It's not exactly breaking news to learn that NBA front office personnel are constantly hanging around John Calipari's basketball practices at the University of Kentucky. John Wall went No. 1 overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were selected first and second last year just in front of Bradley Beal. There was Derrick Rose at Memphis before that. Yes, Coach Cal gets and develops high-end players.
However, when the NBA general manager making the most visits to Lexington this season doubles as the one owning the first overall pick in the upcoming 2013 draft, it's worth noting, especially since a certain level of uncertainty is about the only constant with this year's top projected prospects. That includes Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel, who could be the latest ex-Wildcat taken first in his class though with the twist that he is recovering from knee surgery.
While the 2012-13 Wildcats had several interesting options, Noel is the only member of Calipari's squad likely selected in the lottery or in any part of the first round. Therefore, he's also the one Cavs GM Chris Grant has surely spent the most time evaluating.
"Chris Grant has been in our building more than any other GM," Calipari told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "That's no disrespect to any other GM. That's just a fact. He and his staff are very thorough in what they've done. That's why I say I hope he gets drafted by them.''
Between now until the first pick is made in the June 27th draft, NBA teams, draft pundits and fans, will search for any clues as to what the Cavaliers will do at No. 1, which will in some way dictate plans for the next teams, including the Washington Wizards with the third overall selection. In terms of pure need, Georgetown small forward Otto Porter Jr. is arguably the best fit for the Cavs - and Wizards - with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in the backcourt, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson manning the interior spots.
However, most mock drafts have the upside-heavy Noel headed to Cleveland, though this decision is hardly the lock it was last year for New Orleans with Davis available. Between the knee injury, his raw offensive game and the 6-foot-10 center weighing only 206 pounds at the combine, plenty of questions exist - though perhaps less for those teams that have done their homework.
Calipari: "My hope is they take Nerlens because they do their research and say, 'We need that shot blocker behind what we have. ... We know he's going to gain 40 pounds. We know the trajectory.' They know where he was at the beginning of the year and they know how much he improved because they were here. They saw it. I don't have to explain anything to Chris.''
At a basic level, the Wizards are looking for scoring help this offseason. That's not Noel, but coach Randy Wittman recently stated this is a best player over need scenario for the the Wizards. With Emeka Okafor entering the final year of his contract, Washington needs a future rim protector. That's what Noel does well. We will see soon enough whether that is a trait the Cavaliers also covet.