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Last season, Noel was cruising as the Knicks back-up center through the first 27 games of the season, posting a quaint 3.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per contest. But then starter Mitchell Robinson missed almost all of the remaining season due to hand and foot injuries. Noel suddenly started 41 games and boosted his numbers to 5.9 points, 7.0 boards and 2.3 blocks a game, while shooting 64.6 percent from the field. Entering the 2021-22 season, we still don't know when Robinson will return from his late-March surgery to fix the broken bone in his right foot. Knowing this, the Knicks wisely signed Noel to a three-year agreement. Noel will presumably begin the year as New York's starting center. That said, with the addition of guards Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, head coach Tom Thibodeau finally has a deep enough roster to play more small-ball with Julius Randle at the center. Knowing Thibodeau's love for tight defense and rim protection, the Knicks might only resort to that tactic for the occasional change-of-pace burst. The 27-year-old Noel enters the season as an under-the-radar big with an opportunity to exceed the modest numbers of his past few seasons.
Noel bounced back slightly in 2019-20 after two seasons as a fringe player. His seven starts were just one shy of the total of eight he'd managed in the previous two seasons combined, and his 7.4 points per game looks relatively high after two seasons in which he averaged fewer than 5.0, but it's not as if that number was a huge help to fantasy managers. His 18.5 minutes of average court time represented a respectable total for a bench big, and he was quite efficient with his opportunities, converting 68.4 percent of field-goal attempts. His most significant fantasy contribution came from blocks, as he averaged 1.5 per game in his relatively small role. That translated to 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes -- the sixth best mark in the league. This season, Noel finds himself on the Knicks after inking a one-year, $5 million deal. He's expected to back up Mitchell Robinson. That said, Robinson saw just 23.1 minutes per game last season and can get into foul trouble, so it's possible we see Noel step into a bigger role than the 18.5 minutes he saw last season. If that's the case, he could build upon last season's per-game fantasy rank of 94. Noel is certainly worth entertaining as a late-round flier.
Noel will return to the Thunder as a backup center for his second season with the team. Noel appeared in 77 games but logged the fewest minutes (13.7 per game) of his career. He provided minimal contributions offensively, with 4.9 points and 4.2 rebounds, but he was one of the best per-minute defenders in the NBA. Noel averaged 2.1 combined blocks/steals in limited action and provided a defensive spark for the second unit. His per-36 numbers were huge, with averages of 12.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and a ridiculous 5.6 combined blocks/steals. Steven Adams is firmly entrenched as the starting center, but the rebuilding Thunder may opt to give Noel some additional run, especially after his strong showing defensively. For now, Noel is a deep-league add only given the uncertainty of his playing time, but if Adams were to miss time for any reason, he could return fantasy value immediately in all formats.
Noel’s stock continued to drop last season, as he appeared in just 30 games between a thumb injury and DNP-CDs. When he played, he saw just 15.7 minutes per game -- the lowest mark of his career. With the Mavericks signing DeAndre Jordan over the offseason and retaining other center depth, management opted to let Noel walk. Six days after the start of free agency, Noel and the Thunder agreed on a two-year, minimum deal with a second-year player option. It’s been quite the drop for the former sixth overall pick, who started the first 133 games over his first two seasons. But, relative to last season, Noel should have a more defined role behind starter Steven Adams, who averaged 32.7 minutes per game in 2017-18. When seeing between 15-20 minutes last season, Noel averaged 5.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and a combined 1.6 steals/blocks. Those kinds of numbers aren't enough to make him Fantasy relevant, but in the event of an Adams injury, Noel’s upside would make him a hot commodity on the waiver wire.
