Nerlens Noel: Defense comes first

He's learning how to score, but Noel says it starts on the other end

Updated: July 21, 2014, 1:36 PM ET
By Kevin Pelton | ESPN Insider

Nerlens NoelJack Arent/NBAE/Getty ImagesMissing a year due to injury might have been a blessing in disguise for Nerlens Noel.

A simple, fundamental thing about sports statistics that is overlooked in today's avalanche of numbers -- advanced or otherwise -- is that they actually represent things that happen as the game is played. Numbers drive our dialogue, our graphics and our arguments. They do not, however, drive the chatter in the locker room. Players care about numbers, of course, because that's what gets them paid. But nuanced discussions about how numbers come to represent specific skills, or which metrics are insightful -- it's just not a typical part of the exchange between athlete and athlete, or athlete and journalist.

We've decided to try to tie the numbers that drive our analysis to the skill sets of the players we cover by going directly to the source. The questions are driven by statistical analysis, although we're not just throwing a bunch of math at unsuspecting players. We are, however, hoping that by analyzing their skill sets, players can reveal the mindsets that result in the numbers that tell their story.

We conclude our set of dialogues today with Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel, who made his NBA debut during the NBA Summer League in Orlando and Las Vegas after sitting out his entire first year in the league following a torn ACL suffered midway through his lone season at the University of Kentucky.


1: Ranked 10th in the NCAA and second among freshmen by blocking 13.2 percent of opponent 2-point attempts at Kentucky.


Kevin Pelton: When did you first realize, growing up, the impact you could have on a game as a shot-blocker?

Nerlens Noel: I would say early on in youth leagues. Being able to make a difference defensively was probably a natural gift. I've been able to utilize it, even as far as getting steals.