Finally flashing some of the things fans have been desperate to see since his NBA debut, Noel is emerging onto the national radar as his team finishes its second straight rebuilding (read: directionless) season.
We're going to be looking at Noel through a very different lens long before the start of next season, and we're just beginnings of what's being built now. The early reviews look good, but the long-range projections are even more promising.
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Nerlens Noel, F/C Philadelphia 76ers: Defense
Perhaps those campaigning for Andrew Wiggins to be the unanimous Rookie of the Year should watch more of the Philadelphia 76ers down the home stretch. Looking to follow the Blake Griffin flight path, Noel is making a late push to ensure he’s not overlooked when it comes time to vote for the honor. And if he keeps up the production at his current torrid pace, there is a good chance Noel will turn more than a few heads over the next several weeks.
Since March has started, here is what Noel is doing: 11.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 2.0 blocks. Although he’s shooting just 42.9 percent over that same stretch of time, owners won’t be complaining about that with all of the production in other areas. A defensive dynamo absolutely dominating that side of the floor, Noel is showing an evolution that many didn’t expect to see this season.
Noel’s become especially valuable now as the playoff stretch is right around the corner and defensive statistics are always in demand, and many of his current owners are still undervaluing what the rookie actually brings to the table. He doesn’t get enough offensive opportunities where his field goal percentage is going to do sizable damage, and his upside on the defensive end (nevermind his already established awesome production) is simply too great to ignore.
Make an aggressive trade offer and don’t look back. Noel is a difference-maker down the stretch.
Danny Green, G/F San Antonio Spurs: Three-Pointers
Like the San Antonio Spurs, Danny Green has been here before.
Since March began, Green has started to find his game again on a more consistent basis. Through three games, Green is averaging 11.7 points, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks and 2.7 triples on a rock-solid 45.8 percent from the field.
Compare that to a rough February that saw Green average just 9.0 points, 1.2 steals, and 1.5 three-pointers on a lousy 38.1 percent shooting, including 29.3 percent from distance. Obviously, that’s not going to cut it for a guy deemed a three-point specialist, and his 47.1 percent mark this month is much more in line with what comes in his territory.
The thing that I like about Green is that when he’s at his best, it’s not just about the three-pointers. One of those rare contributors who is capable of averaging better than a steal, a block and a triple in every contest, the Spurs are going to need the North Carolina product firing on all cylinders if they’re going to make another push up the Western Conference ladder.
While Green may not have the name cache of some others, don’t discount him because of one bad month. He’s ready to keep firing—especially from behind the arc.
Ersan Ilyasova, F Milwaukee Bucks: Three-Pointers
Ghostface Killa. Or as he’s better known to some: Ghostface Ilya(sova).
Although Ilyasova is firmly in Anthony Randolph territory for me (those of you who remember Randolph should understand that reference), there’s no denying his current contributions to Jason Kidd’s team. Although he’s been more down than up this season, the former second-round pick has channeled his inner Juan Ponce de Leon in March in finding the Fountain of Youth.
Through three games, Ilyasova is shooting 51.4 percent from the field, including a blistering 57.1 percent mark from behind the three-point line. On top of that, Ilyasova is averaging more shots (11.7) than at any other point this season. Averaging 14.7 points per game this month, his highest individual mark this season, Ilyasova is making 2.7 triples per contest as well. He’s not going to be the answer to a desperate owner’s prayers because he doesn’t do much outside of shooting, scoring and a little bit of rebounding (6.0 per game in March), but just because he doesn’t contribute across the board doesn’t mean that he’s incapable of playing a very specific role on your team as you look to fill the gaps before the postseason begins.
You shouldn’t feel attached to the veteran after picking him off the slag heap, but don’t discount him just because of past experiences at this juncture in the campaign.