The 2013 NBA Draft didn’t go according to plan for Nerlens Noel or Archie Goodwin, but the script remained a success for John Calipari and Kentucky on draft night.
In one of the wackiest, most unpredictable drafts in recent memory, Noel was taken sixth overall by the New Orleans Pelicans and then reportedly traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, and Goodwin was selected 29th by the Oklahoma City Thunder before being traded to the Phoenix Suns, via another trade with the Golden State Warriors (yeah, it was that kind of night).
Noel wasn’t taken as high as predicted while Goodwin was selected higher than most projections had him, but in the end it turned out to be another banner draft night for UK. After Thursday night’s draft, NBA teams have selected 17 players from Kentucky over the last four years – all under Coach Cal – including 13-first-rounders.
The night had an unusual twist from the start.
Though Noel was far from a certainty at No. 1, few experts had UNLV’s Anthony Bennett going to the Cleveland Cavaliers with the top overall pick. Yet, when NBA Commissioner David Stern took the lectern for his 30th and final NBA Draft and called out Bennett’s name to the shock of fans in the Barclays Center, it was clear everyone was in for a wild night in Brooklyn, N.Y.
First Noel slipped out of the top spot, and then, just when it seemed like he landed in an intriguing situation in New Orleans alongside former Wildcats Anthony Davis and Darius Miller, he was reportedly traded to the 76ers (the NBA had not officially announced the trade as of Thursday night).
“We’re like come on now, what’s going on? But I’m happy for the family,” Calipari said on ESPN. “Mom (Dorcina) is just a great lady. They’re ready for that next step. I’m happy for them.”
The proposed trade sends Noel and a 2014 first-round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for point guard Jrue Holiday (17.7 points, 8.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds in 2012-13).
“Great history of players,” Noel told ESPN’s Andy Katz, one of the first to report the trade, about eventually landing in Philadelphia. “Can’t wait to get there. Blue-collar city. I consider myself a blue-collar kid. Perfect city.”
As if Noel didn’t have enough motivation coming back from the knee injury, he’s got all he needs now after Thursday night.
Dr. James Andrews, who repaired Noel’s torn anterior cruciate ligament and is arguably the most renowned orthopedic surgeon in his profession for knee, elbow and shoulder injuries, has said Noel is well ahead of schedule, but apparently the top teams were scared away by the injury.
“As hard as I was working, I’m definitely going to do everything with a bigger chip on my shoulder,” Noel told the Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker.
Even so, it marked the sixth straight year a Coach Cal player has gone in the top six picks of the NBA Draft. Noel is also the seventh player from Kentucky selected in the top 10 in the last four years, the eighth player in the top 15 and the 12th player in the first round.
“As always, very anxious moments at the NBA Draft,” Calipari tweeted. “I like where Nerlens ended up in Philly. I think it’s a great situation with a young team. I wish he would have been picked earlier, but that’s part of the game.”
Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals in his only season at UK. The Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year was on pace to threaten Davis’ single-season blocked shots record until he tore his ACL in Kentucky’s game at Florida in mid-February.
“He’s a defensive savant and his energy, his freaky athleticism — he not only blocks shots, he gets steals,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “He can block shots from the weak side, he blocks shots from off the ball, but he also gets two steals per game. He gets steals on the ball and he gets steals anticipating off the ball. That’s really unusual for a guy his size.”
Noel will reportedly join a Philadelphia team that went 34-48 last season, a year removed from back-to-back playoff appearances. The 76ers will lose Holiday in the reported trade, but Philly still has Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young to build around, not to mention Thursday’s first-round draft selection, Michael Carter-Williams out of Syracuse.
Though Noel was disappointed that he slipped out of the top five, Goodwin was surely pleased with how things turned out for him. Projected by many as a second-round pick, Goodwin snuck into the first round, which guarantees him an all-important NBA contract.
“My phone died and I had to borrow a cell phone to call DeWayne (Peevy) and say, ‘Hooray for Archie!’” Coach Cal tweeted. “What a great thing and a great pick to Phoenix at 29.”
Fitting of just how crazy — and confusing — Thursday’s draft was, Goodwin went to Phoenix via a trade with Golden State, which acquired the pick from Oklahoma City.
“Regardless of where I went in this draft, just to be picked was a blessing to me,” Goodwin told the Courier-Journal. “I’m just gonna take this in, and continue to get back to work.”
Though Goodwin struggled with his jump shot in his lone season at UK, the 6-foot-4 guard averaged a team-best 14.1 points to go along with 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
“Goodwin’s got talent,” Bilas said. “He’s a combo guard. A little bit raw on the offensive end. He’s athletic, he’s really good in transition. When he gets to the rim, he’s at his most efficient.”
Goodwin will join a young Suns team that went 25-57 last season and features an up-and-coming point guard in Goran Dragic and a veteran forward in Luis Scola.
“At this point in the draft, I feel like (he’s) a good bet,” ESPN analyst Bill Simmons said.