When the Knicks signed 27-year-old Nerlens Noel to a one-year, $5 million deal, they didn’t anticipate him becoming such an influential factor. As a former first-round selection with the sixth overall pick in 2013, Noel has bounced around the league from Philadelphia to Dallas to Oklahoma and now New York.
However, Noel was always expected to back up Mitchell Robinson, who has missed time this season due to a fractured hand and most recently fractured his right foot, which could keep them out for the remainder of the 2020-21 campaign.
In Robinson’s absence, Noel and Taj Gibson have supplemented his loss, but the 6’11”, 220-pound center has given everything and more than what the Knicks expected. He’s averaging 4.9 points, which isn’t a lofty offensive number, but pair that with a career-high 2.1 blocks per game and 1.0 steals, you can see Noel’s influence on paper.
In-game, though, Noel runs the floor well and protects the rim with ferocity and aggressiveness. He doesn’t let anybody come into his zone without contesting, which is exactly what Tom Thibodeau expects from his defensive-oriented unit.
Most recently, the Knicks overcame the Toronto Raptors in a close contest, and Noel played phenomenal basketball, earning nine points and four blocks, showcasing why he continues to start for this young team.
“Just Nerlens, man, all over the floor. Rebounds, blocks, finishing well. He did a little bit of everything,” Julius Randle said after the Knicks’ second straight comeback victory evened their record at 27-27. “We gotta keep going at it. Another big game for him [Monday against the Lakers] and I know he’ll [be ready].”
The reality is, without Noel, the Knicks are an entirely different squad that is forced to rely on 35-year-old veteran Taj Gibson and 10-day contract players like Norvel Pelle.
Noel currently ranked fourth in the NBA with 2.1 block shots per game, averaging just 22.9 minutes over 47 appearances. In the win over Toronto, he also posted 13 rebounds, five of them being offensive. Giving his team secondary opportunities and controlling the boards on defense has made him an impact player. I would be very surprised if the Knicks didn’t offer him an extension after this season, especially with Robinson going into the final year of his rookie deal.