One of the more underrated players for the Knicks this past season was center Nerlens Noel, who was a first-round draft pick back in 2013 by the Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately for Noel, injuries have hindered his career to a degree but has played 60+ games over the past three consecutive seasons, proving his reliability and defensive prowess.
With Mitchell Robinson being the team’s starting center, Noel didn’t anticipate being such a focal point during the 2020 campaign — he ended up starting in 41 games after Robinson suffered fractures to his hand and foot.
The Knicks signed Noel to be one year, $5 million deal, and with non-Bird rights this off-season, they could increase his pay the $6 million for the 2021-22 season without dipping into cap space on the additional $1M increase. However, Nerlens has been connected to the Brooklyn Nets, who might be an attractive destination for him as he looks to join a club ready to win a championship next season.
In an interview with Hoopshype’s Michael Scotto, Nerlens Noel detailed his approach toward free agency and time with the Knicks:
It was great playing for coach Thibodeau. He’s an overall great person to be around. He takes his work seriously. Most importantly, he holds guys accountable. On a young team like that, I was able to give my leadership to the team being a veteran. Coach Thibs was right at the top of the helm, gave all his type of experiences, his gritty type of style and attitude to the team. I think it really helped my playing style, especially defensively, to really break out and be as aggressive as I could and switch out onto screens and try to change the game on that side of the ball.
Noel was asked about his time in New York and if he considered it a “success:”
I would describe my time in New York last year as a successful and great time. I feel like they gave me an opportunity that I seized. Coming into New York, I had a chip on my shoulder. We all know what this team and organization have been through. I definitely wanted to make it a focal point to be a part of something special and grasp the opportunity that was available here. I saw some of the moves they made, and I felt like they weren’t too far off. At the right time, things came together with a guy like Julius (Randle) being a great leader for the team and guys like myself, Alec (Burks), and Reggie (Bullock), the right role players to make up a complete team. I think that’s what that was. I feel like it was a great year and a great team.
When asked about his future as a free agent this summer, Noel seemed content with being patient with a desire to make it to the playoffs:
I’ll weigh it simply off how I can further my career and be best utilized in a system both offensively and defensively, and help that team get to the next step, and myself as well. Collectively, reaching the playoffs. My individual goal, which is more team orientated, is going deeper into the playoffs. I haven’t been to the second round yet, so I want to crack through. Whether it’s a team that has or hasn’t been to the playoffs, I just want to help the team overall with my playing style and wreaking havoc defensively and catching lobs. It’s about finding the right fit. Guard play that can help a big man excel. Small things like that I think will be an ideal fit.
This past year, Noel averaged 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and recorded a career-high 2.2 blocks per contest. Overall, he had a solid campaign at 26 years old, offering more defense, which a team like the Nets could use in the paint. Based on the direction of New York, it seemed as if they might go in a different direction, looking for a more offensive-minded big man to pair with Robinson in the interior.
Nonetheless, retaining him would be a sufficient move, simply based on the incredible blocks he displayed throughout the course of the season supplementing the loss of Mitch.
Would you be happy if the Knicks retained Robinson? Comment below!