Nerlens Noel ahead of schedule

CHICAGO -- A telling fact about this year's NBA draft class might be that the potential No. 1 pick will be unavailable to start the 2013-14 season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

NBA personnel officials and scouts gathered Thursday for the annual NBA draft combine, and players who went through workouts and interviews said they weren't concerned whether this year's class seems light on depth and talent. In fact, some see that as an opportunity.

"This draft class, they say there's no Kevin Durant, there's no LeBron James, so there's a big window open," said Georgetown small forward Otto Porter Jr., who calls his game similar to that of Memphis Grizzlies veteran Tayshaun Prince.

The player who got the most attention was Nerlens Noel from Kentucky, but the 6-foot-10 freshman's availability will be in question because he is recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee after surgery in March.

Noel said he is "ahead of schedule," but being ready for a season opener is overly optimistic and Christmas is more of a target date.

"I've started to shoot some free throws the last week with a different type of brace on," said Noel, who has yet to start running again in his rehab. "I'm 100 percent confident of not just gaining what I had but definitely being stronger, coming back better. During this time that I won't be playing basketball I'll just be working on a lot of things that I needed to polish when I was playing."

Noel called shooting among his needed areas of improvement.

"I think I'm at a good point, but obviously I can't do too much right now," Noel said. "I'm just doing a lot of form shooting right now. I think when I come back I'll be able to knock down that 15-footer and be able to take my game to another level."

Noel paid close attention to what happened with Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose this season. Rose sat out the entire year recovering from the same injury.

"It's an injury you've got to be mindful of," he said. "You can't try to rush back from it. You want to have longevity in your career, just be careful with it."

Noel said he'll be particularly careful about the mental aspect of being comfortable with his return.

"As much as you want to be back, you want to be playing as long as you can in the NBA and not have to reinjure yourself and go through all this again," he said.

If the injury causes Noel to slide, Kansas' Ben McLemore is often mentioned as a likely No. 1 overall pick. He would be the first shooting guard selected No. 1 since David Thompson in 1975, a fact which did not come as a surprise to him.

"I actually looked that up and did some research on that, and seeing that I just realized I could make history," he said.

McLemore compared his skills to Miami's veteran 3-point ace Ray Allen.

"I definitely compare myself to Ray Allen, especially with the shooting ability," he said. "I don't know about the athleticism. I definitely can say I compare myself with him a lot as far as getting myself open coming off screens and stuff like that."

McLemore was one of a handful of healthy elite picks who did not work out. Also among those was national defensive player of the year Victor Oladipo from Indiana. Oladipo insisted NBA teams would get more than they bargain for if they select him.

"Because, first off, I harp myself on defense, and on offense I just figure I surprise people with what I'm capable of doing," he said.