Who Says Kentucky's Noel is Overrated?

By Dennis Berry

Last week ESPN's Jay Bilas and Chad Ford broke some of the "Nation's Most Overrated Prospects" (yes that is an ESPN insider link, sorry). It is a long series throughout the college basketball season that looks ahead to the 2013 NBA Draft.

One of the players discussed in the piece was Kentucky's Nerlens Noel. Bilas compared Noel's season so far to Patrick Ewing's freshman season at Georgetown.

Consider Noel's numbers and performance so far. Halfway through his freshman season, Noel is averaging 10.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 2.7 steals and 1.9 assists per game while shooting 58 percent from the floor and 58 percent from the line on 3.9 attempts per contest. Noel is the only player taller than 6-foot-5 who ranks in the top 30 in the nation in steals, and is the only player in the top 30 in the country in both steals and blocks.

Contrast that with the freshman season of Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. In his first season at Georgetown, Ewing averaged 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 1.08 steals and 0.6 assists per game while shooting 63 percent from the floor and 62 percent from the line on 4.5 attempts per game.

Those numbers look pretty similar. Ewing averaged more points per game than Noel (who still has plenty of games left this season) and is a better shooter than Noel up to this point. Most people knew that Noel had a limited offense game coming into college, but he has improved throughout the season. He has now developed a hook shot, but still has work to do. He needs to develop a jump shot and another low post move.

This is not the first time that Noel has been called overrated. Way back in August Rant Sports called Noel the most overrated prospect in 2012. They compared him to Anthony Davis.

Noel has great shot blocking ability as he is long and athletic. However, he does not possess quite as much length and nowhere near as much offensive potential as last year's top recruit, Anthony Davis.

There is the problem that many have when looking at Noel. They try to compare him to other great big man from Kentucky. At this point in Noel's development, that is not a fair comparison. If you want to see the development in Noel's game, all you have to do is look at his stats from Kentucky's first four SEC games.

Jan 12, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) dunks the ball against the Texas A&M Aggies in the second half at Rupp Arena. Texas A&M beat Kentucky 83-71. Photo Courtesy By Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports.

In his first four SEC games Noel is averaging 12.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.8 blocks, 2.5 steals, and 2.0 assists a game. Those are pretty impressive for any college big man. They get even better when you look at his per 40 minutes averages.

In SEC games Noel's per 40 minutes numbers look like this: 14.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.8 blocks, 2.9 steals, 2.3 assists. Those numbers look like a player making a case as the number 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

While Noel came into college with the reputation of being a shot blocker, he is making a run at the Kentucky's single season steal record. The record is 87 steals in one season, held by Rajon Rondo during the 2004-05 season. Right now Noel has 44 steals throughout 17 games.

Don't think that Noel is not affecting shots. He has 69 blocks through 17 games, which is about 9 blocks off of Anthony Davis' record pace last season.

The major problem for Noel is that he came to Kentucky right after Anthony Davis's great season. Many want to hold him to those standards just because he was also the top prospect (by many services) in the 2012 high school class.

When the season started he was nowhere close to the level that Davis was. As the season has progressed you can see that Noel has improved and he is Kentucky's best player. He never takes a play off and hustles from the start of the game to the final horn.

Right now we do not know how Noel's game will translate to the NBA. What we do know is that if Noel continues to improve at the pace we have seen this season, he will likely be the top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

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