The good folks over at SB Nation recently assembled a team of heavy hitters to make some projections about the NBA landscape four years from now, compiling their predicted list of the Top 100 Players in the NBA for the year 2017. Such an exercise is obviously short on empirical study and long on intuitive speculation, but it's an interesting exercise worth reading through--especially for hoops junkies desperate for something, anything to debate in the dog days of the off-season.
The part of the list that will be of particular interest to Sixers fans comes in the 20s of the list, where they get to the highest-ranked Sixer: Rookie-to-be Nerlens Noel. Despite undergoing ACL surgery, slipping to #6 in the draft and likely missing much (if not all) of his upcoming debut season, The Eraser clocked in at a hearty #25 on their projected list, ahead of such 2013 superstars as Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant. Sez SB Nation's Conrad Kaczmarek:
Rim protection, rim protection, rim protection. During his time at Kentucky, Noel was one of the most athletic and agile 7-footers I've ever seen. Yes, he's raw offensively, but if he works as hard as he claims he'll work, he'll have improved substantially by the time 2017 rolls around.
I think a lot of teams passed on Noel in the 2013 Draft due to his recovery from a torn ACL and the fact that he's a long-term project. Since you're letting me fast-forward four years into the future, Noel could be a beast by then.
Not everyone on the panel agrees with Kaczmarek's projection--Tom Ziller and Mike Prada both have misgivings related to his slipping in the draft, which is understandable for a guy so many considered pre-draft to be the obvious top pick--but it certainly seems possible that if Noel recovers and lives up to most of his pre-draft hype, #25 will be a more than fair ranking. (For the record, as the Nation's expert consultant on Noel, our old friend Michael Levin calls the ranking "happily generous" and says it suggests a "more versatile Tyson Chandler.")
Two other items of minor interest for Sixer fans from the list: Thaddeus Young is the only other Baller to make an appearance on the list, finishing at #66 (the Nation staff expresses great sympathy for the fine player stuck on the rebuilding Sixers), and the recently departed Jrue Holiday comes in at even higher than Noel, the man he was essentially traded for, at #23. Much as I love the Damaja, I'm not sure he's ever going to be one of the 25 best players in the league, though if he did I wouldn't be horribly surprised--and I'd certainly be pleased as punch for Jrue's sake.
Of course, the real prize for the Holiday trade may still be to come, as the Sixers expect to be bad enough next year to land one of the biggest draft prospects, including Jabari Parker (one below Noel at #26 on the list), Julius Randle (#14) and Andrew Wiggins (#8). Having two of these guys on our roster in time for 2017...it could be a real nice start towards the Sixers getting to play with the big boys again.