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-11¾ 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.
If the San Antonio Spurs choose DeShaun Thomas in the draft, they might have a hard time reaching him to tell him. That’s because when the Spurs asked the former Ohio State star for his phone number during their interview Wednesday night, he refused to give it to them.
Thomas said teams asked him plenty of difficult and interesting questions during his interview process at the combine. But the most interesting, he said, was the fact the Spurs’ first question was for his cellphone number and his e-mail address. He gave them the e-mail, but not the phone number.
“I can’t go around giving it out to everyone,” Thomas said Thursday with a laugh. “Now if they want to draft me, I’d be happy to give it to them.”
Thomas is projected as a second-round pick, although he’s still hopeful he can sneak into the first round. He departed Ohio State after averaging 19.8 points and 5.9 assists during his junior year to lead the Big Ten in scoring.
Thomas returned to Indiana after the NCAA Tournament and has been working on getting in better shape. He said he trimmed his body fat from “11 or 12 percent down to 8½ or 9.”
“I believe I can be that late first-round pick,” Thomas said. “I have confidence. But all I’ve got to do is keep working. As long as I can feel like when I walk out of that gym that I worked hard, I’ll leave it in God’s hands and everything will take care of itself.”
Thomas has been joined in his workouts in Indiana by Greg Oden, who is attempting a comeback next season. Oden hasn’t appeared in a game in more than two years.
“He looks unbelievable,” Thomas said. “He’s running, lifting weights. You might be seeing a comeback. He looks like he’s ready to go. For a big 7-footer, that’s all he does, running and getting in shape. He’s looking right.”
Cavs rookie Tyler Zeller played one season in high school with his younger brother, Cody. Now there is at least a chance they could be reunited since Cody Zeller left Indiana early and declared for the draft.
“We played one year of high school together and it was a ton of fun,” Cody Zeller said. “I would love to play with him again, but I don’t know the chances of that happening. It would be an interesting matchup. He’s stronger, but I’m more athletic.”
On the bench
A number of top players elected not to participate in the workouts, which is common at the combine, but a few others couldn’t participate because they’re injured.
Duke’s Seth Curry is recovering from right shin surgery in April, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng and San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin are nursing sprained ankles, Duke’s Ryan Kelly is recovering from foot surgery and North Carolina State’s C.J. Leslie has tendonitis in his right wrist.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://.www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.