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Injury, risk reasons Nerlens Noel fell down draft board

Jun 29, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT

2013 NBA Draft Getty Images

When Nerlens Noel first went down with an ACL injury, the reaction of most scouts and league executives was he wouldn’t fall or if he did he wouldn’t fall that far in the draft. He was still a top three pick.

But things started to feel different the last couple weeks. I can’t remember a year the presumptive top pick had more negative things said about him and his game in the run up to the draft.

Then come draft night he fell all the way No. 6, where he was taken by New Orleans and promptly traded to Philadelphia. Nobody seemed to want Noel.

What was going on? Turns out the knee injury and the risk that comes with it did cause him to fall.

When trying to do a good mock draft, you can’t just take into account the talent of the player and the needs of the team. The other key factors are the general manager’s/team president’s personality and his job security — is the decision maker in a position he feels comfortable taking a risk? Or does he need to go with a player he feels more comfortable with and can help sooner?

Noel, coming off an ACL repair that was red flagged by a couple teams, was certainly a risk.

Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert said on the night of the lottery he was tired of being in the lottery and wanted to be in the playoffs next year, and you know GM Chris Grant has heard that more directly. So come draft night Grant didn’t feel comfortable taking Noel — a player with potentially more upside than Anthony Bennett but a also a player coming off an ACL surgery with more long-term risk and a player that was not going to help much in his rookie season at least.

Henry Abbott at TrueHoop explained the idea this way.

There are different ways players fail in the NBA. If he doesn’t work hard, it’s on him. If he doesn’t fit the system, it’s on the coach. None of that threatens highly paid and career-minded general managers — in both scenarios they can keep their jobs. (I’ve even heard it suggested that some general managers keep sub-par coaches around to have someone to blame should it all go awry.)

But things go down very differently if the team fails because it bet on a player known to have been injured, and injuries are his undoing. That tends to be seen as the front office’s fault. When the engines fail in that airplane, there never seem to be enough parachutes for the front office guys. That’s just how it goes

Kevin Pritchard was the NBA’s next great GM when he drafted Greg Oden — on track to be alone at the top of a big budget team’s hierarchy. Then Oden got hurt. Six years after making that pick, and after a spell of unemployment Pritchard is still keeping his head down, trying to restore his reputation in Indiana’s increasingly crowded front office.

Does it matter that 29 other GMs would have taken Oden over Kevin Durant? No. (And any GM that says otherwise is selling you revisionist history, at the time everyone had Oden on top of their boards.) Injuries to a top pick can kill a career.

In Philadelphia, new GM Sam Hinkie rolled the dice and I think had a great draft night. With Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and crew this was at best a .500 team looking at a bottom three seed in the East and getting suck in a rut in the middle of the conference. They went all in on Andrew Bynum and missed and now they were stuck. So Hinkie blew the whole thing up — he is getting bad to get better. The Sixers will lose a lot of games next season but be in position next draft to get one of the top players in the best draft in a decade.

And then, maybe Noel will be playing — he has the most potential in this draft, 7-foot guys who run the court like a guard, can block shots and be a defensive force don’t grow on trees. It’s a good risk for Hinkie.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say that — my job doesn’t depend on Noel coming around and being a productive player in a few years.

  1. somekat - Jun 29, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    If I’m the Sixers, I hold on to ET until on if his inevitable hot streaks, then try to trade him for a mid-late first. Same with Spencer Hawes. Either way, you can let them come of the books if you can’t get something for him

    I probably hold Noel out until about 20-25 games left, regardless if he’s ready beforehand. Why rush it, just let him play enough to get back in shape, and get used to the speed of the game.

    Then cross your fingers. I truly think they will be bad enough to get a top 3 pick. With some luck, 1 or 2 in a very strong class. With a little more luck, a 6-7 l pick from New Orleans. Then they are stocked with young talent (and if Noel proves to be healthy, they get a 2 top picks, very good young talent), they will also be a fortune under the cap (at about 25-30 mil on the books), and be in what could be a very strong FA class as well.

    Lebron won’t happen, but with that young core, and if he could recruit another max guy to come with him (maybe a 2 guard or F depending on what they do in the draft), plus thad young still there, and i’m sure some vets would come along for the ride on mid level deals, you never know. Even if that doesn’t happen, you could still sign 2 max players without having to make any other moves. If Noel turns out to be healthy, and they can get a stud next year in the draft, that would be a very attractive spot for a FA, IMO

    • tcclark - Jun 29, 2013 at 11:41 PM

      I completely agree. The only problem with all of this is signing 2 max players would ruin the development of the young players. What did Seattle do as soon as they drafted Kevin Durant? They traded Ray Allen. You know how deadly Kevin Durant and Ray Allen would have been together? But they couldn’t do it. Guys like Durant or Andrew Wiggins need to be “the guy.” they need to be the go to player in order to become stars. You don’t want Kevin Durant playing passively at a young age. He needs to be assertive from the start.

