After a long, disappointing offseason due to unsuccessful contract talks, Nerlens Noel is ready to show his worth to not only the Mavericks and the rest of the league, but to himself. Unable to agree to a long-term deal after the summer long standoff, Noel settled with signing his one-year qualifying offer at $4.1 million, which sets himself up to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. While Nerlens bets big on himself this season, let’s hope it benefits both Nerlens and the Mavs in the future.
2016 – 2017 Season in Review
Last season was what you could call a transition year for Noel. After starting the first month of the season recovering from knee surgery, it took some time to find his groove in the rotation with other big men such as Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Jahlil Okafor. As contract talks stalled with the 76ers, restricted free agency seemed evident for the former Kentucky Wildcat. With an apprehensive front office, due to his injury history, it seemed as Philadelphia and Noel would part ways one way or another, whether that be free agency or trade; and trade it was!
As the trade deadline rapidly approached, the Mavericks swooped in and made a deal with the 76ers, which was a move that shocked the Dallas fan base. With an injury riddled first-half of the season, the Mavs were headed towards the lottery (and still were following the trade). The trade was seen as a steal for Dallas around the league as they essentially only gave up second year wingman Justin Anderson, who couldn’t seem to find his way completely out of Rick Carlisle’s dog house, veteran Andrew Bogut, who was later bought out by the 76ers, and two second round picks.
The 23-year-old center was a huge get for the Mavs, as they have been struggling to successfully fill the defensive anchor role since Tyson Chandler was in his second stint with Dallas in 2015. It didn’t take long for Noel to make a strong impact on the floor for the Mavericks. In just his fifth game with the team, Noel joined Seth Curry in dominating the Memphis Grizzlies. Noel showed his offensive skill-set by scoring 15 points while he inhaled 17 rebounds. His defense on Marc Gasol was impeccable, as he blocked two shots while helping force Gasol to just 6-18 shooting.
Noel’s short second half stint with the Mavs left more to be desired. In 22 games with the team, Noel averaged 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The potential is there and the chip on his shoulder from being traded and not getting the contract he anticipated this offseason leaves me to think a big 2017-2018 campaign is in store.
2017 – 2018 Season Outlook
You can argue that the growth of Nerlens Noel this upcoming season is the biggest question hanging over the Mavs, on top of the uncertainty of Dirk’s future (even though we know he’s playing forever), the unveil of Dennis Smith Jr, and Seth Curry’s contract year. As stated above, Noel and his camp expected a max contract due to last year’s salary cap giveaway within the league. Having to settle for the qualifying offer must not sit happy with Noel but that also must light a competitive fire under him to earn what he thinks he deserves next summer, whether that is with the Mavericks or another franchise.
Following a fairly quiet offseason, besides the drafting of DSJ and the Noel standoff, the roster will look a lot like what we saw in 2016-2017. The Mavericks remain stuck in the dreaded playoff bubble team bracket, which they can’t seem to break out of. The addition of Dennis Smith Jr. will add a dynamic, explosive guard that will fit well with Noel’s game. The pick-and-roll between these two has the potential to reach the Chris Paul-Tyson Chandler level, going back to their days in New Orleans.
On the defensive side of things, Dallas needs elite rebounding and overall effort from Noel. Having a defensive anchor in the middle of the paint can change the entire dynamic of game let alone the dynamics of the entire team. With Dirk quickly approaching 40 years of age (though his defense hit 40 years of age a long time ago), the Mavs need Nerlens to be that presence in the paint that can rebound and block shots. Adding young, athletic guys like DSJ, Curry, and Harrison Barnes, gives Dallas an abundance of options to play with during fast breaks with Noel manning the boards.
Overall for the 2017-2018 season, we need a healthy, motivated Nerlens Noel. His injury history is noted and his frustration with how this offseason went is distinguished, but that doesn’t have to be who he is seen as. If Noel can come out and be a force on the boards while blocking shots and finishing at the rim at a consistent basis, the Mavs could possibly be a sleeper in the Western conference. Now I know, no one is beating a healthy Golden State team, but with a productive, vigorous Nerlens Noel at center, the future shines bright for the Mavericks.
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