POSTED: Apr 16, 2013 4:33 PM ET
Nerlens Noel may not be healed from his knee surgery by the start of the 2013-14 NBA season.
Kentucky power forward/center Nerlens Noel announced Monday he was leaving for the NBA after one season of college, officially making him one of the more intriguing storylines of the 2013 NBA Draft -- in addition to being arguably the best prospect available.
Noel and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore are the favorites to go No. 1 on June 27, a decision that may come down to team need. A year ago before the lottery, by contrast, Anthony Davis, also a Kentucky product, was so far ahead of the pack that he would have been selected first regardless of who was choosing or what their needs were.
The job security of the general manager making the pick will also come into play, some executives around the league believe, because Noel is more than simply a risky prospect who needs to get stronger and develop on offense. (Davis was also best known as a defensive presence, but he was much farther along with his underrated offense.) Noel also is coming off a major knee injury and could miss much of his first season in the NBA.
A GM already feeling the heat may not want to risk his job more by investing in a prospect whose health is an issue. A personnel boss with more secure footing might have an easier time making the call.
Noel, No. 2 in the latest NBA.com Top 30, hurt his left knee Feb. 12 against Florida and underwent surgery March 12. Kentucky said rehabilitation would take six to eight months.
"I have loved my time at Kentucky, but I feel that I'm ready to take the next step to the NBA," Noel said Monday in a statement released by the school. "I've learned so much here at UK and am thankful for Coach [John] Calipari, the staff and my teammates for all of their support. I especially appreciate the Big Blue Nation and all of the support, prayers and well-wishes I've received from them during my rehab and decision-making process. I'll always be a Wildcat!"
Said Calipari in the same announcement: "I support Nerlens' decision to enter his name in the draft and am excited for him and his future. The hard work and will to win he showed on the floor this year and the dedication and attitude he has shown in his rehab will only be a reward for him and whatever team drafts him in June."