What is already considered one of the least impressive NBA draft classes in recent memory took a significant hit Tuesday night because of this ugly looking (and sounding) knee injury suffered by Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, arguably the nation's top collegiate prospect.
The key word there is perhaps. Kentucky has yet to release the full diagnosis, but the early reporting says the X-rays on Noel's were negative with an MRI to follow.
**Updated 2:00 p.m. - The MRI results are in and they are not good. Noel suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season, the University of Kentucky announced. The school also said the freshman center will undergo surgery in the next 2-3 weeks and Noel's expected recovery time is 6-8 months. The 2013 NBA Draft is on June 27.
On Twitter, Noel called the injury a "minor setback for a MAJOR comeback!
The key question, now that the MRI has revealed the worst, is what happens to the top of the 2013 Draft?
It surely means probable lottery bound teams, including the Wizards, and draft sites including DraftExpress.com will make changes atop their draft boards. Despite the setback, Noel could and likely will; remain in the in the upper half of the lottery assuming his suffered a garden-variety ACL injury.
The 6-foot-11 Noel sports a 7-foot-4 wingspan and disruptive shot blocking skills (not to mention an old school flattop), averaging a Division-I leading 4.4 swats per game along with 9.9 rebounds and 10.5 points.
The raw freshman also offers little on the offensive end, which is why even though he followed Anthony Davis to Kentucky, his upside does not track on the same franchise-altering path (instead think Tyson Chandler). Yet because that assessment could be attached to essentially every other likely draft prospect, a healthy Noel is considered a virtual lock as a top-3 pick.
Even though the Wizards are trending away from landing the most ping-pong balls, they likely remain a lottery team and thus could be in the mix for the young center. Should Noel now slip, picking in the top 3-4 slots may not longer be required for teams wanting the shot blocker.
Whether the Wizards would take would take him if given the chance is open for debate.
In some ways Noel would be a younger, springier version (assuming normal recovery) of Emeka Okafor, but without the veteran savvy and passable mid-range touch. Seeing as Okafor has only one full year remaining on his contract and no obvious center apprentices exist on the roster, Noel makes plenty of sense. His length also blends nicely with the bulky and scoring duo of Nene and Kevin Seraphin.
However, the Wizards arguably need a scorer most of all, ideally one that plays small forward, though Maryland's 7-footer Alex Len offers interior offensive potential should Washington look in that direction. Until John Wall's perimeter game dramatically improves, it would be hard or at least less than ideal pairing him and Noel together for heavy minutes (that's more of a critique on Noel's current lack of scoring instincts than anything). Also as it stands the Wizards already have a frontcourt loaded with non-scoring types including Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton.
For Noel's sake, let's hope the MRI results indicate he remains paired with a high slot in the upcoming draft.