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.

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn't come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Lakers crushed by Spurs in first home game since front office shakeup
LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles' first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise's basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers' dismal season still hasn't changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo scores 28 as Bucks hold off Suns
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points, Tony Snell made a clinching 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns, 100-96 on Sunday.

Michael Beasley added 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 15 as the Bucks swept the two-game season series with the Suns. Greg Monroe finished with 14 points and Snell had 13.

TJ Warren led the Suns with 23 points. Alan Williams scored a career-high 17 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, while Devin Booker added 15 points and Eric Bledsoe had 11.

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bucks came out of timeout with Monroe inbounding the ball to Antetokounmpo. He dribbled the clock down before passing to Brogdon, who whipped the ball to Snell in the corner. Snell hit a 3 with a defender flying at him.

NHL trade notes: Kings get Bishop from Lightning, Wild land Hanzal from Coyotes

NHL trade notes: Kings get Bishop from Lightning, Wild land Hanzal from Coyotes

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings acquired goalie Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday in a trade including goalie Peter Budaj and an exchange of draft picks.

The Kings will pair Bishop with Jonathan Quick in a remarkable veteran goaltending tandem down the stretch of the regular season. Quick returned only Saturday from a 59-game absence with a serious groin injury.

The Kings gave up Budaj, junior defenseman Erik Cernak, a 2017 seventh-round pick and another conditional pick. Los Angeles received Bishop and Tampa Bay's 2017 fifth-round pick.

Both teams are scrapping to get into playoff position over the next six weeks. The Kings (30-27-4) are just outside the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference, while the Lightning (27-25-8) are seven points back of a playoff spot (see full story).

Report: Wild get Martin Hanzal from Coyotes
A person with knowledge of the trade says the Minnesota Wild have acquired Czech center Martin Hanzal from the Arizona Coyotes.

The person spoke to The Associated Press Sunday on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced. Details on the return to Arizona were not immediately available.

Hanzal was considered one of the top rental players available ahead of Wednesday's NHL trade deadline. The 30-year-old pending unrestricted free agent has 16 goals and 10 assists in 51 games this season and 313 points in 608 NHL games, all with the Coyotes.

The move signals an aggressive approach from the Wild, who lead the Central Division and Western Conference by three points over the Chicago Blackhawks.