Nerlens’ job on defense is like my job in four-person foosball: “Get that ish outta here.”
Nerlens Noel had a great showing Thursday night against the fighting Woods from the North. Really, it was everything we could have hoped for. But if you’re wondering what the best part about his game was, between the 17 points on 8/9 FGs, the 11 rebounds, or the 4 blocks, you’re looking too closely.
Step back a bit, look at the trees for the forest, and you’ll see the bigger impact. The best part about Nerlens’ almost sterling performance was this: he’s only going to get better. Naturally, we can’t expect a double-double every game. Nor is it fair to assume he’ll shoot 89% for the rest of his career. But what we saw on offense was a growing repertoire of back-to-the-basket moves, as well as great high-key mobility that allows him to blow past bulkier forwards. As the predecessor-who-shall-not-be-named (and who we hope recovers from his concussion very soon) proved, offense can progress quickly under Cal as the season goes on.
We know better than to compare the talents of Noel and Davis; they’re very different players. But it’s completely fair game to look at Davis’ progression, and make some reasonable inferences as to how Noel will react under the same tutelage. Davis flew under the radar offensively in the early going last season, allowing Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and others to get the flashy plays and bulk of the action in the non-conference slate. His bread and butter, then, was on defense (see: North Carolina). But as the season went on, and the Auto-Lob Phenomenon gained momentum, Davis’ expanding offensive ability allowed him to take over individual games, as well as the Player of the Year race. Nerlens has the opportunity to do the same thing.
CoachCal.com mentioned Noel’s scoring abilities on display Thursday:
Time will ultimately tell how far Noel has to go offensively to develop a complete game, but for one night at least, he demonstrated that he can use his quickness, his finishing ability and a developing hook shoot to give the Cats a viable offensive option in the post.
Time, effectually, is our greatest ally when it comes to these freshmen; the more we have, the better we’ll be. However, when you combine a good teacher with a quick study, progress can be made in leaps and bounds rather than precocious baby steps. More than just double-doubles and blocks, Noel showed Thursday that he’s improving. And quickly. Remember the less-than-stellar performance in the scrimmage? Ancient history. To the UK fans who were worried that his offense would never catch up to his defense, that’s a promising thing. There will be setbacks, and “off” games. But hopefully those will be the exception to the rule.
For now, though, that rule belongs to Nerlens, and it reads something like this: “Thou shalt not doubt.”