A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Nerlens Noel vs Doug McDermott & Ryan Kelly and what it says about how teams evaluate talent

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Nerlens Noel is the heavy favorite to be picked 1st overall in 2013. Doug McDermott and Ryan Kelly aren’t projected to be picked in the 1st round.

What makes them an interesting to me, is all 3 are unbalanced prospects. Nerlens’ Noel allure largely comes from physical tools. He has a Kevin Garnett-like combination of athleticism and length. However Nerlens’ offensive skill level barely shows a pulse, lacking a post or shooting game and having mediocre touch.

Doug McDermott and Ryan Kelly are unbalanced in the opposite way. With 3pt range and perimeter creating ability, both are tremendous skill talents for a PF if that’s the position they play in the NBA, though McDermott may play SF and Kelly as a C depending on the lineup. However both are bottom of the barrel in physical talents. McDermott is a small PF without great athleticism. Kelly is bigger, but also lacks the speed to attack the basket off the dribble in the NBA. McDermott and Kelly will likely struggle big to “physically impact” the game in the NBA. By taking perimeter jumpshots, their skill will impose itself on the game not their physical tools.

Yet look at the different way Noel and McDermott/Kelly’s strengths and weaknesses are interpreted. Noel’s physical talents are seen as enough for him to be a star, regardless of skill. McDermott and Kelly’s physical talents are seen as enough to wreck their upside, in spite of their skill.

Are we sure the opposite can’t be true? Is it conceivable McDermott and Kelly’s skill level is enough for them to be a star in spite of their physical tools, while Noel’s skill level is enough to wreck his upside, in spite of his physical tools?

Largely, what it comes down to is physical tools are weighted higher than skill in the draft by NBA teams. But I believe the NBA doesn’t bore this out. Stephen Curry’s skills have as dynamic an impact as Russell Westbrook’s athletic tools. Tony Allen’s lack of perimeter skills hurts him like JJ Redick’s lack of athleticism hurts him. Serge Ibaka’s elite athleticism is dynamic, but so is Kevin Love’s skill. Greg Monroe’s lack of elite athleticism hurts him, but so does Deandre Jordan’s lack of skill. There are plenty of examples of the ability to shoot, pass or post at a dynamic level for a position, or lacking those skills compared to a position, having just as powerful an impact as dynamic or lacking athleticism.

Here are my talent grades for Noel, McDermott and Kelly, all 3 projected at the PF position:

PF Nerlens Noel

Physical impact talent grade: 11

Skill impact talent grade: 2

Feel for the Game talent grade: 5

Total talent grade: 18 (Marginal starter to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

PF Doug McDermott

Physical impact talent grade: 1

Skill impact talent grade: 10

Feel for the Game talent grade: 10

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

PF Ryan Kelly

Physical impact talent grade: 2

Skill impact talent grade: 9

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7

Total talent grade: 18 (Marginal starter to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

McDermott separates himself because his feel for the game is as elite as his perimeter skill level. McDermott’s natural fluidity and instincts are as strong as anyone in the class. Nerlens is average feel for the game and can look raw at times. I would call Kelly’s feel and natural smoothness above average, but not on McDermott’s level.

Where Noel can prove me wrong is if I undervalued him as a skill talent. Noel with the average ability to make skill plays instead of subpar for a PF, would rate as a blue chip player and near all-star. I suspect the main reason I am lukewarm on Nerlens Noel compared to most, isn’t because of my talent grading system, but because I see a player who has subpar skill game for his age group, as most likely to remain that way.

Written by jr.

April 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

One Response

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  1. i think youre off on noel. many people have observed his above average passing skills for a freshman center. he scores well around the rim, gets there frequently, and only gets assisted on half his shots from that location (very good for a freshman big). and hes shot 37% on 2pt jumpers and only gets assisted on half of those (meaning he can create shots well for himself), which is also a good mark for freshman bigs.


    April 17, 2013 at 8:52 pm

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