LAS VEGAS -- One of the Thunder’s very first moves once free agency began on July 1st was making a full court press on a 24-year old, 6-foot-11, backup center. Russell Westbrook and Paul George even placed a recruiting call together once the clock struck midnight. Billy Donovan was on hand to receive it and pass the phone over. So why all the urgency for Nerlens Noel? Both he and the Thunder think the match could be a perfect fit.
Through five years in the NBA, Noel has posted career averages of 9.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting from the field to go along with 7.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 assists per game. Known as a defensive stopper who can deter shots and defend multiple positions, the Thunder is hopeful Noel can fill in as a reserve to provide some rim protection, ball movement and scoring above the rim.
Noel’s signing became official on Friday, and by Sunday he had already taken care of the paperwork in Oklahoma City and made it to Las Vegas to join the Thunder’s Summer League team. He went through some workouts with Andre Roberson, who was also in town rehabbing, and spent time with team personnel. After the Thunder’s 92-82 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Noel met with the media. Here are some highlight quotes from the former Philadelphia 76er and Dallas Maverick center.
On why he chose the Thunder in free agency:
Nerlens Noel: “I really think it’s a great opportunity. I think it’s a great fit for myself and the organization. It’s really been a great last few days, going to OKC, signing and just feeling very welcome from the whole organization. That means a lot.”
NN: “(Westbrook and George) called the night of free agency when I was meeting with coach Billy (Donovan). They told me, let’s get it done and that we want to do special things this year. I definitely felt where they were coming from. I gave it a little thought and with as much love as they showed, it became an easy decision.”
On the opportunity to join a contender and his role with the Thunder:
NN: This is something I’ve been really wanting my whole life, just to be on a talented team that can really complement my skill set and really show what I’m really about and go out on the court and play my game with no hesitation. Coach Billy has given me the utmost confidence since I’ve been talking to him day by day. Just go out there and play your game. There’s nothing in it besides basketball and just being yourself. I felt really accepted.
NN: I felt like I would fit in perfectly and be comfortable. I’m very trusting in the organization because they have top of the line everything and Sam Presti is beyond special.
NN: It’s rejuvenating. I’ve been just working all summer trying to get my mind right for whatever situation I come into. Thank God it’s the OKC Thunder. They have a great group of guys from Westbrook to PG leading the team to all these young guys - Hami (Diallo), from Kentucky, (Terrance) Ferguson. Really great pieces that can come up that they already have. I’m really excited about it. It’s really a complete team that is really going to do some special things this year.
On reuniting with former 76ers teammate and current Thunder forward Jerami Grant:
NN: When I was in Philly with (Grant), we had a top 10 defense. That speaks a lot to Sam Presti knowing his stuff and putting together pieces that complement each other.
NN: (Grant) was definitely one of the guys that we leaned on each other to get through it game by game. Definitely going hard for each other. We have that bond with each other already.
Watch Full Interview: Nerlens Noel on Thunder