predictable comparisons to Anthony Davis and Davis is an apt, if insufficient, example.
As we reported in the Morning Quickies, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com made a couple of tweets over the weekend that created a tempest in a teapot for the Kentucky fans. Ben Roberts of NextCats got in touch with Givony and asked him about his comments regarding Noel:
"I’ve watched Nerlens a lot, and I know he’s a lot better than what he’s shown here," Givony told Next Cats on Sunday. "He definitely looks like he’s out of shape. He’s running up and down the court and he looks really, really tired. His fundamentals don’t look great. He’s struggling to get a shot. But all of this is very correctable.
"On the other hand, there is a certain expectation level that comes with the status he’s achieved. Whether it’s fair or not, people are always expecting the best from him."
I'd say that's pretty much what we should expect. Noel has been away from basketball and concentrating on his studies for most of the summer, and he's out of shape and had a bad couple of games. This is not particularly surprising or concerning -- I'm confident that the UK coaching staff is more than up to the task of getting Noel tightened up and ready to play Kentucky basketball. Let's all just take a few deep breaths and let a guy, who has seen Noel play far more than almost any of us, give an honest assessment of what he saw. "Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important."
Feel better now? Of course you do. So what should we expect of Noel, once he gets into game shape, I mean?
Nerlens Noel's claim to fame is blocking shots -- this we all know. What most people don't understand is the game-changing nature of his shot blocking. Anthony Davis was a great shot-blocker in high school and at UK, but even his feats do not approach the proficiency of Noel. Noel is truly an elite, preternatural shot-blocker, the likes of which have never before been seen on the AAU circuit.
Noel is not a dangerous low-post scorer, nor is he a threat to put the ball on the floor, or attack the rim off the bounce. Noel is an elite defender, so athletic and capable that he affects coaching decisions and player mindsets. had this to say after seeing Noel in action:of Cats Illustrated
During the just-completed July evaluation period, however, Noel seemed to block or disrupt nearly every shot that came his way and arguably elevated himself into consideration among the best shot-blockers at any level of basketball.
"At any level of basketball." Noel affected the psyche of AAU teams to the point that they wouldn't even come into the lane. Think about that for a minute. If he can have a similar impact on the college level, there is no measuring his value, even if he doesn't score a point. He takes the moniker of "one-man zone defense to an entirely different level.
You will be tempted to say that it will be different in college, and it will, a little bit. College players are bigger and stronger and will be able to get into his body, which will force Noel, like Davis before him, to change tactics in a given situation.
But what sets him apart is his ability to block shots with either hand. You cannot beat him by attacking the rim from the right or the left, and he doesn't have to take himself out of a play when going for a block on his left. That's something that I can't say I have ever actually seen in a player before, and along with his extreme athleticism and length, his shot-blocking ambidexterity would seem to be the one truly unusual thing about him.
How many shots could Davis have blocked if he could use both hands? I don't know, but Davis himself recently admitted he could only block shots right-handed, and in spite of that "weakness," he still set multiple records for shot blocking in his only season at Kentucky.
Like Davis, Noel will not have to score a point to have a major impact on the game. If anything, Noel is quicker off the floor than Davis was, which means he can wait even longer before going up and getting the ball. With Coach Cal teaching him the lessons he doubtless learned from a year with Davis, the prospects for Noel's defensive prowess seem hard to imagine.
Offensively, Noel is a non-factor right now. He cannot shoot the ball reliably outside of four or five feet, and Givony described him as having "no touch," which is absolutely a valid comment. Noel's jump shot is broken, and his footwork needs a lot of refining both on offense and on defense. He has a hook with both hands, though, which should not require too much fine-tuning to be developed. He is also murder on tip-dunks.
But if anyone is worried by Givony's comments, don't be. When Noel receives the attention of the UK coaching staff, gets himself back into shape and begins to learn what to do with his prodigious, raw talent, I think that UK fans will be well pleased by what he brings to the floor. Consider this:
Givony was especially impressed with Cauley-Stein.
"He played a lot better than I thought he would," he said. "I watched him some in AAU, and he was a little disinterested. But he played a lot harder here. The coaches here say he’s very intelligent, he has great instincts, and he’s very coachable. And those are all things you look for."
Givony pointed out that Cauley-Stein has had the opportunity to work with the UK coaching staff while attending summer classes over the past few weeks, something Noel hasn’t been able to do. While the rest of his teammates have been practicing in Lexington, Noel has been up in Massachusetts finishing his high school coursework so he can be eligible to play at UK.
Give Noel some time. I expect him to struggle early until he learns the right way to play basketball and put his talents to use. He isn't going to be like Davis in the sense that he doesn't have a lot of skills other than shot-blocking to fall back on. He runs the floor well, but like most big men not named Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant, he won't be able to put the ball on the floor and do things with it. But he will be able to jump over everybody and dunk an alley-oop, something Davis made famous.
Noel isn't arriving as a finished product in any sense, but when the light goes on for him -- and it will -- his impact may well be the stuff of legend. And of course we have video: