It is safe to say that the 2008 NBA Draft won't go down as one of the best in the history of the Sixers' franchise.
I still remember sitting in an Atlantic City casino bar on that June evening in 2008 and watching the selections scroll across a screen behind the bar. The Sixers hadn't landed in the lottery and were picking at middling 16th overall, so expectations weren't too high. Still, I was hoping that the Sixers would make a solid selection to add to their promising pick of Thaddeus Young from the summer prior.
There was one player in particular I was intrigued by coming out of college, and although I had only seen him play a few games for his Texas A&M team, I was hoping that, if available, the Sixers would take a shot on him.
That player was DeAndre Jordan.
It was well-known that Jordan struggled to score any further than a couple feet from the basket, but he possessed great energy and athleticism, and was a beast at blocking shots.
Needless to say, despite his availability at the time of the Sixers' 16th selection, the team did not select Jordan, and instead went with Florida forward Marreese Speights. Jordan – the league's leading rebounder this season -ended up falling all the way to the second round, 35th overall. (It is also worth noting that Roy Hibbert was selected directly after Speights.)
Speights has lasted in the league, and is a contributor to a contender in the Warriors, but he certainly didn't shake out with the Sixers. Jordan, on the other hand, has improved each season and this year morphed into one of the league's best defenders/rebounders/shot-blockers. He is a key cog to the Clippers' championship chase.
All of this is to say that in Nerlens Noel, the Sixers' prized and still bubble-wrapped lottery pick from last summer, I see the potential for a dominant defensive game-changer, much like Jordan.
The playoffs provide an excellent stage for the league's elite to showcase their skill, and so far Jordan has stepped up to the spotlight, posting 25 points, 18 rebounds, and four blocks in the Clippers' Game 5 win. He has been a catalyst for the Clippers' success all season.
"[Jordan] is so important to us and that's what I've been telling everyone all year," Clippers coach Doc Rivers stated earlier in the week. "His importance to this team almost can't be measured because he does so many things with his athleticism, his energy, his defense. His value to our team is unlimited."
That is very high praise for a guy who averaged just over 10 points per on the season, but Jordan serves as the perfect example of how you can be a game-changing force without having an expansive offensive arsenal.
Like there was with Jordan, there is some skepticism about Noel's abilities on the offensive end, and if he can really become an impact player without at least a rudimentary repertoire on that end. But like Jordan, Noel has the potential to impact the game in so many ways that to focus only on his offensive deficiencies would be foolish.
NBA production is largely perceived in points, but Jordan is the walking embodiment of other areas of impact, and his blueprint is one that could be followed by other players like Noel.
One of Jordan's biggest areas of impact is simply his presence in the paint. He is an excellent rim protector, who alters countless shots throughout the course of a game. Jordan is keenly aware of his job as rim protector, and is always aware and on the prowl. His athleticsm allows him to recover quickly and cover a large area, consistently making things difficult on the offense.
If Noel could develop a similar dedication to defense and paint protection, he could be a huge force for the Sixers moving forward.
Jordan is an excellent rebounder and shot blocker as well, and both of those areas stem from effort. Jordan understands that he isn't a top offensive option, and instead exerts his energy hustling on the hardwood; securing possessions for his team and altering them for the opposition.
With Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young, and whatever promising players are added through the draft, Noel isn't likely to be a top offensive option. If he can accept that, and channel his energy into other areas as Jordan does, then he will become very valuable.
Another thing that Jordan does exceptionally well is run the floor. Even at 6'11'' and 250+ pounds, Jordan is extremely athletic, and gets from rim-to-rim quite quickly, often resulting in easy opportunities for him, as the defense is still in recovery mode. After a defensive rebound is secured and a break is initiated, Jordan's ability to get down the court quickly, often before the opposing center, and finish gives his team a great advantage.
Noel was much more highly-touted coming out of college than Jordan was, which is pretty promising for the Sixers, especially considering how much Jordan has developed since he has been in the league. The two are similar size-wise, although Jordan has about 40 pounds on Noel, and could conceivably contribute in a similar manner.
If he remains dedicated to defense and patrolling the paint, as well as getting up and down the court, Noel could be a huge contributor to Sixer success.
It is possible that in working with Brett Brown and Greg Foster, Noel may develop a respectable offensive repertoire. But even if he doesn't, he has the size and the skill set to be a key cog and true game-changer for the Sixers.