UPDATE: Nerlens Noel has torn his ACL and is out for the year. His draft status is still unknown.
Nerlens Noel is exactly as advertised at this point of his career. He is extremely athletic and has good defensive instincts. His offensive game needs a lot of work and so does his body. Even before he left the game with a knee injury after he fell into the basket stanchion following a chase-down block in the second half.
Noel was on the floor writhing in pain and the anguish on his face was visible as he laid on the floor and had trainers check on him. You could only think the worst as his teammates, most of them freshmen with NBA dreams for next year too, carried him off the floor and went back to play against a tough and veteran Florida squad.
Right now, Nerlens Noel is not the future of any NBA franchise. Certainly not until he realizes more of his potential. What Noel is right now is a very raw athlete with good basketball sense, but litle in the way of technical skill. This is something he could best learn at the college level where he goes up against a big body like Willie Cauley-Stein in practice and the centers in the SEC rather than against the grown men of the NBA.
Noel does not have a body like Dwight Howard. Howard was skinny coming out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy but had a wide frame and the ability to put on muscle. Noel's frame is slight and you could see how much strength he needs to add in the way Florida's Patric Young pushed him off his spot and bullied him in the post.
Those are things that Noel is going to have to work on whether he stays in college or jumps to the pros -- injury or not.
His offense too is extremely rudimentary (as advertised) and he still is learning how to play with his back to the basket and in the post. Trying to overpower Young was not the way Noel should have attacked last night. What he should have done was to face up and use his quickness to get to the basket. This is what Dwight Howard would do early in his career. He does not have the jumper Kevin Garnett has, but Garnett did this too. Really, his body type reminds me of the young Garnett more than the young Howard.
Noel makes an impact on the defensive end, there is no doubt about that. He jumps so quickly and every player has an eye on him and is looking for him. If you watched the Florida game, you could see Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin looking for Noel every time they went into the paint.
That effect is pretty astounding when you think about it come from a skinny, athletic freshman.
He is going to be a good defensive player in the NBA -- pending the severity of this knee injury. It is just going to take some time andhis offense needs a ton of work if an organization is going to build their franchise around him. Heading into next year's draft, Noel is not that kind of player. Is that the kind of project a team like Orlando wants to take on with a top pick?
Perhaps with the prospect of another high draft pick in a much deeper 2014 draft, that is something the Magic want to do. He could be an interesting foil and pairing to Nikola Vucevic.
I came away unimpressed with Noel and more firm in the belief he needs another year at Kentucky to round his skills into better shape.
Young is looking like a mid- or late-first round pick and he absolutely outphysicaled him the entire game. Young beat him down the floor and made himself available to guards for easy passes -- as did the rest of the Gators -- when Noel went up to stop dribble penetration. Young lacks size, but plays hard and is a smart defender. If he gets put in the right situation and right role, he could be a very nice NBA player.
Noel though was the focus of this game. It is unfortunate that his night ended early because of that nasty injury. But it could be a blessing for his development if it means he has to stay in school another year and work on his technical skills, especially with the ball.