Top frontcourt prospects: Nerlens Noel

Andy Lyons

This is the first piece in a series focusing on the individual top frontcourt prospects in the upcoming draft.

It's not exactly a secret the Bobcats need help in the frontcourt and they need it badly. Byron Mullens improved as a rebounder and defender over last season (though I'm not sure how much that says) but had a wildly inconsistent season as a scorer. Bismack Biyombo is a very talented defender, but he's still developing on offense and defense. The scary thing is that their frontcourt was barely even serviceable until Josh McRoberts came along.

Charlotte's offense was heavily reliant on the backcourt, ultimately scoring about 75 percent of the team's total points. The frontcourt was full of unreliable scorers. The Bobcats' power forwards and centers combined to shoot a whopping 41.8 percent from the field. Gee, I can't imagine why Kemba Walker doesn't pass effusively in the pick and roll! Zach Lowe of ESPN's Grantland, please take it from here.

Walker is working with what has to be one of the very worst offensive front lines in NBA history. There isn't even an average high-volume finishing threat among Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood, Byron Mullens, Jeff Adrien, Tyrus Thomas, Josh McRoberts, and DeSagana Diop. Good luck racking up dimes when you're dropping the ball off to those guys. Charlotte needs a big in the worst way.

With these things in mind, the Bobcats might be looking forward to the draft aiming to fill that need.

Nerlens Noel

It seems highly likely that Noel won't even fall far enough that the Bobcats will have to think about whether to draft him, but it certainly is possible that they trade up or something, who knows. Despite tearing his ACL in February, Noel is still slated to be the top pick in the draft. He's about 7-feet tall, boasts a 7-foot-4-inch wingspan and a 9-foot-2-inch standing reach. Noel also has great quickness and jumping ability, making for a dynamic prospect that runs the floor like a guard yet protects the rim like a center.

The knee injury will heal if all goes as planned, which is why his stock hasn't fallen, but the other physical issue people are concerned with is his weight, a shocking 206 pounds. His playing weight at Kentucky was 225, which is still quite low for an NBA center. However, weight isn't the end-all be-all for determining how well a player can play center. Granted, facing players that have a 50-pound advantage will be a challenge, but players like Larry Sanders and Joakim Noah aren't bulky masses of muscle or fat, yet are two of the best defensive centers in the league right now. Those are rare players and it doesn't always turn out that way, but a light weight isn't doom. And for crying out loud, Noel is 19 years old. Teams aren't drafting finished products here.

What will matter is how well Noel uses his length and agility to deny entry passes and how well he can stop shots at the rim. At the collegiate level, he was quite productive as a rim rejecter, sending back 13.2 percent of shots attempted. He also has good hands, which, combined with his wingspan, make for a formidable defender that can end possessions quickly. All this said, Noel won't get by as a complete defender without gaining strength on his frame to help defend in the post.

Like Anthony Davis last year, Nerlens Noel is also a bit of a question mark on offense. He shows flashes of his capabilities from time to time with solid one-dribble drives to the rack, but is still developing. Noel wasn't an offensive workhorse by any means at Kentucky, but without the pressure of creating his own shot, he shined as a finishing threat. He could be a terrific weapon out of the pick and roll with his hands, length and athleticism.

However, his offense still needs a lot of work. Noel lacks great footwork and all-around offensive feel, leading to a weak post game and making for a turnover-laden offensive game. Though he shows good hands as a finisher at the rim, Noel's hands as a ballhandler and controlling passes in the paint come into question. And Pau Gasol, he is not. Per kenpom.com, Noel had an assist rate of 9.5 and a turnover rate of 19.1.

Even more limiting is his apparent lack of anything resembling a jump shot. His cringe-inducing 53 percent shooting from the free throw line is proof enough that he needs work on his mechanics, though it seems like his poor touch on offense when shooting is more at fault.

Though his offensive skill set is quite raw and at this point limited to finishing at the rim, Noel's capability of being a complete game-changer on defense make him the top prospect in the draft with only a shadow of a doubt for most analysts.

Fit with the Bobcats

Bobcats fans likely need not worry about this, but Nerlens Noel wouldn't exactly be Charlotte's glass slipper (who need a superstar on both ends of the floor), but his defense would help the team improve from the basement they're at now.

Noel's similar to Biyombo in that both are defensive-minded safety-like centers and neither are offensive savants, but in slightly different ways. Biyombo's much stronger and has a fuller frame, to boot. He also has a better wingspan due to his freakishly long arms and he's a similarly talented shot-blocker. But Noel has advantages in lateral quickness and quick hands. Biyombo's a talented rim-protector, but Noel's quickness and savvy can help him control defenses much better than Biyombo. Also, Biyombo's 20 years old to Noel's 19, which is crazy to think about, right?

Offensively, their offenses are offensive. At this point in time, it wouldn't be inaccurate to say they both can be turnover machines. They lack touch and footwork on offense and should have their hands covered in stickum. Still, I think Noel has a slightly greater potential as a scoring threat than Biyombo.

Should something odd happen and the Bobcats end up with Noel, the team could face new options. With Noel, Biyombo could (1) become trade bait; (2) form a crazy athletic defensive duo; (3) shore up the bench defense.

Like I said before, the chances of Noel falling to the Bobcats or them trading up are minuscule, but this is just food for thought.

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