Nerlens Noel

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Northwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Northwest Division:

Tyler Lydon, Nuggets, 22, PF (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.45MM deal in 2017
Lydon was the 24th overall pick in 2017 and acquired from Utah in a draft-day deal. He didn’t make much of an impression as a rookie, as the Nuggets declined his third-year option in October. Lydon has appeared in 21 games this season, mostly during garbage time. At the G League level, Lydon has averaged 5.3 three-point attempts and made 36.7%. He’s also rebounded well (8.5 in 31.3 MPG). He’ll be seeking a fresh start this summer, most likely with a rebuilding team that can offer him a greater opportunity.

Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 33, PF (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $5.75MM deal in 2018
Tolliver carved out a steady role under former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and delivered a career year last season. He averaged 8.9 PPG in 22.2 MPG and shot 43.6% from distance, and when he hit the free agent market, he drew interest from the Clippers, Mavericks, and Sixers as well as the Timberwolves. It hasn’t gone well in Minnesota, as Tolliver completely dropped out of Tom Thibodeau’s rotation in mid-November. He’s seen more action under Ryan Saunders but hasn’t made an impact. He’ll likely have to settle for the veteran’s minimum this summer to stay in the league.

Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 24, PF (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $3.74MM deal in 2018
Noel has a player option worth less than $2MM and it’s likely he’ll decline it and take his chances on the open market. Noel has carved out a steady bench role with the Thunder and provided a defensive presence, along with an occasional scoring outburst. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating, according to Basketball-Reference, is an outstanding 5.8. He posted a 22-point, 13-rebound stat line in 22 minutes in a loss to New Orleans on Thursday. Noel, the sixth overall pick in 2013, has revived his career to some extent after a lost season in Dallas.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers, 28, PF (Up) — Signed to a four-year, $30MM deal in 2015
The quintessential glue guy, Aminu never puts up big numbers but he does a little bit of everything for a playoff-bound team in the West. He’s averaging a career-best 7.9 RPG in 29.0 MPG and his defensive versatility makes him indispensable on a team lacking in stoppers. He’s also become a respectable – if not prolific – 3-point shooter (35.8%). It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Aminu re-signs with Portland but he’ll have several suitors in July and shouldn’t have any trouble getting a multi-year deal.

Royce O’Neale, Jazz, 25, SF (Up)– Signed to a three-year, $3.8MM deal in 2017
O’Neale, undrafted out of Baylor, has been a rotation player all season for Utah. He’s often the the last offensive option on the court but he’s pumped up his production this month. He averaged 13.8 PPG and 4.3 RPG in the last four games prior to the All-Star break. He’s shooting an outstanding 43.9% from long range and advanced defensive metrics are also kind to him (2.2 Defensive Box Plus/Minus). O’Neale’s $1.62MM salary for next season isn’t fully guaranteed until next January but the Jazz might do that a lot sooner and perhaps even negotiate an extension with the swingman.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Noel, Butler, Fultz

Joel Embiid‘s back soreness is creating a dilemma for the Sixers as they battle for home court advantage in the playoffs, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia may prefer to rest Embiid, but the team leads Boston by only a game and a half in the race for fourth place and is in the middle of a challenging 12-game portion of its schedule.

Embiid said his back was “pretty tight” after Saturday’s loss to the Thunder, but his first choice is always to play. He missed his first two NBA seasons with a broken bone in his foot and appeared in just 51 games last year as the team was being cautious about his condition.

“I have to keep getting treatment on it,” Embiid said of his back, “and it’s going to get better.”

Pompey observes that Embiid moved gingerly on the court yesterday and used a heating pad on his back when he went to the bench. It could turn into a season-long question for the Sixers as they balance the value of home court advantage against the prospect that Embiid won’t be 100% at playoff time.

