Commentary: Is Nerlens Noel’s Worth Going No. 1? No!

NBA teams should be wary of risking a high pick on a player with a history of injuries.

Posted: 06/26/2013 12:44 PM EDT

NBA teams fall so madly in love with potential that they overlook an obvious flaw. They don’t seem to consider a player’s past as much as they do his future, even when uncertainty swirls around that future like a Kansas twister. It looks at times as if nothing counts more than the promise of greatness.

This is one of those times. With Thursday’s NBA draft, teams seem infatuated with the promise of Nerlens Noel, the rail-thin talent from the hoops assembly line at the University of Kentucky. Noel’s gifts for the game are downright addictive. You can’t get enough of watching them.

At almost 7-foot, he’s got superior length, no small issue for NBA teams these days; he’s blessed with athleticism, which no team can overlook; and his game is so smooth it makes silkworms blush.

Yet what wraps the 19-year-old Noel’s selection at No. 1 overall in uncertainty is a history of injuries. His knees seem as fragile as crystal. He’s had two surgeries on his right knee, and while physicians claim the knee is fine, they can’t promise that Noel won’t turn into the next Greg Oden, the poster boy for teams that took a risk and saw it flop.

In Noel, Oden-like comparisons make sense. For like Oden, Noel has offensive skills that are underdeveloped. Noel’s strength is his shot-altering defense, which demands that he cover the court. To cover the court, Noel can’t be patrolling the paint on a suspect right knee.

And that’s the concern.

How do you invest millions in someone who might not give you much in return?

Not that anyone can look at Noel and immediately see an Oden-like mistake.

What they can see is high risk, and teams building for champions can’t afford to take risks with the No. 1 overall pick, which belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers would like nothing better than for the first pick to resemble, in the abstract anyway, the second coming of LeBron James. Any general manager can make a selection as obvious as LeBron proved to be.

But in the 2013 draft, no player looks like a LeBron or a Carmelo Anthony or a Kevin Durant certain difference-makers before they stepped onto the court. No player looks capable of transforming a team from lousy to great, whether in one season or a half-dozen seasons.

A NBA draft is about transformation, about taking something ugly and shaping it into something beautiful. A great talent allows a franchise to do that in a season, as LeBron, Durant and ’Melo proved. Great talent also fills arena seats, which is what winning does.

The question whoever ends up with the No. 1 pick and rumor is the Cavs are trying to trade it will have to weigh is this: Is the risk of drafting Nerlens Noel worth the reward?

Not one bit. Love affairs are hard to break up, and a handful of teams would love to take the plunge. But a only fool falls for somebody whose future is so clouded in uncertainty that you have no way of knowing who the person might turn out to be.

So is Nerlins Noel more like Durant or Oden?

Who can say? But the NBA draft has a handful of players who create less worry at No. 1 than Noel does. Gambling on him at No. 1 is a move too costly to make.

 

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 (Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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