New Nets center Nerlens Noel is already excited about his team’s defensive potential — and his fit on the roster, even if it’s temporary.
Speaking to reporters in Houston after shootaround ahead of the Nets’ matchup against the Rockets on Tuesday, Noel, a veteran rim protector who joined Brooklyn on a 10-day contract on Monday, expressed optimism when discussing his new opportunity.
He also believes he’s the cherry on top for what has the makings to become one of the NBA’s most formidable defenses.
“This is already a Top 10 defense I’m pretty sure, especially with what they have,” Noel said on Tuesday. “So I’m going to put it over the top. And however coach sees fit into what position he wants to put me in, I’ll accept regardless.”
Noel’s role is simple: In order to earn a second 10-day contract and potentially a spot on a playoff roster if the Nets retain their standing as a top-eight seed in the East, he must out-play second-year center Day’Ron Sharpe, whose roller-coaster ride of a season has sent Brooklyn searching for other options at his position.
Noel appeared in 14 games for the Detroit Pistons this season and averaged 2.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in about 11 minutes of play per game. He has averaged at least one steal and one block per game in a season six times in his eight-year NBA career.
Noel, who went to the Philadelphia 76ers with the sixth-overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, has some of the defensive versatility that allows starting center Nic Claxton to thrive in a switching defense.
Noel’s addition, however, is an indictment on Sharpe, who is averaging just under four points and four rebounds per game in 35 games played this season. Sharpe’s scoring and rebounding averages have both noticeably declined despite only seeing his average playing time reduce by two minutes.
It’s also worth noting Noel sued mega sports agent Rich Paul and Klutch Sports Group for advising him to reject a five-year, $70M contract offer from the Dallas Mavericks and take a one-year deal instead. That decision quickly became known as one of the bigger bag fumbles in recent NBA history as the lofty payday he sought never materialized. Noel settled his legal battle with Paul — who represents Nets star Ben Simmons — in January and paid Klutch $200,000: their cut from the $5M deal he signed with the Knicks.
Noel and Simmons were on the 76ers roster together during the 2016-17 season, but Simmons missed the entire season due to a foot injury, and Noel was traded to the Mavericks 29 games into the season.
It’s unclear what kind of impact — if any — Noel can have on a Nets team prioritizing pace and space on the offensive end, but his defensive IQ should give him a leg up in minutes anchoring the second unit.
This is Noel’s second stint in New York after playing for the Knicks from 2020 through 2022. Asked what excited him about being back in the city, the new Nets center said: “Energy! The energy. New York is passionate about what they bring, what they’re about. And I’ve known that, and I love it. Period.”
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