What will the Bobcats do with the No. 4 overall pick in next month’s NBA draft? This is the first of a five-part series looking at why Charlotte should and why it shouldn’t take some of the top prospects available:
Nerlens Noel, C Kentucky, Fr. 2012-13 stats: 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, and 2.1 steals.
Every team wants a franchise center. Just look at the money guys like Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, JaVale McGee and Nene Hilario are making. Add in the fact that the Bobcats haven’t had one since their inception and the idea of Noel becomes very appealing if he were to drop to No. 4.
Selecting Noel makes even more sense when you consider just how bad the Bobcats were on defense a season ago, giving up 102.7 points per game a season ago — good for second-most in the NBA. Part of that was youth. Part of that was low field goal percentages and turnovers that led to easy buckets, but there’s no question the Bobcats must get better on defense to compete. Noel helps immediately there.
Personnel directors are big on drafting guys who have an immediate skill that has value on the NBA floor and Noel has that with his shot-blocking ability. At only a quarter-inch below 7 feet with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Noel has the measurables to play center for a long time in the league. He’s an elite rim protector and may be even better in that regard than his predecessor at Kentucky, Anthony Davis. And although at this point Noel brings essentially nothing on the offensive end of the floor besides dunks and put-backs, the thought here is that the Bobcats will address the need for post scoring with a power forward in free agency like Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap and Noel would complement players like that nicely if that’s the plan. Also helping Noel here is the fact that this is a draft weak on shooters, the Bobcats’ other pressing need.
With Cleveland and Orlando both in the market for centers, it’s hard to imagine Noel dropping to the Bobcats but the torn ACL calls everything into question. Are Cleveland and Orlando willing to wait until likely December before he’s back on the floor? Are the Bobcats?
That’s the wildcard with Noel?
Why not Noel?
It has to ease some of the Bobcats’ lottery pain that this isn’t a superstar draft, nor does it have a headliner. There’s not really a whole lot of distance between the seventh- and eighth-best prospect and the top prospect — at least as much as other years. There’s no guarantee anyone in this class steps in and is a top-10 player at their position immediately, like we see in most drafts. Noel may be the best athlete for his position of the bunch, but is he really what this Bobcats team needs?
He’s essentially a rich man’s version of Bismack Biyombo at this point and can the Bobcats really afford to give up on Biyombo this early? It’d be hard to develop both and neither has the offensive ability to slide down and play at power forwrd. I have a hard time conceiving that the Bobcats would rave all season about the progress of Biyombo, saying that they think he’ll be a double-double guy in two years and play him 30 minutes a game only to turn around and draft a very similar player two months later.
But it’s not just about Biyombo, there’s also the fact that the Bobcats were 0.2 points per game off the league’s worst offensive pace. That’s why I have a hard time seeing Noel as a fit and don’t think he’ll be the pick here even if he drops.
The Bobcats are in desperate need of scorers and can you really draft a player whose only real offensive value at this point is likely stick-backs and transition dunks? They’re already committed to developing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Josh McRoberts was their best post scorer a season ago, which tells you how bad the need for a post scorer is. That’s why I’d be really surprised if Noel’s the selection here. I have a hard time seeing him drop past Cleveland anyways.
Eastern Conference Scout’s Take
“I’m higher on Noel than most are. Some think he’s a huge risk, but barring something unforeseen in his rehab plan, I think he’ll be Tyson Chandler in three to four years and that’s more than enough to take him top three in this draft. He reminds me a good bit of Marcus Camby when he came into the league. He’ll never be much of a scorer and doesn’t have a great feel for the game but he’s an elite athlete for his size with tremendous timing. I think he’ll be one of the league’s top shot blockers from day one and at some point will win a Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s got to put on weight and he’s not a great rebounder now but I think he’ll become one as he gains and is better able to hold his defensive positioning.
“You’ve seen in recent years the premium being placed around the league on guys who can protect the rim and so I have a hard time seeing him drop past two. He’s got a long ways to go with his footwork and really only has one post move – an inconsistent jump hook. He’s a mid 50s (percent) free-throw shooter too with questionable form. But teams should know what they’re getting with Noel.”
Ben McLemore, G Kansas, Fr. 2012-13 stats: 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals
He makes as much sense to me as anyone on the board for this team and if he’s still there, you have to think it’s a no-brainer for Bobcats management.
The Bobcats are desperately in need of an infusion of scoring and an offensive star they can build the franchise around. McLemore’s that. He’s got an NBA body that can step in immediately at the No. 2 guard position. This draft class is considered weak but I think McLemore’s every bit as good as Bradley Beal was coming out, and I thought the Bobcats should have taken Beal last season.
The other thing getting McLemore could do is open up the possibility of not having to resign Gerald Henderson and diverting that money to signing an interior scorer. Don’t get me wrong: I like Henderson’s game and think he could be great on a playoff team where he doesn’t have to shoulder so much of the offensive burden. But McLemore at $5 million a year makes a heck of a lot more sense than having to sign Henderson for around $7 to $8 million a year this offseason as a restricted free agent when you’ve already got Ben Gordon on the bench with $13 million guaranteed to him this season.
The other factor that lends me to believe the Bobcats should let Henderson walk is he and Kemba Walker don’t really fit as a backcourt because both are below average outside shooters for their respective positions; although, Henderson can get dialed in from mid-range at times. McLemore makes much more sense with Walker. He’s at his best as a spot-up shooter and in transition, all of which complement Walker’s game. Not to mention McLemore’s length and athleticism paired with Kidd-Gilchrist could cause nightmare for opposing wings and would immediately help the Bobcats improve defensively.
And when Jayhawks coach Bill Self says you’re the most talented player he’s ever coached, it’s going to be really hard for the Bobcats to pass that type of talent up.
The only reasons I can think of to not select McLemore if he falls is the Bobcats plan to definitely resign Henderson and/or they have fallen in love with Anthony Bennett or some other interior scorer.
The issue with Henderson is not that he’s not a solid player. He is. He’s just not a good fit for this roster at shooting guard, not with Kidd-Gilchrist and Walker the franchise’s building blocks for the foreseeable future. And his late season surge probably made him about $3-4 million more expensive a year for the Bobcats. If the Bobcats decide he’s simply too good to let walk and think he and Walker are starting to become something together, then it’s hard to imagine the Bobcats drafting McLemore and then making moves a week later to resign Henderson.
General manager Rich Cho said Tuesday that his motto is draft talent and trade for need, but McLemore would need court time to develop and not sure that meshes with the contract Henderson will likely get this offseason. The good news for the Bobcats is the Cavs and Wizards are likely set at shooting guard, so if the Magic fall in love with someone else, it’s realistic to think McLemore could fall there.
That’d be the kind of lottery luck they need after being anything but lucky in the lottery recently. He’d fill an immediate need and could allow them to divert their salary cap space to more pressing needs. It just sounds almost too good to be true for the Bobcats though to think that they could get a talent like McLemore in this draft as late as fourth.
Eastern Conference Scout’s Take
“Which Ben is a team going to get? That’s my concern with Ben. He’s inconsistent and a little too passive at times for how talented he is. He’s definitely got the look of a potential All-Star though if he wants it. He’s gotta get better at changing it up off the bounce though. He can’t just be a catch-and-shoot guy.
“I haven’t really seen any change of pace or change of direction in his game with the dribble, and he’s got to get that to become a better finisher. “