For most college basketball players who are nursing a major injury, it would be an awful idea to leave a potential national championship contender in favor of the NBA draft, but Nerlens Noel isn't some ordinary player.
According to ESPN.com, the freshman center out of Kentucky will forgo his three seasons of eligibility in favor of the NBA allure. The fact that Noel is dealing with an ACL injury that kept him out of the Wildcats' final nine games this past season certainly complicates matters, but he made the right decision.
Noel was a highly touted recruit heading into the season, and he definitely didn't disappoint. He led the nation with 4.4 blocks per game and nearly averaged a double-double with Kentucky to the tune of 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest. In addition to that, Noel averaged an impressive 2.1 steals per game.
While his level of importance to the Wildcats didn't quite reach the same level as Anthony Davis' last year, there is no question that he was the straw that stirred the drink. With Noel in the fold, Kentucky was clearly heading for the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats went just 4-5 after he succumbed to injury, though, and they embarrassingly lost to Robert Morris University in the NIT.
Noel was a game-changer on both ends of the floor, but his true value was on the defensive end. He was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year despite missing the latter part of the season, and it was well deserved. Despite the injury and Kentucky's disappointing season, Noel's stock can't really get much higher at this point.
With that in mind, entering the draft was an obvious move on his part.
Noel could definitely stand to pack some weight onto his 6'10" frame, and he needs to become a more complete player. But he will make an instant impact as a shot-blocker and rebounder at the next level, and he has fewer question marks than the other top prospects.
According to Chad Ford (membership required) of ESPN.com, the top prospects in the 2013 draft class after Noel include Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke. All of them have a ton of potential and could ultimately develop into elite NBA players, but none of them have the tools necessary to contribute immediately like Noel does.
Unless something goes terribly wrong with Noel's rehabilitation in the coming weeks and months, he is basically a lock to be taken No. 1 overall, regardless of which team wins that selection. Because of that, there was no reason for him to remain in school. An extra year almost certainly would have made him a better player and earned him some NCAA tournament experience, but it simply wasn't necessary.
The 2013 draft class is perfect for Noel, as there is a lack of quality post players to choose from. There are several guards and wing players, but none of them have really distinguished themselves from one another. Noel has a very different skill set when compared to the other top players in the draft, and that makes him a desirable target.
It can be argued that Noel would be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft as well, but with skilled big men like Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker possibly in the fold, he would have more talent to compete with.
Noel is basically one of a kind in the 2013 draft class.
There are always risks involved with coming out after one season, but there would have been even more risks present had he gone back to Kentucky. Noel could have easily suffered another ACL injury, which would have inevitably hurt his draft stock and cost him millions of dollars. If Noel gets hurt again in the future, at least he'll have his first contract to fall back on.
Noel probably gave some thought to returning to Kentucky, as he could have played with a dynamite freshman class and grown even more as a player. However, entering the draft was the obvious decision, and he'll be happy that he made it in the long run.
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