Expressing nuance in 140 characters or less is never an easy task.
So when Jonathan Givony of the well-respected DraftExpress.com tweeted less-than-glowing reviews of Nerlens Noel from an event in California over the weekend, he wasn’t saying the UK freshman was a bad player. He was just saying he had a bad couple of days.
On Friday, Givony tweeted, “Nerlens Noel couldn’t score today unless he was completely spoon-fed under the rim. Defensively his fundamentals & awareness looked just OK.”
On Saturday, it was “Kentucky fans have been killing me all day on twitter, so I’m glad for them they didn’t see Noel’s performance today. Actually played worse.”
But one bad weekend does not undo years of exceptional play.
“I’ve watched Nerlens a lot, and I know he’s a lot better than what he’s shown here,” Givony told Next Cats on Sunday. “He definitely looks like he’s out of shape. He’s running up and down the court and he looks really, really tired. His fundamentals don’t look great. He’s struggling to get a shot. But all of this is very correctable.
“On the other hand, there is a certain expectation level that comes with the status he’s achieved. Whether it’s fair or not, people are always expecting the best from him.”
Noel clearly wasn’t at his best in California. Givony didn’t backtrack from his tweets regarding Noel’s performance, but he did add more context.
“I think the only thing he has (on offense) is that really quick first step,” Givony said. “As far as the jump shot, no. Zero. He has no touch at all.”
Noel’s offensive limitations are well known. His strength is his defense, and he’s regarded by many as the best shot blocker to come out of high school since Greg Oden in 2006. Givony didn’t sound sold on that assessment.
“He bites on jump fakes. His idea of playing defense right now is ‘I’m going to jump higher than everyone else.’ He has a long way to go in his understanding of the game. But I think the UK staff teaches that better than anything.
“I think that Anthony Davis had a much better feel for the game,” he continued. “He didn’t have to go through a lot of the things that Nerlens did — when you’re playing hundreds of AAU games where the outcome doesn’t matter and it’s all about the stat sheet. Anthony Davis’ fundamentals were much, much better and that gives you a much better framework to start playing under John Calipari.”
And there it is: the comparison to Davis. It’s certainly unfair to expect any incoming freshman to come close to what Davis achieved in his first year at Kentucky. But the comparisons are going to be made all season.
Givony said they’ve already started.
He estimated about 50 NBA scouts and team personnel in California for the event, and said he spoke to 10 or 12 specifically about Noel.
“The first thing they bring up is that he’s not Anthony Davis,” Givony said. “And that’s unfortunate, because that’s the standard he’s going to be held up to. He still needs a lot of work. It’s going to be tough to live up to those expectations and it’s important that the coaching staff helps bring down those expectations.”
Givony will do his part to temper that hype. DraftExpress currently projects Noel as the No. 1 pick in its 2013 mock draft. That will change with the next update.
“He’s not going to stay at No. 1 on our board, but that doesn’t really mean anything at this point. There are four or five guys I think can be that No. 1 player once we get there.”
For now, the No. 1 player will be UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad. Givony said the former UK recruit would move up to the top spot, but mentioned Noel as part of that pack that could still be the No. 1 pick with enough progress over the course of the college season.
“If I was a Kentucky fan, I wouldn’t jump off a bridge. But the expectation level needs to be revisited,” he said.
Noel wasn’t the only UK player at the adidas camp. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer and freshman Willie Cauley-Stein were also there.
Givony was especially impressed with Cauley-Stein.
“He played a lot better than I thought he would,” he said. “I watched him some in AAU, and he was a little disinterested. But he played a lot harder here. The coaches here say he’s very intelligent, he has great instincts, and he’s very coachable. And those are all things you look for.”
Givony pointed out that Cauley-Stein has had the opportunity to work with the UK coaching staff while attending summer classes over the past few weeks, something Noel hasn’t been able to do. While the rest of his teammates have been practicing in Lexington, Noel has been up in Massachusetts finishing his high school coursework so he can be eligible to play at UK.
“Not having that time with the coaches makes a world of difference,” Givony said. “He runs up and down the court twice and he looks exhausted. You can’t be ready to play your game against bigger and stronger players when you can’t breathe.”
Noel said over the weekend that his schoolwork has been completed and he expects to be on campus August 19.
Givony also praised Wiltjer’s game, though the UK sophomore struggled with his outside shot at the camp.
“I really like him. I think he’s a classic stretch 4 in the NBA and I’ve watched him a lot,” Givony said. “He’s more focused on defense and that’s good. I think that he’s moving a little better. His basketball IQ is very high. He’s very confident and he’s very aggressive.”
Givony currently has four Wildcats on his 2013 draft board: Noel (1st), Alex Poythress (7th), Archie Goodwin (9th) and Ryan Harrow (23rd). Could Wiltjer join those players and jump to the NBA after two seasons at UK?
“Yes, he can. If Kentucky goes deep in the tournament, as they’ll be expected to do, and he plays at a high level, he could have the opportunity. It all depends on where he’s happy being taken in the draft. Is he OK with late first round or early second round? Or maybe he blows up this year and ends up in the teens. He has that ability.”