Monday, February 6th, 2012 at 5:49 pm  |  11 responses

The New, Great Debate

Should Nerlens Noel overtake Shabazz Muhammad as the top player in the 2012 class?

by Kellon Hassenstab / @Hoopniks

The 2012 high school graduating class, up until Wednesday, had a consensus ranked No. 1 player ins Shabazz Muhammad. The 6-6 wing from Bishop Gorman (NV) stood clearly above the rest.

Previously, Andre Drummond was Muhammad’s closest challenger, but that changed when Drummond made his surprise move to UConn in a late summer whirlwind. Muhammad’s status may have changed with the news that 6-10 center Nerlens Noel of Tilton School (NH), a native of Boston suburb, Everett, MA, was jumping back into the class he started high school in, after years of being considered a 2012 prospect. Considered a top-three player in the deep 2013 class, Noel immediately jumps into the conversation as the top prospect in the 2012 class.

While Muhammad has excelled on every stage he’s played on this year—at high-profile events like the City of Palms Classic before Christmas, and recently at the Spalding Hoophall Classic—Noel has an increasing groundswell of support. ESPN is the first ranking service to take the plunge in taking Muhammad’s crown as the top player in the class, as they’ve anointed Noel the new No. 1 just hours after his decision to switch classes.

Noel has drawn attention with his unique high-top fade haircut and frequently sporting pink kicks as he takes the court, but the real story when games start are his defensive abilities, and in particular his acumen for blocking shots. Also, it helped that Noel’s traveling team, Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) won games and tournaments at a startling rate over spring and summer.

The knock on Noel has been a still raw, but oftentimes effective, offensive game. Though Muhammad puts up a high scoring average, to be fair, he also has improvement to make on the offensive game, particularly in ball-handling in half-court sets, and establishing more consistency as a three-point shooter. Muhammad does not takes games or plays off, and has a work ethic and devastating aggressiveness that allows him to overpower and outwork players at this level. That still begs the question, though: Has Muhammad exposed the majority of his potential as a basketball player, and if so, does Noel’s enormous upside make him a safe bet to be the new No. 1?

The irony at this point is that both Noel and Muhammad could conceivably end up on the highest-profile stage in college hoops, as both count Kentucky as among their college finalists. Regardless of where they end, both players are possible one-and-done prospects, should their development continue.

This new-found tangle for the top slot amounts to a classic hoops “production vs potential” argument, but the reality is that it’s hard to go wrong with either player at the head of this class. While other services will most certainly follow ESPN’s proclamation that Noel is the top dog, many other services will also recognize Muhammad’s unyielding production and history over the last four years and award him the honor as this class moves to college hoops.


Name Nerlens Noel Shabazz Muhammad
Height 6-11 6-6
Weight 201 195
Wingspan 7-3 7-0
Position PF/C SG/SF
Colleges Considering Kentucky, Syracuse, Georgetown, Providence, Florida and North Carolina. Kentucky, UCLA, UNLV, Duke, Arizona, and Kansas.
Biggest Positive Tremendous defensive presence. Attacking style and all-around game with competitiveness.
Needs to Improve Overall post game and offensive moves. Ballhandling and distance shooting.


  • Add a Comment
  • Share
  • RSS

Tags: , , ,

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Yes, elite, gamechanging defenisve bigs are harder to find than scoring wings.

  • http://nyill.wordpress.com Enigmatic

    I do think Noel should be the new number 1 in 2012.
    The kid is an ELITE level shot blocker. Just amazing at that end of the court.
    What’s crazy is that Noel was the 3rd or 4th ranked player in 2013.
    Everyone’s been hearing so much about Muhammad becaus he’s a senior and all that, and he’s an amazing talent, but I don’t think casual fans realize how great 2013 is because if Noel can slide into number 1 in 2012, that means Muhammad would mos likely fall to number 4 or 5 if he was in the 2013 class.

  • Terry Orcutt

    I think they both are good players and need to get into a big time program like kentucky the Coach there can help them into the NBA!

  • Terry Orcutt

    I think they both are good players and need to get into a big time program like kentucky !

  • http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelJR_NZ Michael NZ

    Steven Adams.

  • UK Cat Fan

    Muhammad and Noel would develop the most under Coach Cal. If they attend UK, there is a very good chance they go first and second in the NBA Draft. That would also make Kentucky produce the number one NBA pick 3 out of the last four years (Wall, Davis, Muhammad/Noel)!

  • http://www.coxsportsonline.com Cox Sports

    Here’s an interview & highlights from Noel’s game this past SUnday @ the NPSI tournament. Played less than 1/2 the game, had 10+ blocks & played some point guard in the 2nd half.


  • http://hoopniks.com/ Kellon

    Thanks for the input everyone. Clearly, you can’t go wrong with either player, but Noel is such a unique defensive player that he’s hard to overlook. Still, after Muhammad’s track record, he’s not a guy you can bet again.

  • Big L

    shabazz is closer to 215 now, i read it in his diary

  • Sin City

    @Enigmatic: Nerlens was 2nd in 2013 rankings, and the so called recruiting analysts were debating back and forth if he should replace Jabari Parker, a kid they think is the best regardless of class. I think that’s BS, but it is what it is.

  • vic sanchez

    Thats the dumbest statement about they should go to Kentucky and the coach will help them for the nba. What you dnt know the coaches name? Well Calipari hasnt helped anyone with anything but sanctions for hid programs hes been involved with. Shabazz is staying in Vegas where he sat courtside watching the Rebels beat San Diego State and made the comment to his father that it was similar to UNC and the coach who could help them in the NBA s team enviroments. Shabazz’s high school school coach is the brother of UNLV coach David Rice. Now that the runnin is back in withe Rebel he knows where he wants to be.