Noel, Len most likely for NBA's No. 1 pick
When Nerlens Noel and Alex Len met at Barclays Center last fall, Noel's Kentucky team got the better of Len's Maryland squad.
Whether they like it or not, they're matched up again, as both are the apparent favorites to be chosen first overall in the NBA draft tonight in Brooklyn. And no matter who goes No. 1, they could find their names linked for years to come.
"[I'm] definitely looking to play against him later in our careers and, hopefully, this first season," Noel said yesterday during media availability at the Westin New York at Times Square. "He's a great player."
For his part, Len isn't concerned with the parallels that could be drawn between him and Noel, saying, "I don't pay attention to stuff I can't control."
The Cavaliers hold the top pick, although a trade isn't out of the question. Regardless, it stands to reason that either 7-footer would be the first name off the board.
Len, who was born and raised in Ukraine, says he believes he's qualified to be the first overall selection over the Kentucky freshman.
"Definitely," Len said. "I played against him my first game [of last season]. I did well against him."
Indeed, Len's numbers in that game on Nov. 9 compare favorably with those of Noel, even if Kentucky won a back-and-forth battle, 72-69. The Maryland sophomore posted 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 12 rebounds (seven offensive) and four blocks. Noel, in his first collegiate game, went 2-for-6, scoring four points and grabbing nine rebounds. He also blocked three shots and had two steals.
Noel's production that day highlights his strengths and weaknesses. The Boston-area native is an athletic force on defense, but very raw at the other end of the floor.
As for Len, the European import grew up a fan of Tim Duncan, aka The Big Fundamental.
"He's been consistent throughout [his] career," Len said of Duncan. "He does the fundamental things and nobody can stop him."
Len is ahead of Noel offensively, but isn't quite as athletic. That athleticism pushes Noel over the top in many pundits' minds, but it remains to be seen how a torn ACL suffered last year affects his upside. Neither he nor Len, who had surgery after the season to repair a stress fracture in his ankle, has been able to work out for teams during the draft process.
If Noel's trump card is his athleticism, Len's may be his height. Noel is listed at either 6-foot-11 or 7 feet -- depending on who's reporting it -- while Len is a reported 7-foot-1 and still growing.
"I can grow another inch," Len said.