There’s more Sixers news to pass along:

  • Nerlens Noel‘s appearance in Philadelphia yesterday with the Thunder served as a reminder that he could have been the rim-protecting backup center that the Sixers need, Pompey notes in a separate story. The sixth player chosen in the 2013 draft, Noel spent two and a half seasons in Philly before being traded to the Mavericks. He signed with Oklahoma City last summer.
  • Two months after acquiring him from the Timberwolves, the Sixers are still working to make Jimmy Butler fit with all their other pieces, according to Derek Bodner of The Athletic. He finds that Butler’s usage rate when he’s on the court with Embiid is just 18.1%, well below the 28.2% mark when he’s playing without Embiid or 27.8% when he and Ben Simmons are together without Embiid.
  • The Sixers welcomed Markelle Fultz back to the team this weekend, but his future remains cloudy, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Fultz will remain with the organization as he does rehab work after being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, but there’s no timetable for him to start playing again. “It’s great to see him … it’s good to have him back,” said coach Brett Brown, who added that the team needs to assess whether he’s in basketball shape after being away so long.

Nerlens Noel Diagnosed With Concussion After Hard Fall

2:18pm: The Thunder have issued a press release confirming that Noel has been diagnosed with a concussion. He has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol and will have to exhibit symptom-free behavior before resuming basketball activities. The team didn’t provide an estimated timeline for his recovery.

10:27am: Thunder center Nerlens Noel took a scary fall during the third quarter of Tuesday’s game against Minnesota, hitting his head against the court and laying motionless beneath the basket for a few minutes. As Royce Young of ESPN.com details, Noel was moved to OU Medical Center after being taken off the floor on a stretcher, and was held there overnight for evaluations.

Those evaluations are expected to continue, but the early diagnosis on Noel is good news, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links). League sources tell Charania that Noel – who was “alert in the aftermath of his fall” last night – sustained a concussion, but avoided any fractures.

We’ll have to wait for a formal update from the Thunder to get an idea of Noel’s official diagnosis and what his recovery timetable might look like. Still, it’s good to hear that he appears for now to have avoided a major injury.

If Noel has to miss extended time, it will be interesting to see how Oklahoma City handles the backup center minutes. Starter Steven Adams may be leaned on a little more heavily, while Patrick Patterson could see more time at the five.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets’ D, Rose, Thunder

Despite scoring being at a near-all-time high early on this NBA season, one team has still been able to hold every one of its opponents to less than 100 points in each game played thus far – the Nuggets.  And while one may not think of the up-and-coming Nuggets as a defensive juggernaut just yet, head coach Michael Malone is a defensive guy at his core, writes Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com.

Yes, it’s awfully early to make any long lasting conclusions about a team’s defensive prowess this season, but Malone is excited about the potential for this year’s team to be one of the best defensive teams to come along in Denver in a while. This is the defense I dream about,” Malone said. “Ever since I got here.”

Asked why exactly it is his team is playing so well on the defensive side of the ball so far during the 2018/19 campaign, Malone lauded his team’s effort and want-to. “I would say just an overall buy-in and commitment. You can talk game plan and you can talk strategy but at the end of the day, for me, defense comes down to pride. Do you want to go out there and give it everything you have to defend?

Additionally, Dempsey opines that adding defensive-minded players like Torrey Craig, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee has helped the mentality around the team morph into a more defensive-oriented group.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves’ head coach Tom Thibodeau evidently thinks backup guard Derrick Rose still has a lot of gas left in the tank, despite a bevy of evidence to the contrary, telling Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press that “as long as (Rose is) healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in the league.”
  • The Thunder, praised as one of the best teams in the deep Western Conference to begin the season, have gotten off to a rocky, 0-3 start. Yet, as Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes, there exists reason for optimism, with rookie Hamidou Diallo and newcomer Nerlens Noel both providing a spark off the bench in Sunday’s loss to the lowly Kings.
  • In other Thunder news, Brett Dawson of The Athletic is reporting that guard Alex Abrines, who left Sunday’s game in the first half with a mouth contusion, and who will compete for Diallo and Terrance Ferguson for minutes until the return of Andre Roberson, is not expected to miss any additional time.

