Difference of opinion
Noah a future bust or ideal glue guy? Bet on the latter
Posted: Wednesday June 13, 2007 12:33PM; Updated: Wednesday June 13, 2007 12:33PM
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Greg Oden and Kevin Durant will go Nos. 1 and 2. The Hawks will provide suspense with their decision to either trade or keep the Nos. 3 and 11 picks. And explosively athletic Yi Jianlian will become the unsolvable Chinese riddle: Is he a future All-Star or this year's Nikoloz Tskitishvili -- a workout prodigy who doesn't know how to play? The further Yi falls in the draft and the less pressure he faces to contribute as a rookie, the better it may be for him. Yi could be one of those late-lottery picks who turns into a steal.
But the most intriguing player atop this year's draft is undoubtedly 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah of Florida. The more he is scrutinized -- the analysis is entering its third year now -- the more opinions diverge on his NBA future. Some scouts think he'll be a bust with the worst shooting stroke in the draft and no true position. Others -- the minority opinion, it seems -- are convinced he will thrive.
The minority arguments I find more compelling. The growing consensus is that Noah is an overrated version of Anderson Varejao, the high-energy second-round pick who has become indispensable to the Cavaliers' frontcourt rotation. But if this were a game of poker and you were dealt the cards of Noah, you'd see Varejao's game and raise the stakes. Which is a clumsy way of saying that Noah has a lot more to offer.
The important thing with Noah is to focus on his good qualities, the most convincing of them being his skills as a passer. His believers describe Noah as one of the smartest players in the draft. Knowing his limitations better than anybody, he will pursue his strengths as a point man in the frontcourt, a rebounder and a garbageman around the basket. Any team in possession of a big-man scorer would do well to pair him with Noah, who will selflessly feed his teammates much as he did for Al Horford and others at Florida.
The lottery team that shows faith in Noah will be rewarded each time the defense shades off him. That's when he's capable of taking it strong to the basket, drawing the defense back his way in order to pass to the open teammate, or exploiting an open lane to the offensive glass.
Another criticism is that he's too skinny in his rear end and legs to defend the true centers. But that strikes me as an example of how human nature influences the choices made year after year in the draft. NBA evaluators have lost interest in Noah in part because they've seen too much of him: It's only natural that they take his strengths for granted and focus more on his deficiencies. As a result, they're often intrigued much more by a young international player (Yi, for instance) whose weaknesses haven't been studied enough to be categorized. It's much easier to rave about upside when you don't know the downside.
Noah's upside is tremendous. He'll block shots, harass bigger opponents and run the floor as many teams yearn to do. Don't think his shooting stroke won't improve: He's one of the hardest-working players in this draft, and though he'll never have three-point range, he'll surely upgrade his release in a fundamental way.
"I definitely have to improve my jump shot,'' Noah said at the NBA predraft camp in Orlando two weeks ago.
Most impressive is that Noah is the rarest of draftable commodities: a mature grown-up who will have the easiest transition to the NBA after enduring criticism as his stock fell over the past year. Even as he plummeted, Noah maintained his focus on winning the championship; a lesser character would have gone selfish and tried to prove that he could indeed be a scorer at the expense of his team's larger goal. Noah is the Shane Battier of this draft.
After celebrating his second national title, Noah set up a personal training camp in Los Angeles.
"I have to stay away from New York,'' he said of his hometown. "There are too many temptations over there, too many friends. I wanted to go far away from everything.''
If an NBA team is looking to bring in a go-to scorer, then drafting Noah will be a mistake. But for a team that has its act together, that has a few scoring pieces but needs glue to fit them together, Noah is the answer.
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