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Is Nerlens Noel Just a Role Player?

Is Nerlens Noel Just a Role Player?

Back in February the Dallas Mavericks packaged their 2015 first-round pick from Virginia, small forward Justin Anderson, along with Andrew Bogut’s expiring contract and a top 18 protected 2017 1st round pick 1 for Nerlens Noel. Pundits across the league praised the Mavericks for the deal. With Noel now in the fold, the team had another young piece to go with Harrison Barnes that could assist in the new Mavericks rebuilding era.

On the surface, the move made a ton of sense. Noel fit the Mavs youthful timeline at just 23-years-old while also filling an immediate need out on the court at the center position. Mavs GM Donnie Nelson envisioned the lanky 6-foot-11 center as a Tyson Chandler “starter kit” type of player. “He gives us an element we haven’t had here since Tyson Chandler,” Nelson told reporters the day after obtaining Noel via trade.

In theory, the team would utilize Noel and his freakish athleticism as the quarterback of the defense — blocking shots and using his cat-like reflexes to get in the passing lanes. Just like they did when they flourished with Chandler as the team’s defensive anchor. On the other side of the ball with shooters spacing the floor, Noel could still serve as a valuable tool, working at sucking the defense in as the rim running lob threat.

Fast forward eight months to today – Noel’s role on the team is in question. Everyone involved has said all of the right things, it’s just hard not to get a shaky vibe about Noel’s role on this years Mavs team. Once viewed as a key figure on a rebuilding team, things seem far from that now. The big question is how did we get to the point where Noel’s future in a Mavericks uniform looks so bleak?

Let’s go through two potential factors that have led to Noel’s fall into a reserve type role.

Summer Contract Negotations

When the Mavericks made the deal back in February, the team was well aware of Noel’s contract status as a restricted free agent during the summer of 2017 free agency signing period. “Noel is going to be a guy that we’ve got to get signed,” Head coach Rick Carlisle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

After an odd agent shuffle and an apparent balk at a Mavericks 4-year $70 million offer, Noel opted to sign a 1-year qualifying offer worth $4.1 million. By signing the deal, Noel could now pick his new home next summer without any restrictions. If Noel ends up re-upping in Dallas this offseason he would become only the 2nd player in NBA history 2 to re-sign with a team after accepting a qualifying offer from the same team the year before.

Despite the public assurance that both parties were satisfied by what has transpired during this process, you’d have to think that both sides were stunned the contract situation ended the way it did this past summer. It seems from the outside looking in that the Mavs have let what occurred within the negotiating room spill onto the court. Noel has only surpassed the 20-minute marker just twice in twelve games this season. Recently coming off just a 5 minute game in a win versus Washington.

The Rise of Shooting

On media day Rick Carlisle announced that Dirk Nowitzki would most likely start the season at the center position. The decision was a shock to many, even confusing the Mavs social media team:

The decision was clear, at this point in Dirk’s historic career, it doesn’t make sense for him to come off the bench. At age 39, Dirk’s body is not in a position to respond very well to long stretches on the bench — although he could just ride the bike like Jason Terry did back for the Mavs when he was used as the sixth man.

With Dirk as the starting center, Rick Carlisle wants spacing out on the court. Pick-and-rolls with the Mavericks guards and Dirk are a tough cover for an opposing defense when Dirk is hitting his shots. The problem is Dirk has struggled with his shot early on this season shooting just 40 percent from the field. 3 If Dirk can start hitting more shots from all over the court will open up for the offense.

Having shooters on the floor is paramount in the NBA, but if the team can’t defend — is that a fair trade-off?

The Mavericks advanced numbers look atrocious across the board. In Dirk’s 290 minutes on the floor, the Mavericks are allowing 116.1 points per 100 possessions, yikes! Unfortunately, things don’t get much better when Noel is out on the floor. In the 206 minutes out on the court, the Mavericks team defense allows 115.5 points per 100 possessions. The team hasn’t been able to defend with both on the court at the same time as well. Shooting matters in the NBA and if the Mavericks are going to throw out defense — Carlisle is likely to stick with his guy, Dirk Nowitzki out of principle.

The season is still young, a lot can happen between now and the end of the season. Noel may be currently buried on the bench but injuries and adjustments can and will take place. Many factors have gone into Carlisle’s lineup decisions, regrettably, for Nerlens he just seems to be in the doghouse.

The situation looks bleak from the outside. Things may be perfectly fine on the inside — but if you told me last February that Nerlens Noel would be averaging 5.5 points and 5.6 rebounds in just 17 minutes per game — being utilized as a mere role player, I’d be shocked.

  1. The pick ended up conveying into two picks: 2017 2nd round and 2020 2nd round, per RealGM
  2. Joining Spencer Hawes who re-signed with the 76ers in 2012
  3. He has started heating up from 3 — shooting 41.7% on the season. Attempting 3.0 per game

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Received my Bachelor of Science in Sport Administration from the University of Cincinnati in 2012. NBA fan in a college basketball city. I've been a MFFL since the Nellie Days.

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