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Schmitz's Take: Can Magic risk drafting Nerlens Noel?

Brian Schmitz Magic Insider

7:54 AM EDT, April 18, 2013

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Now armed with the best odds to win the draft lottery, the league-worst Magic could have a chance to pick former Kentucky star center Nerlens Noel.

This normally would be an easy decision if they wind up with the No. 1 pick – except for one large problem: Noel had surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee on March 12.

If you’ve watched the pre-injury Noel, you come away with one comparison: He’s a young Dwight Howard.

He’s a skinny 19-year-old who can dominate the game defensively, but he’s a work in progress offensively.

That was the same scouting report we heard on Dwight when he was coming out of high school.

If it weren’t for the knee, Noel would be the top pick, hands down, no questions asked. The Magic would have his name already printed on a jersey if the ping-pong balls bounced their way.

Pairing Noel’s defense and shot-blocking with Nik Vucevic’s offense and rebounding is a tantalizing scenario for rebuilding Orlando.

Factor in another lottery pick in a potent 2014 class along with Noel, and the Magic might be back in the playoffs sooner than expected if they can land a star free agent or two in the summers of 2015 and/or 2016.

But can the Magic afford to take Noel, gambling that he’ll return to form after surgery?

They have shown a penchant under new general manager Rob Hennigan to be extremely cautious regarding injured players.

Hennigan backed off Andrew Bynum in a possible Howard deal – and he was proved correct as Bynum missed the entire season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Hennigan had reservations about Jared Sullinger in last season’s draft (selecting Andrew Nicholson)  – and Sullinger had back surgery after being taken by the Boston Celtics.

High-level athletes have recovered from ACL injuries to never miss a beat.

Besides, Noel would have all next season to rebuild his knee and gain weight, considering the Magic plan to compete for the top lottery pick in what is regarded as a star-studded 2014 draft class.  

Noel was injured Feb. 12 against Florida in Gainesville while trailing a fastbreak.

He had surgery a month later, the operation performed by James Andrews, the doctor to the stars.  

By virtue of owning the NBA’s worst record, the Magic can’t fall farther than No. 4 in the draft. If Noel is there at No. 4, taking him would sound more plausible given this ordinary draft class. But can they do it at No. 1?

The Portland Trail Blazers picked injury plagued Greg Oden over Kevin Durant – and that move has set back the Blazers for years and accelerated Oklahoma City’s title drive. The Thunder selected Durant.  

Too bad this wasn’t the summer of 2014. Experts say this draft lacks a superstar, but next year’s class offers Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Also, blame college’s silly one-and-done rule.   

The “safer” picks for Orlando this June include shooting guard Ben McLemore (Kansas), shooting guard Victor Oladipo (Indiana), center Cody Zeller and point guard Trey Burke (Michigan).  

Not sure Hennigan would risk a Greg Oden failure, but you can bet this: The Magic will know as much about Nerlens Noel’s knee as his surgeon after doing their homework.

 

Brian Schmitz is the Magic Insider for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him at bschmitz@tribune.com. And you can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@magicinsider.