Nerlens Noel began Saturday second in the NBA in blocked shots, behind only the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert of the Jazz.
Noel only helped his revelatory rejection numbers in his first season with the Knicks by turning in a five-block performance in a 118-109 overtime win over the Hornets at the Garden.
“[Noel’s] gift is obviously the rim protection, obviously his pick-and-roll defense is outstanding. Those blocks were huge from us, got us into the open floor, created some easy scores,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He probably could have had a couple more. One he knocked in, the other one I thought was real close, it ended up being a goal tending play.
“And then he alters a lot of shots because everyone is looking for him. He has great value, he’s the anchor of the defense.”
Mitchell Robinson has been sidelined since March 27 with a broken foot, so Noel has started 40 times in 63 appearances this season and is averaging a career-best 2.2 blocks. Robinson also missed time earlier this season with a broken bone in his hand.
Julius Randle and RJ Barrett said this week they want to play the rest of their careers in New York.
“I mean, who wouldn’t want to retire in New York?” Thibodeau said. “Nah, that’s great. We’re thrilled with them. I think anyone who’s played here, has lived here, they know how special this place is. And yeah, there’s no better arena to play in, there’s no better fans. It’s just a great environment. Obviously we’re thrilled with both of those guys, and we just want to keep building and winning.”
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