Kentucky's Noel might be No. 1 pick, but is he best player?

Nerlens Noel arriving for the Barnstable-Brown Party in Louisville, Ky. Friday May 3, 2013.  Photo by Timothy D. Easley
Nerlens Noel arriving for the Barnstable-Brown Party in Louisville, Ky. Friday May 3, 2013. Photo by Timothy D. Easley Herald-Leader

Jay Bilas is not the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But, if he were, Bilas would not take Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday night's NBA Draft.

The ESPN analyst praised Noel's defensive game during a conference call Wednesday, but he echoed concerns about his offensive abilities and history of injuries while touting another player as the most talented in this year's draft pool.

That player is Kansas guard Ben McLemore.

"I'm not projecting McLemore is going to be the first pick. What I'm saying is I think he's the best prospect," Bilas said. "I think he's the most talented player in the draft. I think he's got the most potential to be an All-Star-caliber player and to do well in the league.

"Now, he's not without question marks."

There's some level of concern about every player in this draft, which lacks a clear-cut No. 1 pick or a surefire all-star.

Bilas called McLemore the best shooter in the draft and the "most talented player Bill Self has ever had," which is saying something.

He also said the Kansas guard can't be put in a "here comes the savior" position as a rookie, and that makes the Cavs a good fit.

"He would go into a situation where he's playing alongside a franchise player in Kyrie Irving," Bilas said. "They don't need him to be the man right away. And I think that gives him a better chance to develop at a more leisurely pace."

Draft analyst Chad Ford — Bilas' colleague at ESPN — kept Noel at No. 1 in the final update to his "Big Board" on Wednesday. A day earlier, Ford told reporters that Noel best fit the criteria the Cavs have said they'll use when making their selection.

Bilas agrees that there's plenty to like about Noel and said he should be a top-three pick Thursday.

He just doesn't see him as the most talented player in the draft.

One of the biggest questions is how much Noel can be expected to evolve as an offensive player.

"How concerned am I about his offense? I think he can get better and will get better," Bilas said. "Do I think he'll be a really good offensive player in the league? I don't.

"I think he's always going to be limited. He doesn't have a great offensive feel for the game."

Bilas later added that he doesn't envision Noel turning into a guy who can hit a 17-foot jump shot on a regular basis or have a polished game in the post.

"I don't see, somehow, somebody's going to teach him a post move and he's going to be (Hakeem) Olajuwon," he said. "That's what I'm saying."

Bilas also voiced concerns about Noel's injury history, though doctors have been pleased with his recovery from a torn ACL suffered earlier this year while playing for Kentucky.

Despite the concerns, Bilas said he wouldn't be surprised if Noel went to the Cavs with the No. 1 pick.

The reasoning is simple: Noel has the ability to be an elite defender in the NBA.

He averaged 4.4 blocked shots and 2.1 steals in 24 games at UK. Anthony Davis — last year's No. 1 pick — averaged 4.7 blocks and 1.4 steals for the Cats.

Bilas called Noel a "savant on the defensive end."

"He's crazy athletic and he's really active and he blocks a tremendous amount of shots," he said. "He (blocks shots) a little differently than Anthony Davis, but in a way better. He's really active. His motor — he plays really hard. He plays hard all the time.

"And he's a high-volume rebounder, he runs and he gets steals. Most guys his size aren't getting steals. They're not getting deflections to that rate."

Around the league

Lakers: Los Angeles exercised its contract option on former Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks.

Meeks will make $1.55 million next season. He averaged 7.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 78 games primarily as Kobe Bryant's backup last season, occasionally excelling as a three-point shooter.

Pacers: Larry Bird, the former NBA star who left his job last season after rebuilding Indiana and winning the league's executive of the year award, will be reintroduced to the media Thursday morning as the president of basketball operations. That's the same job Bird held from 2003-12.

"The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it recharged me," Bird said in a statement issued by the team.



5:30 p.m. — NBA Draft Preview (NBATV)

7 p.m. — NBA Draft Preview (ESPN)

7:30 p.m. — NBA Draft (ESPN)

Midnight — NBA Draft Review (NBATV)


First-round order

1. Cleveland

2. Orlando

3. Washington

4. Charlotte

5. Phoenix

6. New Orleans

7. Sacramento

8. Detroit

9. Minnesota

10. Portland (from Charlotte)

11. Philadelphia

12. Oklahoma City (from Toronto via Houston)

13. Dallas

14. Utah

15. Milwaukee

16. Boston

17. Atlanta

18. Atlanta (from Houston via Brooklyn)

19. Cleveland (from L.A. Lakers)

20. Chicago

21. Utah (from Golden State via Brooklyn)

22. Brooklyn

23. Indiana

24. New York

25. L.A. Clippers

26. Minnesota (from Memphis via Houston)

27. Denver

28. San Antonio

29. Oklahoma City

30. Phoenix (from Miami via L.A. Lakers and Cleveland)

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