      If the Sixers want to be successful, they are going to have to build their team like the Thunder, the Grizzlies, or even the Bulls. Build through the draft and maintain cap flexibility. The Bulls let Derrick Rose become a star before they went out trying to sign Dwayne Wade and/or Lebron. if we are lucky enough to draft a guy like Andrew Wiggins he needs to become the star we build around.

      As for Noel, I hope things work out. Blake Griffin missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury and has many of the same characteristics as Noel (explosive athlete, strong rebounder, lack of offensive skill, scores mostly on dunks). His body type concerns me, but I think the Organization will work extremely hard to help him with strength training. He has a good work ethic and he wants to be great. Those are both extremely important things for the development of a young player.

  2. adoombray - Jun 29, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    It’s not revisionist history, plenty of folks were arguing for Durant. Oden walked like an old man at the time, I mean, the basic eye test saw a kid who didn’t look like he could ball for 82 games. The same thing with Noel. a torn ACL is a big deal. It just cost D. Rose his entire season, and Rubio wasn’t the same guy until later in the year. For every Adrian Peterson, there’s tons of other guys who tore ACL’s and were never the same. “runs the floor like a guard” goes out the window with a torn ACL. ESPECIALLY a big man with all the footwork they need down low, all the banging that a good C does. It’s not shocking at all in retrospect that Noel slipped that long. Him being #1 was a smoke screen the entire time and was something that media types insisted was a foregone conclusion mostly because all the other media types insisted it was a foregone conclusion.

    And, maybe it’s just me, but Noel handled himself poorly before the draft. He acted way too entitled. Philly might be a good spot for him, because it will toughen him up, but we all know how tough Philly is on it’s athletes. that kid is going to need to deliver in a big way or he’s gonna face criticism and booing like no other city except for maybe New York (and even in NYC, the average fan has learned to tune out the media talking heads, since most of them live there)

    • hojo20 - Jun 29, 2013 at 9:43 PM

      Simmons did state that Oden walked like an old man.

  3. dudermcrbohan - Jun 29, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    (And any GM that says otherwise is selling you revisionist history, at the time everyone had Oden on top of their boards.)

    pretty sure Ainge was obsessed with Durant. He was sitting with his mother in the stands at a game.

    http://www.nba.com/nba_news/ainge_fined_talk_with_college_player.html <<<<further evidence

  4. andyreidisfat - Jun 29, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    5 years from 6 teams are going to regret not taking Noel. They will also be watching wiggins and Noel celebrating Phillys first nba title since 83.

    I don’t know much about hinkie, but I love what he has done. He is building a team the right way. He isn’t buying a title, he is working towards it. Sure the sixers will lose a lot next year. It’s not like they made the playoffs last season with jeru.

  5. icelovinbrotha215 - Jun 29, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    This article is the epitome of ‘Captain Obvious’ ha. That being said, I’m glad Hinkie actually made the move the fans have wanted for years here in Philly. Being the 8th year in and year out won’t get you anywhere in the NBA. Unfortunately, this league is top heavy. The Sixers will stink this year. I’m hoping we find a way to land Wiggins in 2014.

  6. captainwisdom8888 - Jun 29, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    I am the only true CaptainObvious…get it straight.

    Lets be real tho, where were the 76ers going with Jrue Holiday and company anyway? I’m all about Jrue Holiday, but finishing middle of the pack every year, seldom receiving a top-10 pick, and the incapabilty of luring any superstars to such a lackluster team has left Philly in a limbo of sorts. You have to applaud Hinkie on having a set of balls and making significant change right off the bat. The greatness of this trade won’t be realized until this time next year, but 76ers fans like myself will have a lot to look forward to in the years to come.

    As long as next year’s lottery picks can have more of a profound effect than #2 overall DRAFT BUST Evan Turner…

  7. jadaruler - Jun 29, 2013 at 3:09 PM

    If I wasn’t a Texas homer I might understand Oden over Durant. I didn’t see anything special about Oden. Durant like Aldridge the year before, overcame Rick Barnes coaching and flourished. He wasn’t strong, but he could score and board.

