No, Nerlens Noel is Not in the Same League as David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon

No, Nerlens Noel is Not in the Same League as David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon


No, Nerlens Noel is Not in the Same League as David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon

Nerlens Noel was traded to the Dallas Mavericks today as the Philadelphia 76ers try to move away from the “get as many centers as possible” strategy of talent acquisition. Noel, who missed the entire season after he was drafted, is a restricted free agent after this year, and is playing fewer than 20 minutes a game.

Joe Giglio of does not like the move of trading away Noel, and lays out his reasoning. At the end of that piece is this gem of statistical malfeasance.

-Noel is better than he’s given credit for.

Noel, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only three players in NBA history to average 10.0 PT, 8.0 REB, 1.5 BLK, 1.5 STL during their first two years in league.

This year, Noel has followed that up by posting 16.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 2.7 steals per 36 minutes.

So, I’m here to point out the obvious. The start of Nerlens Noel’s career is not in the same class as Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson. Noel is a good shot blocker and defender, but even that comparison falls short since the other two lap him in blocks. While Noel is barely above those carefully selected markers for points and rebounds, Olajuwon and Robinson were averaging about 22 to 25 points a game and getting 12 rebounds a game at the start of their careers. I can confirm that those are the only three at those marks (Noel with 7.0 win shares to the Admiral’s 32.1 and Olajuwon’s 19.7).

Change those cutoffs to 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game, and you bring in two more players: Chris Webber and Lionel Simmons. Doesn’t sound quite as impressive with Lionel Simmons there, and he had the same number of Win Shares as Noel through two seasons.

Once upon a time, Doug Drinen wrote a piece entitled “Three Kinds of Liars” about the misuse of statistics in sportswriting. Included in that was this note: “The important thing to realize is that you can put almost anyone in a class with elite players if you choose just the right categories and just the right cutoffs.”

So let’s try it. Did you know that the only players in NBA history to have 500 rebounds in a season, and make at least 42% of shots from 3-point range (minimum 20) are Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, and Troy Murphy? Troy Murphy is better than he’s given credit for.

Only three players ever have made 88% of their free throws in a season while having at least 100 blocks and 100 assists: Kevin Durant, Kevin McHale, and Mike Gminski. Twenty-nine years ago, this same Philadelphia organization was smart enough to trade for Gminski in the middle of that historic season.

My, how the mighty have fallen. It’s as if the 76ers no longer have need of arbitrarily assigned points of reference.

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