Explaining Nerlens Noel Still Not Signed

Nerlens Noel is a man without a team. The Dallas Mavericks can match any offer, or they can say, no thank you. But there have been no offers. With a lot of money floating around, it seemed more likely than not that Noel would be handed between $10-12 million, or possibly more. Once Paul George landed, teams were desperate. But here he is. The only offer is the qualifying offer from the Mavs of $6 million and he’ll be a free agent in 2018 in a crowded OMG (LeBron James, Chris Paul, Paul George, Russell Westbrook) class. How did this happen to Nerlens Noel, where no one wants to even overpay him?

For the record, Noel’s agent Happy Walters isn’t smiling these days. Negotiations are stalled. Noel wants to stay in Dallas but the Mavericks are hawkish with the checkbook because 2018 is making people watch their money.

But first a history lesson.  It was Mark Cuban who said overpaying isn’t such a bad thing. That was over a decade ago when Joe Johnson was offered and accepted an exorbitant/ridiculous salary to remain with Atlanta. Cuban defended the Hawks organization saying that sometimes you have to overpay to prevent collateral damage. In the Hawks case, collateral damage was Joe Johnson leaving town. Johnson’s exit would have been more devastating than overpaying him. And so with the definition of value front and center, the question about Nerlens Noel and the Mavericks is how much is too much?

At this point, Noel is being treated like the player who used to be the injured one. Teams don’t see the value because his time with Dallas was a small sample size. To invest that kind of money and have his body break again is economic purgatory.

For a player like Noel, a role player who only started 19 games this past season, his numbers aren’t going to tell you much and are probably why he is unsigned in an analytics market.  I can tell you he averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds with a defensive rating of 102. I can tell you that he can’t do much of anything on the offensive side of the ball once you are past ten feet so this spacing the floor romance passes him by. That is why he is unsigned too.

He is not an offensive player. He can’t stroke the three. He doesn’t space the floor. His value is limited.

With Dallas, he was slightly more productive than with the 76ers who jerked him around before trading him. It was an open secret that the 76ers had no use for Noel once Joel Embiid showed the league his true worth. Embiid made Noel expendable and Noel sulked about his change in fortune. Dallas was a new start for Noel, a long and lanky rebounder with average offensive talent who can defend but still needs to get stronger. He’s a weak passer and should block more shots than he does because he is a leaper. At best, he is a complimentary player who can somewhat protect the rim, finish in the paint but he’s been on bad teams that have never made the playoffs so it’s hard to get a good understanding of how he operates under pressure.

If you compare his third season to Tristan Thompson’s third season, Noel is a better defender and shot blocker and Thompson is a better offensive player which pretty much is the Noel book: defense first.

Year Three Points FG% Rebounds Blocks Defensive Rating
Tristan Thompson 11.7 47.7% 9.2 0.4 108
Nerlens Noel 8.7 59.5% 5.8 1.0 102

The lingering question about Noel is can he stay healthy, and if he cannot, then how much of a financial investment should the Mavs committ to. Already. Noel has missed 38% of his NBA career. At 24 years old, it is impossible to project into his future.

The Mavs correctly played the market this summer and the market won. They set Noel’s price: qualifying offer. Noel lost. In the short term. If he accepts the qualifying offer, then he has a season to prove everything.

The Mavericks, with Noel and Harrison Barnes, can be formidable; they already are athletic. Particularly with the league trending so young. It comes back to Nerlens Noel and what is he worth?

The question Cuban has answered about Noel is impact. Is he a difference maker? Can he win games for his off the stat sheet hustle plays? Is he replaceable? No. No. Yes. Cuban played chess, not checkers with Noel’s financial future. If no one signs him to an offer sheet, why go out on a limb? Make him prove something.

Noel isn’t a special player. He can do some things but he lacks versatility; he is pretty one-dimensional. Offense is an issue away from the rim. That is a negative, particularly in the fast past, scoring West. The Mavs like Nerlens Noel. They appreciate him. They want to coach him. They just aren’t in love with him enough to overpay.

And for that matter, neither is anyone else.

 

photo vial llananba