The Mavericks have been undergoing a youth movement for much of this season, whether it’s out of necessity due to injuries to veterans or surprising performances from young players. That youth movement peaked in February when the Mavericks parted ways with Andrew Bogut and traded Justin Anderson to Philadelphia for Nerlens Noel, a 22-year-old center who instantly became the youngest player on the Mavericks roster.
Noel, celebrating his 23rd birthday today, was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013 and was immediately traded to the 76ers. He missed his entire rookie season rehabbing from a knee injury and the following season when he returned to the court, the 76ers won a grand total of 18 games. The ensuing season was even worse as the 76ers finished 10-72.
The losses he accumulated in Philly were not usual for him. Noel is a player who’s accustomed to success, winning an AAU championship as a youngster and playing collegiately at Kentucky, a program recognized for dominance on the court. He said the adversity he faced during his time there made him tougher.
“It definitely gave me a different look at real-life situations you can be in and showing how strong you can be to get through it,” Noel said. “It built a stronger will in me to get through whatever is thrown at you.”
After spending three and a half season in a losing situation in Philadelphia, Noel is now with a franchise in the Mavs that has established themselves as one of the most consistent winners this century, racking up 11 consecutive 50-win seasons and an NBA championship in 2011. The transition has been a welcome change for Noel.
“It’s a different atmosphere here,” Noel said. “It’s all about winning. It’s expected so you really have to bring your A-game every night. It’s just a different culture here.”
The expectation to win in Dallas has brought a spark to Noel, who was dubbed as a “Tyson Chandler starter kit” by general manager Donnie Nelson the day after the acquisition.
Noel made his name as a shot-blocker, whether it was at Kentucky where he set the school’s single-game record with 12 blocks or becoming just the third rookie ever in Philadelphia to tally 100 blocks in a season. While he takes pride in his rim protection, Noel believes he provides much more than that.
“I’m an all-around game changer,” Noel said. “I impact the game in so many ways. Defense is defense and with offense, I think I have great instincts with passing the ball and doing pick-and-rolls.”
It’s a sentiment that Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban shares. Cuban said that in addition to shot-blocking, Noel provides a hard roll to the rim and covers a lot of ground. Cuban also thinks Noel has a decent 15-foot jumper, which can be improved and added to his arsenal. Though Noel has shown plenty of promise in his young NBA career, Cuban says that he hasn’t even untapped about 75 percent of his potential. Noel also sees room for improvement within himself.
“I think there are certain aspects I can add to my game to make me so well-rounded,” Noel said. “I think defense takes care of itself. I can get stronger as well, I think that’ll be a big part over this offseason.”
While acknowledging he has room to grow, Noel is confident in his skillset and work ethic.
“I think I’m a threat on both ends of the court, defensively and offensively,” Noel said. “I’m in a great position right now to continue to learn and take in everything I can to get even better.”
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