WASHINGTON — When it comes to Nerlens Noel, the simplest pre-NBA draft storylines involve the following: the distinctive hair, his injured knee and – based on planned team meetings – whether the University of Kentucky center will be selected one, two or three.
Noel’s high-fade flattop, inspired by Will Smith’s iconic 1990’s look, won’t influence any kind of draft stock rise or fall. Actually, the 7-foot shot blocker who ran the court with a guard’s grace before suffering a torn left ACL in February has remained the presumptive front-runner for the first pick even after suffering a torn left ACL in February.
Of course, as anybody that has followed this year’s draft knows, there is little certain about the high-end prospects or how the top selections will unfold on June 27.
Those advising Noel apparently have the sense that the player who led Division I with 4.4 blocks per game won’t have a long wait in the green room. Only the teams owning the first three picks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards, have or will meet with Noel before the draft. Though still unable to work out, Noel spent Friday and Saturday in the Nation’s Capital being acquainted with Wizards team officials.
“It’s a possibility,” Noel said of landing in Washington before accurately describing the current overall draft board. “Anything can happen.”
Noel, 19, previously visited with the Magic and he has meeting scheduled for June 20 in Cleveland. The teams obviously want a closer look at his knee, which he favored slightly walking the halls of the Verizon Center.
“I’m feeling great. It’s really coming along,” said Noel, who sported a blue Wizards t-shirt when speaking with a contingent of media members outside the team’s locker room on Saturday morning.
How great any of the top three teams, including the playoff-pushing Wizards, would feel about drafting a player unlikely to contribute much as a rookie is a question. Noel said current medical projections have him sidelined until possibly December.
That timeframe also gives the Boston native opportunity to pack on the pounds, a sincere goal especially after weighing a mere 206 pounds at last month’s combine. Noel, who claims a playing weight of 215 at Kentucky, said he’s now 218 and plans on being in the 225-230 range whenever he makes his debut.
The Wizards, owners of not only the third pick but expectations for a playoff appearance next season after a five-year drought, also met with Anthony Bennett from UNLV and Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. this week. They won’t be the last of the possible top-3 selections.
Noel would initially serve as a rim-protecting apprentice to Emeka Okafor, who is entering the final year of his contract, while providing the franchise another building block with the rising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
With limited free agent salary cap available and a roster that tied for last in scoring this past season, the Wizards ideally add more offense through the draft. That’s not Noel’s strength; he shot only 53 percent from the free throw line at Kentucky with most of his offense coming on dunks and offensive rebounds. However, his board work and underrated passing skills can help with the point producing.
Scoring challenged or not, the Wizards might not be able to pass on Noel, assuming he’s available. That’s because his defensive future appears significant, assuming he checks out physically.
As for the flattop, it’s not about to exit as Noel enters the league.
“It’s special to me,” Noel said. “Growing up, I watched Fresh Prince of Bel Air every night before I went to bed, so I’m gonna keep it.”
At least that much is certain.