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Roundball Stew

Stew: Nerlens Noel Revival

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Last week we looked at a handful of big-name players who have been so maddening that in some cases, you might be better off outright dropping them*.

This week I’d like to consider some more players who have been frustrating this season. The difference, though, is that in all of the cases discussed below, I haven’t given up hope — at least not yet. But I’m still angry, and doing everything I can to avoid losing patience with…

Nerlens Noel, PF/C, PHI

Numbers: 9.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.4 spg, 1.0 bpg, six missed games so far

Why I’m Still Hopeful: One narrative explaining Noel’s struggles this year is that he’s had trouble playing alongside Jahlil Okafor. I certainly won’t argue with that, but I also don’t want to undersell another big factor here: the disruption caused by three different stretches of missed games. Already this year, Noel has missed time due to knee, wrist and eye issues. And what’s easy to forget is that before his first injury struck — the wrists, back in November — Noel’s first five games, playing alongside Okafor, looked like this: 14.2 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 2.0 spg and 2.0 bpg.

Another thing to keep in mind: When Noel was thriving last year, his success wasn’t first and foremost driven by big scoring and rebounding totals. It was more about huge numbers in steals and blocks (from Jan. 30 onward, he averaged 12.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.0 spg and 2.3 bpg in 33 games). With that in mind, I would argue that even with Okafor around, if Noel is operating at peak capacity, there’s no reason he can’t land in that same range again. After all, as frustrating as he’s been, the current numbers (9.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.4 spg, 1.0 bpg) aren’t exactly all that far off. So as mad as you may be — and as someone who drafted Noel ahead of Draymond Green in one of my main leagues, I am borderline fuming — try to stay patient, or buy low if the chance is there. In the long run, I still think Noel pays off big time this year.

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Goran Dragic, PG, MIA

Numbers: 11.1 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.8 3s

Why I’m Still Hopeful: I still don’t think Dragic has the same upside we saw back during his Houston days (final month and a half in 2011-12: 18.2 ppg, 8.3 apg, 1.8 spg and 1.8 3s), but lately he’s shown some notable signs of life (12.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.7 spg and 1.0 bpg in his last three games). He’s also looking notably more aggressive, putting up his three biggest FG-attempt totals of the season in his last three games (14, 14, 15), and refusing to leave the game despite blood gushing out of his mouth after having his tooth blasted out by Al Horford’s elbow on Monday. Dragic’s numbers in December still aren’t staggering (12.1 ppg, 6.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.1 3s), but it’s a clear improvement over his tepid November (10.8 ppg, 4.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.6 3s), and that — along with some much-needed recklessness on the court — is certainly a place to start.

Monta Ellis, PG/SG, IND

Numbers: 12.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.8 3s

Why I’m Still Hopeful: It’s not like he’s been bad across the board — the steals and assists are plenty helpful — but in one key category (points) he’s been a big disappointment. In fact, Monta’s scoring average, if it held up, would be his worst since his rookie year in 2005-06. The good news is it’s not holding up. In his last four games, Ellis has averaged 18.0 ppg, 3.3 apg, 3.3 spg and 2.3 3s on 15 shot attempts per game (up from his average of 11.8 attempts on the season). With three of his six best scoring totals coming in the last four games (you follow that?), it looks like non-aggressive Ellis may soon be a thing of the past.

Update: As of Friday morning, Monta was listed as iffy for Friday’s game due to a sore knee. Assuming it’s nothing serious, the above paragraph still applies.

Chandler Parsons, SF/PF, DAL

Numbers: 8.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.9 3s in 21 minutes per game

Why I’m Still Hopeful: There are a number of ways to quantify how crappy Parsons’ season has been, and one of them is that he has more missed games (seven) than total steals (five) so far. With that said, I’m clinging to optimism largely because of Parsons’ minute totals the last two games: 28 and 29. Those are both season-highs, and in the first of those two games — a win over Phoenix on Monday — Parsons put up his second-highest point total of the season, with 17. The bad news is that he has yet to play both games of a back-to-back, and he’s still really not startable in standard leagues. But for now, I’m trying to keep a narrow focus on the crucial factor of his playing time. And with his minutes on the rise, I still think there’s a chance for a productive second half of the year.

Footnote: I do think I should mention here that in last week’s column I did not express as much faith in another player with heavy playing time restrictions in Jrue Holiday. And Holiday, it should be noted, has not only been better than Parsons when on the court (12.4 ppg, 4.5 apg in just 23 minutes per game), he’s also just a couple weeks away from losing his minutes cap altogether. So I’ll just quickly reiterate that my reason for not trusting Holiday right now isn’t his ability to produce (we know he can), or his playing time cap (which will soon be gone). My hesitation is because Holiday (90 missed games the last two seasons) has let us down too many times before, and as we’re seeing again with Bradley Beal, leg trouble just seems very hard to fully shake. With all of that said — and this is in the same spirit of what I wrote last week — I applaud you if you’ve been patient thus far with Holiday. And I’d reward yourself by trading him for someone more durable as soon as it looks like he’s really breaking out.

Other Random Thoughts: *I realize that Kobe Bryant, whose hideous shooting I highlighted in last week’s column, has been playing notably better lately (23.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 3.0 3s on 53.2 percent shooting in his last three games). At the risk of stating the obvious, you have an ideal window to try to trade him to a nostalgic Kobe fan in your league right now. … Raymond Felton’s last six games (of which Deron Williams has played five): 13.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.2 spg and 1.7 3s. … Jon Leuer had five points, four boards and two steals in the first quarter on Wednesday against the Warriors, then Jeff Hornacek completely forgot about him (he finished with seven points and five rebounds in 14 minutes). It looks like it was just a matchup thing against Golden State, and I’ll certainly hang onto Leuer for now, but Hornacek’s rotation continues to be very unpredictable. And by that I mean infuriating.