Potential No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel said his recovery from a torn knee ligament is going better than anticipated but that he expects to make his NBA debut sometime around Christmas, an assessment that should end speculation about whether he could be ready for the start of the season.
The Kentucky power forward/center is rivaled by only Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore as the clear favorites to be chosen first overall in the June 27 NBA Draft. Noel has an edge in their head-to-head matchup but McLemore is a realistic option based on team need once the lottery order is set Tuesday. But Noel has the unique risk for a possible No. 1 of coming off knee surgery in March, late enough that he not only is unable to work out for clubs but also will force him to miss summer league and training camp.
His report on the current rehabilitation in Birmingham, Ala., offers the prognosis of a successful recovery yet also the reality he will probably miss at least the first two months of his rookie season. Noel said the timetable is based on what he calls ‘very encouraging’ feedback on the recovery efforts along with the initial estimate of needing six to eight months to get back on the court.
“I have no doubt that I will be 100 percent, [and] even better than before, especially with everything I’m doing now,” he said. “I’m strengthening everything – upper body, lower body. I’m sure I’ll be better than 100 percent when I get back.
“It’s [going] better than I expected. I expected to be moving at a fast rate, and I definitely am. I’ll be looking to make a comeback as soon as possible. I just want to make sure my knee is in a good state.”
While it is impossible to get a definitive read on the knee, there is the other update on his conditioning and prep work for the draft: Noel measured at 4.2 percent body fat earlier this week as part of all prospects from U.S. colleges going through physicals, a very good outcome for anyone but particularly a player who isn’t able to go through the same training regimen. He measured 6-foot-10 without shoes and 6-11 ¾ with shoes, and 206 pounds.