Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel is now the clear choice to be the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, two veteran NBA scouts told SNY.tv.
Earlier this year, scouts had said Noel was part of a group of players who could possibly become No. 1 — along with Indiana’s Cody Zeller, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad and others.
“Nerlens has been separating himself from the pack,” one scout said. “He has taken his shot-blocking to another level. He’s the best interior defender in the game.”
The 6-foot-10 Noel went for 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in Tuesday’s win over South Carolina in Lexington, Ky.
That was after he posted a season-high 19 points to go with 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in a Feb. 2 win at Texas A&M. Before that, Noel had 12 blocks, seven rebounds and two assists — while managing just two points from the foul line — as Kentucky beat Ole Miss Jan. 29.
“He is improving,” the scout said. “He never takes a bad shot. He shoots a high field-goal percentage. He had a 19-point game the other day. It is all ahead of him because he is so young. He reclassified to come out of high school a year early. Brilliant upside!”
For the season, Noel is averaging 10.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks and 2.2 steals.
“Noel [is] No. 1,” a second NBA scout told SNY.tv. “He is getting better each week offensively and we already know he dominates the game at the defensive end.”
If Noel goes No. 1 in the June Draft, it would be the second straight year that a Kentucky freshman big man was the top pick.
Anthony Davis went No. 1 to the New Orleans Hornets last year after winning National Player of the Year honors and leading Kentucky to the NCAA championship.
**Noel is also a candidate for National Freshman of the Year. Vote here in this poll.
Photo: USA Today