Nerlens Noel, 6-foot-11 center, Kentucky: Although he's still very much a work in progress, because of his elite shot-blocking prowess, Noel is the consensus favorite to be the top pick in the draft, despite his rail-thin frame and the fact that he's recovering from an ACL injury. He's not the equal of Kentucky predecessor and last year's No. 1 overall selection, Anthony Davis, as an overall talent, but he possesses similar athletic gifts. Whether or not he reaches his potential on both ends of the floor remains to be seen, but Noel's upside is high enough that he's a gamble NBA teams are willing to take.
[NBA Draft Capsule: Kansas SG Ben McLemore]
Career highlights: Ranked as the top incoming freshman in the country, Noel immediately displayed why he was such a highly-touted recruit, notching a 16-point, eight-rebound, three-block, four-steal game against Duke and a 16-rebound, six-steal effort against Baylor, two talented non-conference foes. In the SEC portion of the schedule, the high-topped Boston native continued to impress, putting up a 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks and six steals against Texas A&M, 13 rebounds and eight blocks against Alabama, a whopping 12 blocks against a nationally-ranked Mississippi team and a career-high 19 points and 14 rebounds in another matchup with Texas A&M. Almost fittingly, Noel was injured when he crashed into a basket stanchion after hustling to make a block against Florida, and perhaps the best measure of his impact is the swoon Kentucky endured, resulting in a first-round NIT loss to Robert Morris, after the devastating injury.
[NBA Draft Capsule: Georgetown SF Otto Porter]
Strengths: The best part of Noel's shot-blocking ability is that he can block shots both on and off the ball, and due to his impeccable timing, he can avoid foul trouble. Additionally, he has an uncanny knack for making steals as a big man by using his lateral quickness and even with his slight frame, he's an outstanding rebounder on both ends of the floor, maximizing his length. While he's very raw offensively, he can run the floor in transition for easy opportunities, crash the offensive glass, finish at the rim in pick-and-roll scenarios and when on the elbow, either blow by slower opponents or use his underrated passing to find open teammates.
[NBA Draft Capsule: Indiana SG Victor Oladipo]
Weaknesses: Regardless of whether he completely recovers his explosiveness, it's a priority for Noel to add mass to his spindly physique, in order to be able to bang on the interior on the next level. He'll never be a primary scoring option, but if he can develop some reliable post moves or show the ability to knock down short-range jumpers, he won't be a complete liability. More than anything, he simply needs seasoning, so as to not be a one-dimensional player and further polish his game.
[NBA Draft Capsule: Michigan PG Trey Burke]
Draft projection: It's highly unlikely that Noel isn't the first player off the board, but if he isn't, he'll almost certainly be the second pick in the draft. Assuming he has a successful rehabilitation process, he should step right into the lineup as an immediate shot-blocking force, solid rebounder and energy player, regardless of the personnel around him, though he'd be better off if he was paired with a scoring big man, preferably one strong enough to serve as his bodyguard in the paint. Noel should become a high-level defender and while that alone will make him a long-term starter, only continued progress on offense will allow him to achieve his full potential, though there have been several heavily defensive-oriented big men to develop into stars, if not complete players.