It only took one game for the Mavericks to add fuel to the fire that they aren’t planning to have Nerlens Noel as part of their future.
First, it was the Mavs and Noel being oddly silent on contract negotiations. Then it was the failure of both parties to come together on a long-term deal. After that, it was the bizarre move to bring Noel off the bench, not because it didn’t make basketball sense but because it seemed like the Mavericks were doing everything in their power to not appease Noel, a future building block, in any way possible.
All the talk, all the discussion around Noel has centered around one thing — regardless of what happened in the summer or in training camp, Noel would have the chance to “prove it” and earn his money and his stature around the league.
On Wednesday night, during the season opener against the Atlanta Hawks, Noel got his first chance to prove and he did. Stunningly, the Mavericks did not hold up their end of the bargain.
The Mavericks lost a close game, 117-111. Noel came off the bench and played brilliantly, continuing to do what he did when the Mavs brought him on last year — rebounding, flying around the rim and perimeter on defense and rolling hard to the bucket and finishing plays on offense. With 9:12 left in the fourth quarter, Noel was subbed out for Dwight Powell. Noel’s line at the time? A splendid 16 points (on six-of-six shooting), 11 rebounds, three blocks and a steal in 19 minutes of play.
Noel finished the game with that stat line. He finished with that line because Noel did not check back into the game until there was less than 40 seconds left in the game. Unbelievable.
Powell played most of the fourth quarter because Rick Carlisle said after the game he made a few outside shots and the team was making a run with him in there. That’s true! Powell made two three-pointers and that was nice to see. But guess what else he did (or didn’t do)? He failed to grab a rebound in his 14 minutes. The Hawks had 14 offensive rebounds, a ton coming when Powell was on the floor in the fourth. Powell finished a minus-4 on the night. Noel was a team-high plus-9. Noel’s net-rating for the game was 24.3. How does this keep happening?
Noel is too good for this bullshit. It’s only one game, one of 82, but how can this not be viewed as a disaster when you consider not only everything that has happened up until this point in time, but the fact that Noel was far and away the best player in the American Airlines Center on Wednesday night and was still shuffled off in favor of Dwight Powell. Guess which one is signed through after next season? All of this matters.
A loss to the Hawks in October does not matter for this team. What does matter is how the Mavericks develop and bring along what is supposed to be the post-Dirk core of Noel, Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. Those three learning how to win (and lose) is very important! If the Mavs win games behind those three closing out games and finishing teams, that’s exactly what you hoped for when you acquired all three of these pieces within the last year. There’s a difference between tanking and sitting J.J. Barea, Devin Harris and Dirk Nowitzki to close games and sitting an important piece of their future when he was in the process of having one of the best games of his career.
Nerlens Noel became only the third player since 1983-84 to record at least 15 pts, 10 reb, and 3 blk in 20 minutes or less, per @bball_ref.— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) October 19, 2017
We’re one game in and it feels impossible to think that Noel has any part of the Mavs’ future plans. Things have to change. Noel, for one game, proved why he was worth keeping around no matter what. It’s easy to expect him to keep it up. Hopefully the Mavs prove that they care about one of the brightest talents they’ve had on the roster in years.