CHICAGO: Nerlens Noel will not be ready to start the season and is targeting a debut around Christmas, he said Thursday during the NBA combine. Noel said he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and is expected to go No. 1 in the draft despite missing the first two months of the season.
“Ever since the surgery, everything is going great,” Noel said. “I’m 100 percent confident, not just getting back to what I was, but stronger. Going through this time not playing basketball, I’ll just be working on things I need to polish. It will improve me in the long run.”
Noel injured his knee in February, but postponed the surgery for a month to let the swelling subside. Noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews repaired the tear in early March and Noel has temporarily moved to Alabama to rehab at Andrews’ facility. He began shooting free throws last week, but still hasn’t run on a court since the injury.
Noel’s knee injury is indicative of a weak draft class that has left teams scrambling for talent. One league executive in attendance at Thursday’s workouts said, as strange as it sounds, this might be the year teams don’t want the top pick.
“You might be better off picking third or fourth and just taking whoever falls to you,” he said. “To have the No. 1 pick in this draft? Boy, I don’t know. It’s a risk.”
Noel was averaging 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds for the Kentucky Wildcats prior to the injury. He said he measured at 6-foot-11 3/4 at the combine, but also has a 7-4 wingspan. He is incredibly athletic, but limited offensively.
The Cavs are slotted to draft third, but they would have no trouble selecting Noel should they get lucky and win the lottery for the second time in three years. They never hesitated drafting Kyrie Irving No. 1 overall two years ago after his collegiate career was limited to just 11 games following a toe injury and they wouldn’t hesitate selecting Noel.