Northwest Notes: Noel, Thunder, Blazers, T. Jones

After four disappointing seasons, former lottery pick Nerlens Noel has a chance to revive his career with the Thunder, writes Ben Nadeau of Basketball Insiders. Oklahoma City was aggressive in its pursuit of Noel, including phone calls from Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the opening minutes of free agency. He agreed to a two-year deal worth nearly $3.7MM that contains a player option for next summer.

Noel has a lot to prove after being the sixth player taken in the 2013 draft. He was stuck in a center logjam in Philadelphia before being traded to Dallas midway through the 2016/17 season. Injuries limited him to 30 games in his only full year with the Mavericks, and he welcomes the chance for a fresh start with the Thunder.

“I really think it’s a great opportunity,” Noel said. “With the athleticism and the pieces that they have now, I think I can really come and make a significant difference to the speed of the game. It’s really been a great last few days, going to OKC, signing and just feeling very welcome from the whole organization — that really means a lot.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The current Thunder roster is heavily imbalanced with wing players, notes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. This week’s signing of Hamidou Diallo gives OKC 15 players under contract, with eight of them being wings. That includes Kyle Singler, whom Tramel expects OKC to use the stretch provision on if it can’t find a team willing to take him in a trade. Singler has two more years and about $10.3MM left on his contract. The team has just two centers and two power forwards, raising concerns about depth at both positions.
  • Trail Blazers fans deserve an explanation for how the team is handling its assets, writes John Canzano of The Oregonian. The latest puzzling move was letting a $12,969,502 trade exception from last year’s Allen Crabbe deal expire. Canzano retraces a history of questionable decisions, including mega free agent offers to Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe and Chandler Parsons, who all signed elsewhere, and large contracts for Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli and Meyers Leonard that have clogged Portland’s cap space.
  • The Timberwolves have an extension decision to make this summer on Tyus Jones, notes Derek James of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities. Coach Tom Thibodeau has promised Jones more playing time in the future, but that could be difficult to deliver with Derrick Rose returning and Josh Okogie as the team’s first-round pick.

Northwest Notes: Noel, Thomas, Favors, Blazers

Five years removed from being drafted No. 6 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, newly-acquired Thunder big man Nerlens Noel is looking to rehabilitate both his game and reputation in Oklahoma City, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman.

A one-and-done talent at college powerhouse Kentucky, Noel is aware of the rumors surrounding his game – that he’s a talented but unwilling to work – but he’s ready to come out this season and turn things around.

The Thunder are ready for that too, which is why head coach Billy Donovan and All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George all made recruiting pitches to Noel on the first night of free agency.

“I’m excited about having him,” Donovan said. “He’s early in his career, and I know his career probably hasn’t evolved into what he’d hoped when he was a rookie. But he’s still very young, and he’s still got a lot of time to continue to get better.”

Noel has yet to have much of any success at the NBA level so far. He sat out his first season in Philadelphia recovering from injury and then saw his playing time dwindle after the Sixers drafted up-and-coming star Joel Embiid. But now that Noel feels he has a new home where winning is a priority, he is ready to prove his worth.

“You want to be in a situation where you’re wanted on a team that really wants to win,” Noel said. “That means the utmost to me, and that’s what my game is. I don’t think playing on teams that are really headed in the other direction complements me as well or makes me look as good as I might want to.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Armed with deep motivation after having his career curtailed by injury, Nuggets point guard Isaiah Thomas is eager to play for a team who wanted him, reports Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com. Thomas, who played for head coach Mike Malone in Sacramento during his breakout season in 2013-14, credits Malone’s trust in him as a key to his continued success.
  • Per Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.comJazz forward Derrick Favors is looking for an increased role on offense next season. During his free agent meeting with Utah’s front office, the two parties spoke about getting Favors more cuts to the basket and playing out of pick-and-roll or dribble-handoffs more often.
  • The Trail Blazers have made a couple of minor roster moves in the past day or so, deciding to retain guard Wade Baldwin and part ways with center Georgios Papagiannis.