Noel opened the 2016-17 season in a crowded Philadelphia frontcourt that featured both Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. He ended up playing in 29 games with the Sixers and averaged just 19.4 minutes per game, though that situation was never expected to last with too many better-than-average centers splitting time. That eventually pushed out Noel in a trade to Dallas at the deadline, where he enjoyed slightly better numbers all around. Noel started 12 of the 22 games he played in with the Mavericks, seeing a slight uptick in playing time at 22.0 minutes per game. That translated to 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steal. While he's always been given credit for his defensive prowess and ability as a rim protector, Noel did improve his efficiency on the offensive side of the ball as well. With Dallas, he shot 57.5 percent from the field and 70.8 percent from the free-throw line, both career highs for the third-year center. Looking ahead to the 2017-18 campaign, Noel is fully expected to re-sign with the Mavericks on a hefty pay raise, though the two sides continue to negotiate and there's obviously a chance it all falls through. If he does indeed get a deal done as expected, Noel should have full rights to the starting center job and with just Dwight Powell and Salah Mejri behind him, Noel should get all the minutes he can handle. That would likely allow Noel to push for a near 30-minute workload, which in turn could allow him to near double-double averages with points and rebounds. He's a lock to be a great source of both blocks and steals, so if his offensive game continues to develop, Noel could provide great multi-category production for Fantasy owners.
Noel largely improved his numbers across the board in his second NBA season, but perhaps didn’t make the dramatic leap some had anticipated. Though Noel bumped his scoring to 11.1 points per game (on 52.1% shooting from the field) and remained a valuable source of rebounds (8.1 per game), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.5), he struggled to mesh with rookie Jahlil Okafor, particularly on the offensive end. While Noel is capable of guarding stretch-four types on the perimeter, neither he nor Okafor can step out and hit jumpers, which often caused spacing issues and resulted in Noel being a non-factor on offense when Okafor was on the court and dominating the low-post touches. The inability of the two big men to coexist in addition to the impending debut of center Joel Embiid -- the No. 3 overall pick from 2014 who has missed the last two seasons following a pair of foot surgeries -- suggests that either Noel or Okafor will eventually be dealt elsewhere. Until that happens, however, the crowded 76ers frontcourt may require Noel to take on a decreased role in terms of both playing time and statistical outputs.
After missing the entire 2013-14 season following surgery to repair a torn ACL, Noel finished third in Rookie of the Year voting and revamped the 76ers' defense last season. Through 75 games, he averaged 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 steals, and 1.7 assists in 31 minutes per game. Noel's efficiency was a bit of a drag, as was expected from him exiting college with a unique shooting form. After working with coach Brett Brown on reconstructing the mechanics of his shot, Noel made 46 percent of his field goals and 61 percent of his free throws, the latter exhibiting a solid eight-percent improvement from his one year in college. He was the only player in the NBA to rank in the top-10 in blocks and steals. Once the Sixers moved him to center full-time and acquired point guard Ish Smith off waivers, Noel's production exploded in the second half of the season as he averaged 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 2.0 blocks over the final 22 contests. His inability to step out beyond the paint and consistently nail jumpers may be magnified this season with rookie Jahlil Okafor projected to nab the starting center gig, shifting Noel to power forward and away from the basket accommodate Okafor's post game.
Nerlens Noel is entering his rookie season in the NBA, after sitting out all of the 2013-14 season recovering from surgery to repair his torn left ACL. In his only season at Kentucky, he averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.1 steals, and 4.4 blocks in 32 minutes per game through 24 games played. He shot 59 percent from the field on 6.9 attempts per game and 53 percent from the free-throw line on 4.3 attempts per game. Noel is a talented defensive player, having won SEC Defensive Player of the Year and All-SEC Defensive Team awards during his injury-shortened freshman season. He's the rare big man capable of recording multiple steals and blocks per game. Through five games of summer league play, he recorded 1.8 steals and 2.6 blocks per game. His overall offensive game needs improvement, but there are some signs that he could develop into an above-average offensive center. He's comfortable and willing to handle the ball with either his left or his right hand, has a quick first step on drives, and when he gets to the rim, he is a very strong finisher. However, at this point, he has no jump shot to speak of, and unless that improves, NBA defenses will allow him extra space in order to offset his ability to drive and finish. Before summer league, Noel had not played an organized game since February of 2013, so he is likely to begin the season somewhat rusty and out of shape. By the time he feels fully healthy and conditioned, whenever that may come, he's likely to provide statistical value in all formats.
Once thought to be the unanimous No. 1 pick in mock drafts, Noel slid to the Pelicans with the sixth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, only to get traded to the Sixers shortly after. The rookie has much to prove, as the Sixers gave up proven All-Star Jrue Holiday in the second consecutive year where the franchise invested large stakes in a center. Noel will likely return before January, and could make a solid fantasy impact, particularly in defensive categories such as steals and blocks, if owners are willing to stash him for the first few months.