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Nerlens Noel: The Nerlen Wall

Two summers ago, it was a wild free agency ride for big men in the league. Players like Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng made out like bandits on notorious contracts (good for them, by the way!). The summer following, teams had to compensate for the overpay, and big man money was harder to come by. Today, we are going to be looking at one of the guys who missed out on cashing in, Nerlens Noel.

Noel, a center from Kentucky, has spent a rather destitute season in Dallas with injury issues, alleged coach disagreements, and, who can forget, half-time hot dog breaks. But the potential is still enticing despite this season. Noel was the 6th pick in 2013, went to Philly immediately as part of “The Process”, and spent his time in flux with injury and logjammed big man rotations before finally landing in Dallas. Let’s find out more about Nerlens Noel.

I won't pretend that the nickname 'The Nerlen Wall' was my own creation; it tickled me too much not to re-use.


Nerlens Noel: The Nerlen Wall

Noel is known for being a rim-running, defensive stopper with good, quick hands. He is 23 years old and weighs in at 206 pounds and 6’11”. He’s still lighter than his competition, especially if he wants to work on his post-game. For fantasy purposes, Dallas plays 4 games this week (@SAC, @LAL, MIN, @CLE) , which looks to be a fairly fantasy-friendly slate of games. However, it was recently announced that Noel will be alternating games with Salah Mehjri and is almost certain to sit out on some of those games. That alone is enough to make Noel an unappealing option in fantasy. But, as the fantasy season is wrapping up, I would like to look forward toward next season.

Noel is an unrestricted free agent in 2018, and with a notable agent in Rich Paul, it may be possible to see Noel moving. Noel might do better on a team with strong shooters, especially if the guards were deep shooting threats. He needs to be put into a “Clint Capela on the Rockets” role to really see more potential success. But I do envision teams making moves to emulate Houston in the off-season. Because of his offensive limitations that we will look at momentarily, I don’t trust Noel to be more than a rebounds/steals/blocks streamer. If Noel stays in Dallas, he would need to be more highly prioritized, which could fall apart due to Dallas likely aiming for a franchise center with their lottery pick. In summation, Noel is still a curious case because I believe teams need a player of his type, but the timing is unfortunate because not a lot of teams need a player like Noel right now. But cheers to his potential and, hopefully, rewarded patience.

In 26 games this season, Noel is ranked 149th for fantasy purposes. See these stats below.

Noel Season Stats Per Game
Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Threes Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% FT%
15.7 4.7 5.5 0.7 0 1.1 0.8 0.8 52%




Since Noel has been back from thumb surgery, he’s been ranked 41st over 9 games. See these stats below.

Noel Last Month Stats Per Game
Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Threes Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% FT%
20.4 5.6 7.8 1.2 0 2.1 1.1 0.7 51.1%




We see those streamer qualities highlighted in growth during the 9 productive games he had upon return. Noel is a curious case because his growth as a player in the league cannot necessarily be tracked by stats because the stats don’t accurately portray a linear growth. He spent his rookie season red-shirted per the Sixers tradition. He had three actual seasons playing on a recovering Sixers team, the last season being Joel Embiid’s comeback. Noel’s per 36 stats might be more accurate, but I personally never liked using those stats because it’s making too much of a minutes assumption. Below are Noel’s compiled stats from 2014-2017 where he actually played.

Noel 2014 - 2017 Stats Per Game
Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Threes Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% FT%
26.9 9.9 7.3 1.5 0 1.6 1.5 1.8 52.6%




These numbers are friendlier to Noel, but I do believe they are a better view of his potential on a team willing to utilize him. For instance, Dwight Powell had been outplaying Noel in Rick Carlisle’s system this year, and deservedly got the playing time over Noel. One aspect that Noel has improved upon is his free throw percentages, which lead me to believe that he could be a better shooter than advertised and it might help him to expand the range of his offensive game. He shoots primarily in the paint, and he averages the second most elbow touches on his team per game, shooting a good 50% on these shots.

However, as mentioned before, he doesn’t seem big enough to post up most matchups. In lineup data, Noel has shown, with his addition, he provides low offensive and defensive ratings. Back in Philadelphia, where he was among the most played lineups, those five-man lineups almost never had offensive ratings higher than 100. He needs to change his body or his game. Lastly, his defense shows he has a 60.9% defensive field goal percentage on 2.7 defended attempts per game. He averages 2.1 deflections and 5.9 contested shots per game. Most of these contested shots are less than 5 feet from the basket OR 20 feet or more away from the basket. This could mean that he has good potential for perimeter defense with quick hands and feet to match his athletic frame.

My major concerns are his injury history. He had already torn his ACL in college and spent his rookie year recovering and even a few weeks in his sophomore season rehabbing. With another injury sidelining him this year, I find it difficult to believe that he will be capable of playing full seasons. According to FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO Player Projections, Noel most closely resembles Nene, which is not a bad comp. Especially given Nene’s contribution on the Rocket’s great shooting team at his advanced age. I will even go as far to say that Noel will be a better contribution for fantasy managers than Nene, and his ceiling is closer to Capela than it currently seems. Fantasy owners just needs to keep their fingers crossed that the stars will align for Nerlens Noel.