Nerlens Noel: A Top 25 Player By 2017?

Nerlens Noel: A Top 25 Player By 2017?

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.

Instant Replay: Temple beats No. 19 Navy for 1st American Athletic Conference championship

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Instant Replay: Temple beats No. 19 Navy for 1st American Athletic Conference championship

BOX SCORE

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Temple bided its time, waiting a year for a chance to wash out the sting of last year’s American Athletic Conference title game defeat to Houston.
 
And on Saturday, the Owls let out a year’s worth of frustration as they achieved the goal they’ve talked about for months now.
 
They can stop talking about it because Matt Rhule and his Owls can finally call themselves the AAC champions.
 
On the backs of seniors Phillip Walker and Jahad Thomas, Temple (10-3, 8-1 AAC) rocketed out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, leaving No. 19 Navy (10-3, 7-2 AAC) in the dust Saturday afternoon in a 34-10 rout in the AAC title game field at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
 
It’s the second conference title in program history and first since the Owls brought home the Middle Atlantic Conference crown in 1967.
 
Walker ripped Navy’s lackluster passing defense apart for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts.
 
But just as impressive was how the Owls handled Navy’s potent triple-option attack, especially after the way Army dominated Temple for 328 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in a 28-13 loss at Lincoln Financial Field in the season opener.
 
The Owls held Navy to just 168 rushing yards Saturday. The Middies came in averaging 342 yards on the ground per game, second most in the nation. A big reason for that was an ankle injury to Navy quarterback Will Worth, the leader of the triple-option, who left in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return.
 
Temple now has 24 hours to celebrate a mission completed before learning of its postseason fate.
 
Bowl outlook
Let’s start here since this is the most pressing issue after Saturday’s result.
 
Is Temple still eligible to be invited to the Cotton Bowl, this year’s New Year’s Six at-large bowl? Yes.
 
But with MAC champion No. 17 Western Michigan sporting a 13-0 record after Friday’s win over Ohio in the conference title game, the odds of the selection committee picking a three-loss Temple team over an undefeated WMU squad are slim.
 
But anything is possible. On the slight chance Temple is selected for the Cotton Bowl, a rematch from September with No. 7 Penn State is possible.
 
We’ll find out Sunday afternoon when the bowl selections are announced.
 
Turning point
On the opening drive of the game, Temple wideout Keith Kirkwood dropped a Walker dart on 3rd-and-7. Instead of having freshman kicker Aaron Boumehri kick into the wind from the Navy 28, Rhule decided to go for it on 4th-and-7. Kirkwood made up for his mistake with a 13-yard reception. Thomas bounced to the outside on the next play and set the tone for the day for Temple with a 15-yard touchdown run that put the Owls up 7-0.
 
With the Owls leading 14-0 two drives later, Worth hit Dishan Romine down the seam for 24 yards, setting Navy up at the Temple 25-yard line. The only reason the play didn’t end in the end zone was because of safety Sean Chandler’s touchdown-saving tackle. On the next play, Navy tried a screen to Darryl Bonner, who was stripped by Chandler. Temple recovered the fumble and Walker hit Kirkwood on 56-yard bomb for a touchdown three plays later to extend Temple’s lead to 21-0.
 
You could have started shining up the trophy from there.
 
Big men on campus
Walker, a four-year starter, was stellar in his penultimate act as an Owl. He completed big pass after big pass to lead to Owls. His 56-yard touchdown rainbow to Kirkwood was a beauty as he put just the right amount of touch on it. He also had a clutch 3rd-and-12 completion to Ventell Bryant in the fourth quarter that eventually led to a field goal that made the score 27-10.
 
Thomas was his usual productive self with 19 rushes for 62 yards and a score.
 
Kirkwood had a big day in the receiving department with five catches for 98 yards and a score.
 
On defense, Chandler had a monster afternoon eight tackles a pick and forced fumble. Linebacker Jarred Alwan led the Owls with 12 total tackles.
 
Abey filled in admirably for the Middies with 104 passing yards and 70 rushing yards, but there was only so much he could do against a vicious Temple defense.
 
Injury report
Temple senior linebacker Avery Williams, the Owls’ leader on defense, was hurt in the second quarter after hitting Abey following a pitch. Williams limped off the field, but he couldn’t return even if he wanted to as he earned a targeting call for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Abey after the pitch and was disqualified from the game. It was a good call as Williams forcefully drove the crown of his helmet into Abey’s chin.
 
Navy’s offense was depleted by injuries in the first half.
 
Worth, who captains the Midshipmen’s triple-option attack and entered Saturday as the nation’s leader in rushing touchdowns with 25, left limping early in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. Needless to say, losing Worth was a critical blow to Navy’s chances of a comeback.
 
Navy senior running back Toneo Gulley and junior back Darryl Bonner, the latter of whom is the Midshipmen’s second leading receiver, both left Saturday’s game in the first half with injuries and did not return.
 
History has been made
In addition to winning the first conference championship for the program since 1967, the Owls now have back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time in program history. They’re also heading to a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the first time ever.
 
Temple also set a record for points in a season with 427, breaking last season’s record of 417.
 
The Owls’ 20 wins over the last two seasons are the most in consecutive years in program history. Matt Rhule also now has 28 wins as the Owls’ head coach, tying him with Bruce Arians for sixth most in school history.
 
That 2-10 season in Rhule’s first season in 2013 seems like ancient history now, doesn’t it?
 
Up Next
Its regular season complete, Temple now awaits its bowl fate. The AAC’s bowl ties are as follows: AutoNation Cure Bowl (vs. Sun Belt in Orlando, Florida), Miami Beach Bowl (vs. MAC in Miami), Boca Raton Bowl (vs. Conference USA in Boca Raton, Florida), St. Petersburg Bowl (vs. ACC in St. Petersburg, Florida), Military Bowl (vs. ACC in Annapolis, Maryland), Birmingham Bowl (vs. SEC in Birmingham, Alabama).
 
It’s entirely possible the Owls could be right back here in Annapolis for the Military Bowl on Dec. 27.
 
The American also has a tie to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, but Navy is already scheduled to head there to face a Big 12 team. The Midshipmen will head there after their annual showdown with Army next week in Baltimore.