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Nerlens Noel represents a classic Mavericks trade for a core piece of the future

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The young center is (likely) here to stay as part of a new youth movement in Dallas.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back

Nerlens Noel came to Dallas in exchange for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson, and what turned out to be a second round pick in each of this and next year’s drafts due to the strong protections placed on the conditional first rounder originally in the deal.

Since his trade to Dallas, Nerlens Noel’s splits were career bests in a number of categories. In 22 minutes per game, he scored 8.5 points, added an assist, a block, and a steal, and threw in 6.8 rebounds to go along with the highest rebounds per 36 minutes of his young career.

His free throw rate was among the best of the Mavericks at .358 free throws per shot attempt. (Barnes, for comparison, was down around .250.) His PER of 19.9 was well above league average, and his full-season true shooting percentage (which attempts to account for the value of three-pointers and free throws) was a career-high 62.2 percent. He improved to a 70 percent free throw shooter, and put together 4.0 win shares on the season (1.8 in Dallas).

His offensive rating of 113 and defensive rating of 102 portend good things for his positive impact on the court. Perhaps more importantly, in a lost season, he brought some highlight-worthy defense and dunks to a Mavericks team that seemed to lack athleticism but suddenly had it in bunches.

Contract Status

Nerlens Noel is about to enter Restricted Free Agency, right as the new CBA takes full official effect. His Qualifying Offer is for roughly $5.8 million. If he chooses to take that, he would play a one year contract under those terms and then become unrestricted. More likely, however, is a big-time contract offer from the Mavericks, or an offer sheet from another team. Any offer will be subject to the cap rules; I have used $100 million cap to make the math very easy, but, as Eric Pincus and others have reported, current cap projections are in the $101-102 million range. With that in mind, here are the options potentially on the table:

Negotiated Deal with Dallas

Noel can be signed to the greater of 105 percent of his previous year’s salary (not happening) or 25 percent of the cap because he is a player with less than seven years of service in the league. That means he could make roughly $25 million per year, with 8 percent annual raises, and, because he is a Qualifying Veteran Free Agent (you may have heard this referred to as Bird Rights), up to 5 years in length on the deal. That would be a 5-year, $147 million contract (or an amount lesser than that per year, or a similar per year figure for fewer years).

Maximum Qualifying Offer

This tool would provide for the 5-year, 8 percent raises, starting a little above $25 million, and forces another team to make an offer of a longer contract if they wish to sign Noel to an offer sheet, which Dallas could then still match.

Negotiated Offer Sheet

An offer sheet negotiated with another team—which Dallas could then match—can be for a maximum length of four seasons, with that same $25 million starting salary, but only 5 percent raises (at most) each year.

Looking Forward

From a contract perspective, expect Noel to sign long-term in Dallas, one way or another. As for his play on the court, many compare him to Tyson Chandler due to his role and fit in Dallas. More apt comparisons, to my eyes, are Tyrus Thomas and Kevin Garnett, though Noel has yet to show the offensive aptitude that a young KG had in Minnesota.

The Thomas comparison is worrying, especially with Noel’s injury history. Front and center was the ACL tear that caused him to drop from the #1 recruit in his high school class to the #6 pick in the NBA draft. He also had knee surgery just this past October, sprained an ankle midseason, and experienced some knee soreness that held him out of a couple games in Dallas. The Mavericks’ world-class training staff will have a key role to play in keeping Nerlens Noel on the court and improving.

In the best case, Noel’s impact does match that of Tyson Chandler; he could set solid screens, make devastating rim runs, fly around the court as a destructive defensive force, and be a staple in Dallas for years to come. With fellow #1 recruit Harrison Barnes on the team as well, Dallas is not lacking for talent. The questions going forward will be about work ethic, fit, and, particularly for Noel, health.