The Oklahoma City Thunder signed Nerlens Noel during the offseason and it’s safe to say the 24-year-old has been a pleasant surprise on both sides of the ball.
Noel has averaged 15.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.6 steals per 36 minutes since signing with Oklahoma City. After inking a one-year deal with the team for the veteran minimum, his play thus far has shown nothing but a strong value for the organization.
“He’s actually done a pretty good job,” Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan told HoopsHype. “His role in the minutes he’s played, he’s been efficient. We’ve been really pleased with him.”
On the defensive end of the glass, his block percentage ranks Top 15 overall (minimum: 300 minutes) this year. His defensive real plus-minus ranks No. 7 overall among power forwards, per ESPN. Noel has played a pivotal role to help the Thunder have the best defensive rating in the NBA.
“(The Thunder) were very attractive to me because of their history and how much they invest into their players,” Noel told HoopsHype. “It’s simply a winning atmosphere and I thought that was the No. 1 thing for myself. I thought I’d strive the most with a team that really cared about winning on an everyday basis.”
He has been one of the most accurate scorers on offense, ranking No. 11 overall in true shooting percentage (minimum: 13 minutes per game) this season. In fact, he is a perfect 26-for-26 on his slam dunks for his new team.
The big man has averaged 1.18 points per possession, shooting 54-of-85 (63.5 percent) for the Thunder. Among the 282 players who have finished at least 100 possessions for their teams, only 10 have been more effective than he has thus far.
Noel has finished nearly one-third of his possessions as the roll man in a PnR offense. He has produced 1.25 PPP, which currently ranks No. 17 (minimum: 30 possessions) this season. It has helped for the 6-foot-11 player to be on the court with point guards Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder.
“They both know how to find guys, it helps me open things up and spread it out in pick-and-roll actions. It helps the whole team when I find my way to the basket as a roller. This team has a lot of pieces that really complement each other … We have only continued to better our chemistry in the second unit.”
The proof is in the pudding, considering the big man has averaged a ridiculous 19.1 points and 17.1 rebounds per 36 minutes during the 107 minutes that Noel has appeared alongside Schroeder and Alex Abrines. The Thunder have outscored opponents by 13.7 points per 100 during that time.
But there is still room for growth offensively, especially considering he has hardly been used in transition. During his second full season in the league, he was 51-for-68 (75.0 percent) on this play type. Among players who finished as many possessions on this play type, only Blake Griffin was more accurate that year.
“I’m willing to get up and down the floor and use my strength and use my speed. I feel like I’m one of the more agile, fast big men in the league,” Noel said. “I’ve always tried to use it to my advantage, open up lanes for other guys and we can get a lot of freelance motion going on.”
He has had just seven possessions in transition for the Thunder but has successfully either scored a basket or tallied an assist on all seven of those opportunities. If given more chances in a fastbreak, expect Noel to continue to succeed.
Still, it’s been his defensive strength that’s been his biggest attribute. The Thunder have looked especially sharp stopping opposition when they’ve played Noel alongside Paul George.
They’ve allowed 75.4 points per 100 during the time Noel has played with George and Abrines. They’ve allowed 86.1 points per 100 when George and Noel are joined by Jerami Grant, as seen in the GIF above.
When asked if he was aware of how efficient he had been for Oklahoma City on both sides of the ball, the big man said he had definitely seen some of the numbers but it was not his focus.
“I just want to play my game at the end of the day. It doesn’t really matter what a piece of paper says. I want to play perfect every night … I just want to continue to work on my body, continue to work on my shot. I think there is so much room for improvement. I’ve grown so much already and I’m going to stay on this path with the great habits that I’ve built.”