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Projecting Nerlens Noel in the 2013 NBA Draft

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Nerlens Noel is the consensus top pick for the 2013 NBA Draft. Nerlens Noel is the consensus top pick for the 2013 NBA Draft. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Let's face it. The talent pool in the 2013 NBA Draft isn't exactly loaded. That shouldn't take away from the fact that another Kentucky player may (and probably should) be drafted No. 1 overall next Thursday.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were the winners of this year's draft lottery. They've won it a total of three times since 2003 including two of the last three. With those picks, they've selected LeBron James (2003) and Kyrie Irving (2011). That's a pretty impressive track record of not missing with the draft's top pick. Obviously James was a no-brainer at the time, but Irving was questionable and he's blossomed into one of the top point guards in the game.

Will the Cavaliers strike gold again this time around? Will they take Noel with the first overall pick making him the second consecutive Wildcat to go No. 1 overall and third in four years? We'll find out the question to the latter next week, but here's a look at why the Cavaliers should draft Noel, how he would fit in, and if Cleveland chooses poorly... err... otherwise, we'll show you how and where else the Big Flat Top could land.

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have two centers on their roster from last season that would pose any threat of a roadblock for Noel at the No. 1 spot. They have an eight-year veteran in Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller who is coming off his first season in the league after four seasons at North Carolina. Varejao is a proven player in the league, averaging 7.7 PPG and 7.6 RPG, and is coming off the best season of his career in which he averaged 14.1 PPG and 14.4 RPG though he appeared in just 25 games. Zeller was a solid backup for Varejao, until he was thrust into a starting position due to an injury that limited Varejao to just those 25 games. Of the 77 games Zeller played in last year, he started 55 of them averaging 5.7 RPG and 7.9 PPG in 26.4 MPG.

Center might not be Cleveland's greatest need, but good centers are a valuable commodity in a game that lacks dominant big men. Drafting Noel would not only be a luxury for the Cavaliers, but it would give them a trading chip to help them add another piece to the puzzle for 2013-14 if they decided to take Noel. Noel, as you know, is coming off knee surgery, and is still rehabbing in Birmingham, Ala. He likely won't be ready to suit up for the team that drafts him until mid season. That's been part of the hesitance in committing to and investing in Noel as well. Part of the luxury in taking Noel, however, would be that the Cavaliers would be deep at the center position while they waited for Noel to get healthy and make his NBA debut.

If the decision comes down to Zeller and Noel, based on track record, the decision shouldn't be that difficult to make. In college, while Zeller had four years of experience to Noel's shortened one season, Noel still had better overall numbers and has a much higher projected ceiling.

Zeller (2008-12): 117 G, 27.3 MPG, .543 FG%, .808 FT%, 6.7 RPG, 0.6 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.1 BLK, 12.8 PTS
Noel (2012-13): 24 G, 31.9 MPG, .590 FG%, .529 FT%, 9.5 RPG, 1.6 AST, 2.1 STL, 4.4 BLK, 10.5 PTS

It sounds as if Cleveland is intent on taking a big man, however. Cleveland is rumored to have strong interest in Maryland center Alex Len.  Len is healthy, could play immediately and is more polished thus far offensively than Noel while still posing a defensive threat.

Len (2011-13): 60 G, 24.5 MPG, .538 FG%, .663 FT%, 7.0 RPG, 0.8 AST, 0.2 STL, 2.1 BLK, 9.7 PTS

Noel still bests him in minutes per game, field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals and points over their collegiate careers.

There is no clear-cut No. 1 pick this year as there was last season with Anthony Davis, but Noel played an even bigger role than Davis did last season due to less talent around him. Noel still has a way to go offensively, but he can step in day one (once healthy) and hold his ground defensively and be a factor. Cleveland struggled to rebound as a team and finished 22nd and also charted the second lowest number of blocks in the league. With the Cavaliers in the bottom five of +/- differential at -4.0, Noel would affect that figure after the Cavs allowed one of the highest field goal percentages in the restricted area last season.

No. 2 Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic would be awfully lucky to have Nerlens Noel fall to them at No. 2. With only one true center on their current roster in seven-footer Nikola Vucevic, Orlando could be a great opportunity to for Noel to come in and play immediately once healthy. However, the breakout season from Vucevic made him one of just four players in the NBA last season that averaged better than 12 points and 11 rebounds and is likely the future of the center position for Orlando.

Vucevic is one of the bright spots at the center position in the NBA right now, and with plenty of other needs on the roster, maybe Noel doesn't make the most sense, but it would give Orlando a huge, youthful back line of defenders at the rim and a pair of big men who can rebound the basketball if the elected to go that route. He would also become a teammate of former Wildcat Doron Lamb. Where Orlando could gain the most value from having Noel fall to No. 2 is on the market where suitors would line up to trade for the No. 2 pick or for Nerlens' draft rights.

No. 3 Washington Wizards

It would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which Noel slides past No. 3 in the draft, except for when the third team picking (the Washington Wizards) has four centers on its roster already including Nene and Emeka Okafor and many experts believe they will take Georgetown swingman and homegrown talent Otto Porter.

Nene and Okafor, a formidable duo in the front court for the Wizards, are aging, however. Nene is on the backside of his career, though still productive, and Okafor is a year away from free agency. Maybe Noel is the pick here as the Wizards try to continue the momentum they gained upon John Wall's return from injury as they made a very late playoff-push. They could continue as is, draft Noel, allow him to take his time rehabbing and putting on weight, and when he's ready, throw him to the wolves and let him learn on the fly and build up his stamina as they fight for a playoff spot. He would also become the second Kentucky player to be drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Wizards (Wall - 2010).

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