NEW YORK – Nerlens Noel is coming off a major knee injury. Alex Len is in a walking boot.
One of them could be the No. 1 pick today in an NBA draft that appears short on stardom, and neither looks ready to get his career off to a running start.
“This draft is really unpredictable, a lot of guys with injuries and you don’t have any, like, LeBron James,” Len said Wednesday. “So it’s going to be interesting.”
Noel tore the ACL in his left knee on Feb. 12, ending his lone season at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 freshman led the nation in shot blocking and his conference in rebounding, but hasn’t been able to show the Cavaliers, who own the top pick, if his offensive game has grown.
Nor has Len, but that hasn’t stopped the 7-1 center from the Ukraine who spent two seasons at Maryland from climbing into the mix at No. 1. His left foot started bothering him around February, and he found out after the season that it was a stress fracture.
He was aware he was projected as a top-10 pick before the draft combine, but may go much higher even though his visits to teams have consisted of nothing more than interviews. He no longer needs crutches but will be in the boot for perhaps two more weeks.
So, with all these injury questions, what about playing it safe and picking a healthy guy?
“I mean, probably a lot of people wish it could be that easy,” Kansas guard Ben McLemore said. “But it’s a process for the teams, they’ve got to see what’s available and what they really need.”
Orlando has the No. 2 pick, followed by Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix.
McLemore, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Georgetown forward Otto Porter and national player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan are among the other players who will hear their names called early at the Barclays Center by Commissioner David Stern in his final draft.