Nerlens Noel Please Rescue Yourself

I don’t know who is up for the job, maybe a big man whisperer. But Nerlens Noel has Dallas issues.  He has played 7 minutes in three games, after playing 28 minutes against Minnesota and New Orleans. Add in Rick Carlisle’s cryptic “minutes are earned” and it seems like whatever thin honeymoon existed (after a humbling financial summer) is over for Noel and for the Mavericks.

Noel is on a one year deal so automatically the narrative has entered into Noel trade possibilities. It is the decision the 76ers came to so there is precedent here. But any team looking to trade for Noel is asking themselves if he can’t get minutes on a team that has won 2 games, what do we need him for?

That Rick Carlisle doesn’t trust Noel is searingly obvious, particularly since Dirk Nowitzki is on fumes, career low numbers, making Noel’s minutes more likely to go up, not down.

Carlisle recently said,  “If you go outside the system and start breaking rules wlly-nilly, there’s not going to be help built in for you and then there’s problems and you have to get guys out of the game”. Carlisle was referring to defensive principles.  Which goes back to Carlisle’s  “minutes have to be earned” theology.  Here is what he expects.

  1. Defensive Intensity on pick and roll.
  2. Not sleepwalking when the offense is not about you.
  3.  Pay attention to details.
  4. Lose nonchalance on screens.
  5. Exhibit a competitor’s heart.

Carlisle went on to say, “If it’s between him and Salah [Mejri], Salah has earned the minutes. There’s no doghouse here. It’s pretty simple. You compete and if you earn minutes, you get minutes. And you’ve got to compete to keep them because it’s a competitive situation.”

Noel was someone who complained in Philly and that got him shipped out.  He has learned. He has repeatedly said he can match up against anyone in the NBA. Confidence is good and Noel is keeping things positive, being a team player and not a team cancer, considering his change in circumstances. So he gets credit for taking his punishment or demotion or temporary blip that won’t matter come March.

“Keep pushing and keep working on what I gotta work on” he said.

Noel wants to play hard or so he says. But does he get that the reason he isn’t in the rotation is because he is not playing hard? Clearly, something is being lost in translation.  But this is reality. With Noel on the floor, the Mavs offense is in the toilet as is their defense. (95.4/ 115.4 offensive-defensive rating). His plus/minus is -19.2. On the road it is -27.7. In November, it is disastrous, -43.4. That’s why Noel is stewing on the bench.

Carlisle’s responsibility is to put the best team on the floor with the understanding that Dennis Smith is developing and Dirk Nowitzki is hanging on. In the middle is Nerlens Noel whose role is what exactly?

It’s been a tough few months for Noel who as a restricted free agent struck out on his big payday and swallowed his pride, took the qualifying offer. This is his contract year so he wants to get paid. To do that he has to perform on both ends which is a little bit impossible when he isn’t playing.

Noel is limited in what he can do. He doesn’t have much offensive skill once he moves away from the basket. He isn’t the stretch big man the NBA is in love with. He is pretty old school as far his game being the rim or nothing. But he doesn’t make up for his deficiencies by setting hard screens and rolling to the basket. He doesn’t always compete which was a problem in Philly too. It’s one thing to lack versatility. It’s another to not play hard and ignore the details.

What the Mavs want is Noel to protect the rim, finish in the paint, not gamble on defense, set screens, read his man.

Per 36 Minutes Points FG% Rebounds Blocks Offensive Rebounds
Salah Merij 10.0 70.6% 15,7 5.3 6.7
Nerlens Noel 11.5 53.2% 11.7 1.7 4.0

For the Mavs, this season is about getting Dennis Smith the reps and experience that he needs to go forward since he is the Mavs point guard and star of the future. It is also to make a determination on Harrison Barnes. Can he be the best player on the team or is he a second or third option? Finally, it is to honor Nowitzki, to usher him into the next part of his life with a graceful goodbye. Noel is way down the list in importance, he is expendable and that may be the handwriting on the wall for the Dallas career of Noel: short lived.

But trading Noel when he isn’t playing would net Dallas a second round pick and that’s about it. Noel still thinks he can salvage this fiasco, right the ship so to speak and perhaps he is right in the short term. The long term is a totally different story altogether.



photo vial llananba