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Tolliver, Noel, Roberson

The Trail Blazers are looking to make trades to upgrade their roster, Sean Meagher of The Oregonian relays via an NBA-TV interview. Portland retained Jusuf Nurkic with a four-year deal and added guards Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas in free agency. They also used a slice of their mid-level exception to sign second-rounder Gary Trent Jr.

“There’s a great foundation there, we need to continue to add veterans,” Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey told Leigh Ellis of The Starters. “The draft was the draft, we didn’t have a lot of resources in free agency – we had the tax-payer mid-level, we broke that up – and now we’ll go into the rest of the offseason looking to make trades to bolster the top nine guys in our rotation.”

In other news around the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves valued veteran power forward Anthony Tolliver as much for his defense as his 3-point shooting and veteran leadership, coach Tom Thibodeau told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Tolliver signed a one-year, $5.75MM contract after a solid season with the Pistons. “We wanted to address the defense of the second unit, and we think he’ll be a great fit,” Thibodeau said. “Whatever he’s asked to do, he does it. He always stars in his role. We can’t have enough guys like that.”
  • Nerlens Noel was recruited by Russell Westbrook and Paul George to join the Thunder, he told Nick Gallo of the Thunder’s website. Noel signed a two-year deal with a player option, adding depth to OKC’s frontcourt. “They called the night of free agency when I was meeting with coach Billy [Donovan],” Noel said of the Thunder’s 1-2 punch. “They told me, let’s get it done and that we want to do special things this year. I definitely felt where they were coming from. I gave it a little thought and with as much love as they showed, it became an easy decision.”
  • Thunder guard Andre Roberson says he’s on track to be back in action for the start of the season, according to Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. He ruptured the patellar tendon in his left knee in January. Roberson is able to do some light shooting and ball-handling drills but hasn’t started running.

Thunder Sign Center Nerlens Noel

JULY 6th, 10:00pm: The signing is official, according to a team press release.

JULY 2nd, 1:55pm: Free agent center Nerlens Noel has reached an agreement to sign with the Thunder, league sources tell Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. According to Charania, Noel will sign a two-year contract that includes a second-year player option. It’s a minimum deal, per Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman (Twitter link).

Noel, 24, began his NBA career with the Sixers as the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft. After missing his rookie year with a knee injury, the big man played well in his next two seasons, averaging 10.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.8 SPG, and 1.7 BPG in 142 games.

However, with Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Richaun Holmes in the mix at center for the 76ers in 2016/17 and Noel once again battling knee issues, he struggled to carve out a regular role and was eventually sent to Dallas at the trade deadline.

As a restricted free agent during the 2017 offseason, Noel reportedly passed on a four-year, $70MM offer from the Mavericks and ultimately signed his one-year qualifying offer, putting him on track for unrestricted free agency this summer. Once again limited by injuries, Noel appeared in just 30 games during his contract year in 2017/18, averaging 4.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG in 15.7 minutes per contest.

Noel will get an opportunity to rebuild his value in Oklahoma City, where he’ll presumably slot in as the team’s backup center behind Steven Adams. According to Charania, the Thunder “aggressively” pursued Noel in free agency, with head coach Billy Donovan meeting him on July 1. Russell Westbrook and Paul George pitched the young center on joining the club, Charania adds.

The Thunder’s agreement with Noel is the latest move in an eventful offseason for the franchise, which has already struck lucrative new deals with George and Jerami Grant.

The Thunder currently project to be way over the tax line, with team salary set to $160MM+, so cost-cutting moves are expected at some point along the way. Carmelo Anthony – who has an expiring contract worth $27.93MM – represents the most obvious candidate to be stretched, since the cap and tax savings created by reducing his cap hit to $9.31MM would be massive.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Northwest Notes: Udoh, Thunder, Tolliver, Blazers

The Jazz have been relatively generous during free agency so far this summer compared to most teams, handing out a two-year, $36MM contract to forward Derrick Favors, agreeing to a three-year, $33MM deal with backup guard Dante Exum, and reaching terms on a two-year, $4MM pact with seldom-used guard Raul Neto.

