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Nerlens Noel will be making his debut with the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night when they host the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Mavericks are just hoping the former University of Kentucky star’s time with Dallas winds up the way the career of another of the team’s former centers ended.
As the Mavericks were revealing details of why they decided to trade for Noel, the name Tyson Chandler kept popping up. That’s the same Tyson Chandler who the Mavericks traded for in the summer of 2010 to backup Brendan Haywood, but he wound up being the team’s quintessential starter and helped lead them to the 2011 NBA title.
“I think in the spirit of the success we had with Tyson in the past, Nerlens is really a Tyson starter kit,” said Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations. “So I think it’s going to work very well.
“I hope he fits just like Tyson Chandler did. That’s the hope.”
Like Chandler, Noel is a tall, lanky, wiry and athletic player who seems to be all over the place at once. As with Chandler, that description is part of his DNA.
That’s why the Mavericks are very excited they were able to acquire Noel.
“Obviously, when you come to a team late in the season, it’s hard,” power forward Dirk Nowitzki said after Friday’s shootaround at the Target Center. “We want to make him feel welcome and try to get him acclimated quick and feel welcomed and see how it goes.”
Chandler helped change the Mavericks’ culture from a team that saw defense as something that was an after-thought to a team down got down and dirty on the defensive end of the court. They’re hoping the 6-11, 228-pound Noel can have a similar impact.
“Nerlens, obviously, he gives us an element we haven’t had here since Tyson Chandler,” Nelson said. “He’s able to get out on the court and guard the pick-and-roll, which is a big asset.
“He gives us a dimension that we haven’t had here in a long time, so we’re really more than excited and ecstatic about him coming here.”
Coach Rick Carlisle also understands the comparisons between Noel and Chandler. Yet he chose to tip-toe around those comparisons.
“Tyson’s career is much more accomplished,” Carlisle said. “I’m going to be careful about too many comparisons to a guy who is a championship starter, but there are a lot of similarities that we feel are very important for our team to have.
“Salah (Mejri) has given us some of that, when we had (JaVale) McGee here last year he gave us some of that. But Nerlens is a guy that grades out very well as a defender on the analytics and he passes the eye test.”
Nowitzki said he “definitely’’ sees some of Chandler in Noel.
“The build, the skinner guy, but still strong, the quickness, the hands,” Nowitzki said. “The ability to finish above the rim and then block shots and be the anchor of the defense is definitely something we’re going to need.”
The Mavericks acquired Noel on Thursday in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a protected first-round draft pick. And this is not the first time the Mavericks have made a hard run at Noel, who was the sixth pick of the 2013 NBA Draft.
“We’ve been talking to Philadelphia all year about trading for him,” Carlisle said. “The next few games notwithstanding is important to get guys on board that you feel are going to be long-term piece s to help us rebuild the championship team.”
Carlisle said the Mavericks are expecting Noel to arrive in Dallas today and be available to play against the Pelicans.
Nowitzki had moved over from his power forward spot and he been starting recently at center for the Mavericks. When asked if it’s a relief for Nowitzki that he can now move back to playing power forward while Noel commands the center spot, Carlisle said, “There’s no guarantee that Noel is going to start.
“We’ve got Dirk at the (center position) and we’ll see how all of that goes. Look, there are a lot of minutes at the (center) position if Dirk remains the starter.
“I think the expectations the guy is just going to come in and start on Day One and be the starter, we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little bit. We’ll get him in there early (Saturday morning) and get him exposed to some simple things that’ll allow him to get some action in the game and then we’ll go from there.”
Noel was the odd-man out of a Sixers center rotation that include Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. With the Mavericks knowing that the Sixers had some a logjam in the middle — and with them knowing their own lack of success in the middle — it was only natural that Nelson picked up the phone to inquire about Noel.
“He should be fitting right in,’’ Nowitzki said. “He’s an active (center) that’s obviously athletic and young and has good hands, rolls and projects the basket.
“We just want him to have fun and play free and do what he does.’’
And hopefully, the Mavericks admitted, have the same impact on their franchise as Tyson Chandler did.