Nerlens Noel is the most Undervalued Asset in the NBA
The modern NBA’s shift to perimeter play has completely changed the value of the big man. Noel is a perfect modern big man. Incredibly athletic, smart, efficient, and able to switch onto smaller perimeter players.
Noel can be acquired from Dallas at a discount. The Mavericks and Noel have had an incredibly rocky relationship, starting with poorly handled contract negotiations to having Noel sit out games over the course of the season. The Mavs are sure to want value back for Noel, but the fact of the matter is that the only thing Dallas has done to Noel since acquiring him is lower his value.
Any analysis of Noel needs mention of his biggest skillset: defense. Nerlens has always been a positive player on the defensive end. He’s always been among the elites in steals per game and stealing percentages. In 16-17, splitting time between the Sixers and Mavericks, Noel ranked in the hundredth percentile of players, averaging 3.2% of steals per play. On top of his historically great steals stats, Noel blocked 2.9% of opponent shots per play, averaging 1.3 blocks per game.
Although his quick hands and absurdly high stealing numbers help demonstrate his ability to switch out onto the perimeter and efficiently guard smaller players - a key to defense in the modern NBA - Noel’s impressive defensive metrics don’t simply stop with steals. His DBPM (Defensive Box Plus Minus) has steadily risen each year since 2015-16 (From 3.4 to 4.6).
According to Basketball-Reference, DBPM “relies on a player's box score information and the team's overall performance to estimate a player's performance relative to league average. BPM is a per-100-possession stat, the same scale as Adjusted Plus/Minus: 0.0 is league average, +5 means the player is 5 points better than an average player over 100 possessions (which is about All-NBA level), -2 is replacement level, and -5 is really bad.”
For reference, Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Joel Embiid’s DBPM sits at 2.5 and the “stifle tower” Rudy Goberts sits at a comfortable 4.5. Noel lands right near Gobert on the scale and while the stat is flawed and far from a sure measure, it’s a relatively simple way of discussing and analyzing tangible defensive impact.
To explain in the simplest terms, over the course of his career, Noel has been one of the more efficient defenders in terms of steals. His rim protecting ability is easier to sum up by just looking at him. Ludicrously long wing span in the Roy Hibbert mold, combined with explosive athleticism makes Noel an ideal rim protector.
On the other hand, Noel is not an elite offensive big. He doesn’t have a shot, he can’t really post up on smaller bigs nor can he pass out of double teams. What he can do, is roll. Noel is able to set the screen and use his high-end athleticism to burst away from defenders and finish at the rim. Whether it’s a putback dunk, layups or even lobs, Noel is able to finish off set plays. As the roll man in pick and rolls, Noel has a 48.1% FG which ranks him ahead of the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Embiid, Jokic and Paul Milsapp.
Some may say that he hasn’t proven anything, that he was traded away from the Sixers and has barely played this year. While both those facts are true, I’d argue that they play into my argument even more. The fact that Noel’s value is at an all- time low means that teams can acquire him for next to nothing of consequence. A team like Portland would be able to trade a late first round pick for Noel and instantly become a better team.
Noel remains the poster child for the perfect modern NBA big man and acquiring his services is an avenue that most teams should be looking into. His explosive athleticism make him a threat for lobs and as a roll man in the pick and roll as well as a potentially elite defensive player.
Photo's courtesy of Thesportspot