  8. tv63 - Jun 29, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    “Noel – a player with potentially more upside” Helin, get updated there. Legler, Greg Anthony, Wilbon, Hoenheiser, Jackie McMullan, Aldridge all agree Bennett had more upside in this scenario. WHY? OFFENSE! NBA READY! Noel barely at 200 pounds, weak at offense, can’t play until maybe Dec. is what caused him to fall. In reality those were the combined reasons. It’s amazing Bennett was a well kept secret from the Noel free P.R. ESPN campaign. So many Sports media talking heads were so lazy and just went with the flow and didn’t study other candidates. Bennett can flat out and shoot from the 3 and mid-range. Noel can’t. True Noel’s defense is better but under one of the best defensive coaches in the league; they believe Mike Brown can correct that. To get better at offense , heal any faster and gain a NBA body for Noel was just to much of a tall order to expect. Without one of your star players not ready until mid season will hurt a team’s season too much and it takes time for a rookie to learn the NBA pace. In reality, a team wouldn’t get Noel at his full potential until a year later at best. These teams just couldn’t afford more losses due to injuries.

    • Kurt Helin - Jun 29, 2013 at 4:02 PM

      I talk to scouts, I have draft people I trust, they think Noel can be the better player three to five years from now. We will see.

    • tcclark - Jun 29, 2013 at 11:49 PM

      Bennett is a 3-4 tweener. That is the worst kind of tweener you can be. Can’t defend the perimeter, can’t score in the post. he has a lot of potential, but without a defined position, he has so much more bust potential than Noel, and that’s sad considering Noel has a torn ACL and I have a better offensive game.

    • tfoz5150 - Jun 30, 2013 at 8:18 AM

      Yeah, but the smart money is on setting yourself up for next year’s draft anyway. Really, no offense, but what kind of damage is Cleveland gonna do this year anyway, especially with the Big three still down in Miami? I know it sucks being out of the playoffs year after year, but you still have to be realistic. That’s pretty much where the Sixers were until this past year…marginally good. They proved they had No Shot of ever getting past the Heat.

  9. bux1022 - Jun 29, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    Anyone who says they would have taken Durant over Oden is full of s$&t!! Hindsight is 20/20. A 7 footer with the ability to change a game defensively are few and far between! Oden was the right choice unfortunately things didn’t pan out.

    • dudermcrbohan - Jun 29, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      is that why Ainge was fined for too much contact with Durant’s family? because he wanted Oden?

  10. dudermcrbohan - Jun 29, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    (And any GM that says otherwise is selling you revisionist history, at the time everyone had Oden on top of their boards.)

    Danny Ainge was obsessed with Durant to the point of being fined by the NBA for too much contact with his family.

  11. 00maltliquor - Jun 29, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    Kinda feel bad for Philly fans having to wait like a year and a half for a starting center to step foot on a court.

    • modogg42 - Jun 29, 2013 at 5:27 PM

      as a Sixers fan, i am totally fine with it. After enduring this ultimate tease of Bynum, and seeing him re-injure his knee bowling, i am fine letting the kid heal correctly and take all the time he needs. This is the first time in a long time I am happy to be a Sixers fan and feel like there is possible light at the end of the tunnel. Next year will suck, but it is comforting knowing that we may have something legitimate to root for in a few years

    • tcclark - Jun 29, 2013 at 11:51 PM

      A year and a half? I’ve been waiting for that since we traded Dikembe in ’02.

      • tfoz5150 - Jun 30, 2013 at 8:22 AM

        More like Moses, the dirwt time around.

      • tfoz5150 - Jun 30, 2013 at 8:23 AM

        first

      • tcclark - Jun 30, 2013 at 10:43 AM

        I was gonna say Moses, but Dikembe was the Defensive Player of the year, a future Hall of Famer, and helped lead us to the NBA finals. We were pretty secure at the center position when Dikembe was in town.

  12. rickyspanish - Jun 29, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    So your analysis is that when Noel’s knee exploded his stock went down? Consider my mind blown.

  13. sportsnut101 - Jun 29, 2013 at 11:03 PM

    Forget the injury concern it was that he is only 206 pds that’s a 2g weight He was gonna get pounded can he play sure will he be start we don’t know.

    Is Noel gonna fire his agent like geno smith did when he wasn’t drafted first lmao. Dude u went 6th outta 60 picks n thousands that don’t get chance

    He said he gonna make cavs magic wizards bobcats phx all pay for not picking him. Dude they been losing for yrs I think that’s enough payment

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