The Los Angeles Lakers and their fans have an obsession with big men. The Lakers have boasted names such as Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, Bynum (yes he was awesome), and even the despised Dwight Howard for a year.
Historically, the center position has been vital to championship success. This goes for LA and everyone else. With the evolution of pace and space, the type of big man desired has changed though. This means that the Lakers should evolve with it and target a player to fit the scheme more, and timeline of the current core. With the Nerlens Noel situation turning sour in Philadelphia, now is the time for the Lakers to change, act, and make a deal.
Depending on your view of rookie Ivica Zubac, currently the Lakers may or may not have a guy they can look at as the future of the position. Despite the signing of Timofey Mozgov, re-signing of Tarik Black and drafting of Zubac, a player like Noel would be a big upgrade for now and the future.
Many fans are still stuck in the mindset of the low post big. That is not the way the NBA has evolved the last few years. Gone are the days of a guy like Jahlil Okafor or Greg Monroe being centerpieces. Post scoring can be used as a weapon, but when it is the sole skill of a player, then there are major issues.
Nowadays the modern big man is someone that is either skilled and versatile, or is an ideal roll man in the pick and roll. Add on to that, the position demands rim protection and the ability to switch onto guards. Tristan Thompson was paid big money two summers ago, for those exact skills (a roll man and defense).
The Lakers have stuck to giant plodding big men who are questionable in this new day and age. We can all remember last year with Roy Hibbert, but we now have the torch carried by Timofey Mozgov.
While Mozgov has been decent this year, his lack of athleticism and skills is something that would appear to be effecting the team. Supporters and critics of Mozgov can pull up numbers to battle all they want, but the issue of fit and effectiveness is something that needs to be considered. His rim protection numbers continue to drop. Last year his DFG% was 48.5%, while this year it has crashed to 53%. There are ways to explain this, but the drop is worrisome to say the least. Not to mention he is fumbling more and more passes.
This brings the point back to the modern day big. The Lakers need to seriously consider looking at a player that may never be an offensive star, but has high impact on the game and on defense. This kind of player just happens to be dangling on the trade market.
Yes I am an admitted fan boy of Noel, but it would appear that I am not the only one who craves a player such as Noel on the Lakers. The moment Okafor was drafted, bloggers, fans and analysts have looked into sending Noel to LA.
Noel is the prototypical young big that teams are looking for in today’s game. Noel is still needing to put on muscle, but standing at 6’11.75″ with a 7’3.75″ wingspan, Noel has the length and height necessary. Size and length are not all there is, or else Okafor would be intriguing on defense. Noel gives effort on defense, and possesses the athletic ability to switch, challenge at the rim. Not to mention he would be the perfect alley-oop partner for D’Angelo Russell.
Like many of the Lakers young core, the idea of Noel as a player is projection. He has dealt with injury, an insane situation in Philadelphia, as well with paying with defensive albatross Jahlil Okafor. These factors lead to many different issues when adding a player such as Noel.
Noel’s numbers this year are small sample size, so disregard those for now (for the sake of fun, his numbers are outstanding early on). That leaves us projecting off of confusing numbers from 2015-2016 (playing a lot of power forward with Okafor as a center), and his very good rookie year (2014-2015).
Using defensive rating as an individual stat in the microcosm that is Philadelphia would be foolish. With the influx of lottery ticket developmental league players, fringe NBA players, and flat out bad defensive players, the use of such a stat is not giving a clear picture.
The better way to look at it would be through rim protection (DFG%, field goals defended at the rim) the last two years. In Noel’s rookie year (2014-2015), he held opponents to 44.9% at the rim (100% of his time played at the C). That number was good for 11th in the NBA and 6th best for a player who played more than 55 games. That is phenomenal rim protection, especially when factoring in he was a rookie and had awful teammates in Philadelphia.
Last season with the disaster that is Okafor, Noel was forced to play a lot of power forward. Playing out of position, Noel posted a DFG% of 48.9% (35% of his time played at PF). That is an unfortunate drop, but that is due to Noel playing alongside Okafor.
For fun, his numbers are back to very good in the few games he has played this year. In 4 games this year, Noel has a DFG% of 42.9%. Ignore that for now, but it is very interesting.
If you are looking for blocks, those can be misleading, but for the sake of argument, Noel is averaging 1.7 blocks per game. If those were to stay the same, with no expected growth, that average would be good enough for 12th in the NBA. With expected growth and maturity, one can assume that stat will rise some more.
A simple aspect of defense that should not be overlooked is also Noel’s ability to guard the perimeter in terms of the pick and roll, as well as ICE.
In a great article by Derek Bodner, he presented evidence that Noel may not have slipped. I would call this the Okafor effect. Bodner examined eight different lineups. In six of the eight lineups, the lineup featuring solely Noel was superior, and five of those six were better than the best defense in the NBA.
As you can see, the difference is shocking and honestly expected. Noel is very good on that side of the ball when he is allowed to anchor the defense. That is even factoring in the band of misfits he was forced to play with. Now the minutes played in these lineups makes it a small sample size, but as Bodner says, “it defintely raises an eyebrow.”
These numbers are very encouraging considering the fact most of the young Lakers core is not very good on defense. The hope would be that this carries over and increases the defensive presence in LA. As the Lakers core continues to grow on defense, they will be anchored by a true rim protector.
On offense, Noel still has a long way to go, as he finished only about league average in true shooting percentage last year (54.4%). With better fitting pieces around him, such as D’Angelo and Brandon Ingram, we could see his number rise with better spacing and play-making.
Noel is not going to make plays for others, so he has clear limitations, as he is primarily a roll man or release valve. One added value that he would bring is increased pressure, leading to more free throw attempts. Noel has averaged 3.2 FT attempts per game over his short career, and as with most of Noel, you are anticipating more growth. Placed on the Lakers, that would place him only behind Lou Williams and Julius Randle in attempts per game. That may be thought of as a little stat, but it is added value and pressure.
How would the Lakers get Noel? Oh boy. This is where Lakers fans will get angry, but please continue. The initial thought would be centering a deal around Lou Williams due to his play so far this season. Though 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo may be a joke to some, there is no way that is happening.
A package for Noel would have to center around Jordan Clarkson and something with the Lakers protected pick. Why? Clarkson’s early season improvement on defense has not only vanished, but it has cratered. Add that with losing his ability to create for others, ISO ball, drop as a deep threat, and you are looking at a replaceable scorer.
So then why would Philadelphia want Clarkson? First off, they need scoring and a player like Clarkson. Jordan has regressed mid-season, but if you look back at the early part of the year, he was worlds better. Secondly, Clarkson showed great signs as a rookie in creating for others. If leading a team is what is needed, Philly has a spot. Lastly, Clarkson is locked up for the next four years (this year and the next three seasons) at a great price. Getting stable, long term pieces is something that Philly needs.
With Clarkson’s value coming down and the 76ers ruining Noel’s value, we could see a match with some tweaking a deal could be reached. There are issues due to Noel’s pending restricted free agency, but holding onto Noel’s bird rights should be looked at as a benefit. Sure he is going to get paid and cause some roster crunch, but due to RFA, his price tag may drop.
Obtaining a player like Noel may be tricky, especially in the short term, but the long term benefits of such a move would be looked at as brilliant by the Lakers front office. Will the price be high and force other movement? Sure, but Noel fits what LA needs in terms of talent, fit and timeline.
Go get him Mitch.