Furthermore, Utah has already guaranteed the 2018/19 salary of Thabo Sefolosha, who was limited to only 39 games last season. As such, it would appear that the Jazz are intent on sticking with their 2017/18 roster for now, which means that both Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh can be cautiously optimistic while waiting for their 2018/19 salary to become guaranteed.

Udoh in particular, who averaged 2.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 63 games for the Jazz last season, and whose $3.36MM salary becomes fully guaranteed if he remains on Utah’s roster past July 9, is trying to remain positive while awaiting Utah’s decision on his future, writes Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News.

“You know, we’ll see what happens,” Udoh told the Deseret News. “I’m grateful. I’m getting great workouts at the facility. I’ve been here pretty much since the season has been over outside of a couple trips, but I’ve just been getting in good work.”

Per Woodyard, Udoh is excited and prepared to return in a Jazz uniform next season, but also understands the business-like nature of the NBA.

“It’s gonna be a fun season,” Udoh said. “The West has gotten better but we’ve gotten better and we’re gonna be the same team next year. Starting last year, you didn’t know what you were going to get with so many new pieces, but now we’ll be ready from the beginning.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes that although Paul George did in fact want to be a Laker at this time last year, he is now happy in Oklahoma City after signing a four-year, $137MM max contract with the Thunder on the eve of free agency.
  • According to Jerry Zgoda of the Star TribuneTimberwolves’ free-agent signee forward Anthony Tolliver chose a return to Minnesota over four other pursuing teams because of the familiarity he has for the franchise – he played for the Wolves from 2010 to 2012 – and because “(he) want(s) to win.”
  • While it’s probably a bit bold to get too excited about the free agent signing of a backup, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes that the addition of 24 year-old center Nerlens Noel on a minimum-salary deal is a low-risk, high-reward move by the Thunder.
  • Per Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, a couple of key subplots have emerged for the Trail Blazers during the team’s summer league minicamp. First, it’s an opportunity for Portland to get a first-hand look at rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. in an NBA practice. Moreover, both Wade Baldwin and Georgios Papagiannis are fighting for their NBA lives while Jake Layman looks to secure a more prominent role for next season.

Lakers Notes: James, Bosh, Noel

LeBron James‘ 2018 free agency was always a two-horse race between the Lakers and Cavaliers, Brian Windhorst of ESPN said on SportsCenter, noting that the meeting with the Sixers earlier today was a mere courtesy.

The decision to move to Los Angeles had been in the back of James’ mind for a while now, leaving the Lakers in the driver’s seat for the past three weeks with little left to do but not blow it.

In the television interview, Windhorst spoke of the exodus of the King’s staffers, who relocated from Miami to the west coast during James’ second stint with the Cavaliers, and the fact that his wife has been looking at Los Angeles schools for the past year.

With James already in hand, Magic Johnson simply had to close the deal and, as ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne adds, was actually at James’ residence when free agency officially began.

There’s more out of Los Angeles tonight:

  • One name to keep an eye on as a potential Lakers addition is free agent big man Chris Bosh, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News writes. Bosh played alongside James for four years in Miami but has been out of the game since February, 2016 after being diagnosed with life-threatening blood clots. A comeback would require some additional paperwork but a successful return would not impact the Heat’s payroll.
  • There’s a chance that Brook Lopez ends up back in Los Angeles now that much of the team’s available cap space has been tied up in James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Keith Smith of RealGM tweets. Lopez was under contract for $22MM with the Lakers in 2017/18 and averaged 13.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
  • The Lakers are one of three teams that Nerlens Noel has narrowed his free agency decision down to, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports tweets. Noel is represented by Rich Paul, the same agent that represents James and Caldwell-Pope. The Wizards and Thunder are the other two teams on Noel’s short list.