When the season shut down in March, we turned in our 2019-20 season report card knowing that basketball as we knew it was concluding for a long while. That’s how the NBA handled their 2019-20 awards as well–only counting the games played before the pandemic suspension in awards voting. But basketball did come back, and the Thunder’s players earned bonus points over the final stretch.
New Grade: B+
Originally the sixth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Nerlens Noel looked poised to become an elite-level rim protector and potential defensive anchor for years to come. But after a turbulent start to his NBA career, Noel arrived in Oklahoma City, determined to carve out a meaningful spot in an NBA rotation.
During his second season with the Thunder, Noel became a force off the bench. He continued to hone his unique defensive skillset while also developing great alley-oop chemistry with the former mayor of Lob City and fellow reserve-extraordinaire, Dennis Schröder. Noel is a good rim runner offensively, but his defensive presence is even more impactful due to his nonstop commitment to pursuing the basketball. He ranked in the top 93 percentile for centers in both block percentage and steal percentage1 during the regular season.
Going up against the godfathers of small ball, Noel’s minutes expectedly decreased in the playoffs against the Rockets. Despite only playing 13.9 per game in the series, Noel remained the pillar of defensive intensity. With Noel on the floor, the Rockets shot just 52.0 percent at the rim. And while those attempts at the rim against Noel came in limited minutes, the Rockets shot 64.2 percent at the rim with the Thunder’s starter Steven Adams manning the middle defensively.