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Deadspin fixes NBA free agency, Part V: Centers

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What you want from a center is the ability to play them in the playoffs, and usually, you only could if they’re viable defensively. Nerlens Noel was that for the Knicks, and sure, Mitchell Robinson suffered a late-season foot fracture, but even beforehand, he was as impactful defensively as you would’ve wanted.

Noel led the entire NBA in defensive box plus-minus (3.5), was second in defensive rating (101.2) and block percentage (8.7), and was third in defensive win shares (3.6) and blocks (141). Noel did all this while averaging 24.2 minutes per contest, starting in 41 of the 64 games he played. He was also playable in the postseason, logging 18.4 minutes per contest, though he wasn’t as impactful as he was in regular season. In fairness, what Knick was? The Atlanta Hawks outplayed all of them. Still, at 27, Noel is expected to have an active market, and according to SNY, is being sought after by the Nets, Kings, Raptors, Mavericks, and Hornets.

Who should try their hardest: The Hornets. Play-In bound Charlotte was one of last season’s pleasant surprises, thanks largely to the entry of Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball, combined with near All-Star worthy campaigns from Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward. Between Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller, they could never quite nail down the starting center position next to PJ Washington, and Noel would be perfect.

Who probably will call, but shouldn’t: The Kings. Sure, it actually makes sense for Sacramento, given they may lose their starting center in this same free agency period. More on him in a bit. But if Noel wants to be on a playoff team for the fourth straight time in his career, of the teams reportedly interested, Sac-Town might not be the move in a difficult Western Conference. He could play the same role on better teams, as in the other four listed above, and even the Knicks if they wanted to keep him, which could depend on how they deal with Mitchell Robinson this summer.

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