Mid-Season Grade: A-
Reader Grade: B (54% of votes)
Having embraced a narrow but fruitful role as the Thunder’s backup center, Nerlens Noel has been more effective per-minute than his career averages in most categories. Unlike last season, his counting stats have been backed up by advanced metrics. OKC used to plummet when Steven Adams went to the bench, but now they maintain a positive net rating; Noel’s career highs in both offensive (0.5) and defensive (3.4) BPM are underneath that reversal, also reflected in him reaching the most Win Shares (4.8) of his career before the season was suspended.
As Noel’s former teammates and coaches alike told Ryan Novozinsky for his recent profile of the big man, things are going as well as they ever have during his tumultuous career:
“’I’m really happy for him,’ Michael Carter-Williams said. ‘He’s having a great year. Especially [considering] everything he’s been through since he’s gotten in the league. You can tell he’s out there having fun, playing hard. He’s got a good role on their team; I can tell they like him over there. He’s just excelling at his job.’
‘What I’m most excited about is that Nerlens is comfortable with who he is and has carved himself a role in a tough league. Look, the league that Nerlens entered back in 2013 is not the same league that it is now. The game has gone small and everyone can shoot, but Nerlens has said, ‘This is who I am. I can block shots, I can rebound, I can defend like heck,’ and it’s been a perfect fit for the Thunder,” Calipari said. “I’m just so happy that he’s embraced those parts of the game which he always had, because it means he’s going to have a long career in that league. He’s top-20 in the league in player efficiency, one of the best shot blockers in the league and can defend four, if not five positions. I’m happy for him.’
Noel’s adaptability and perseverance has helped guide him from the lowest points to the highest peaks. It’s a gift that not many people have, but one that Noel uses to near perfection.”