The OKC Thunder are well served by reserve center Nerlens Noel. Defensively he is a wall, his alley-oop dunks are unstoppable but getting to the line is the area he can improve.
Nerlens Noel was almost not a part of this incredible OKC Thunder organization. During the off season Noel re-signed with the team, had second thoughts and then thankfully committed to the squad.
At the start of the season coach Billy Donovan experimented with the newly signed Mike Muscala. He has always loved a stretch big and he was hopeful Muscala would dominate second units with his outside shooting. This did not work so Donovan upgraded Noel’s playing time.
The Kentucky product has delivered this season. He is 14th in the NBA in blocks per game, despite only playing 18.7 minutes per game. He is averaging 7.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.3 steals and 1.2 assists per game.
This shows that Noel is doing a little bit of everything to help this team win. He is comfortable defending the paint with his incredible leaping ability and timing. He is just as comfortable defending the perimeter against guards, getting deflections and steals.
On top of that, he is making some really good passes and being a facilitator on offense, despite the low assist numbers, Noel sees himself as a 6’11” point center. He has also been able to step up when Steven Adams has been out due to injury.
However, there is one aspect of his game that Nerlens Noel needs to add in order to take the next step.
Noel needs to get to the line more:
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The center is only getting to the free throw line 1.9 times per game where he hits 1.5 times per game. That’s an efficiency of 79.1 percent which is much higher than his 64.9 percent career number. Thanks to the higher percentage it is a good play to try and draw the foul on the opposition center.
Teammate Steven Adams has developed his post version of the CP Swing where he is able to get to the line by drawing contact. This has the impact of getting the opposition big men into foul trouble early. This action works to stymie the opposition since they can’t challenge shots with any confidence later in games.
Noel also needs to attack the rim more so that he forces the opposition to make play after play or foul. Given his athleticism it makes him hard to guard, resulting in most teams fouling as their only option.
If Noel can do this then he gives Donovan and his brigade of point guards even greater options. It is important that the opposition defense is not able to settle into a rhythm.
If Noel can be more aggressive and the team run more plays for this option it offers other avenues to the basket, making the OKC Thunder even more dangerous to contain.