For long stretches this season, the progress seemed to be steady and slow.
Now it’s picking up in a big way.
Not only has Nerlens Noel continued to develop at a rapid pace, he’s worked his way into the discussion for Rookie of the Year.
Noel’s breakout game came last Friday in a 119-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored a career-best 30 points and swept 14 rebounds while guarding DeAndre Jordan for much of the game.
The last rookie to register those numbers was Blake Griffin against the Washington Wizards on March 23, 2011. Before Griffin, the last rookie to come up with at least 30 points and 14 rebounds?
Try LeBron James in ’03.
“I think it’s a great learning experience,” Noel said. “To play against a great veteran team like that which communicates on every defensive possession is a really good experience for us. It’s a great matchup for me to play against Blake and DeAndre, who are two All-Stars in this league and to be able to test myself.”
Sixers coach Brett Brown believes that Noel will continue to be tested. And he believes the best is yet to come.
“I want to continue to grow him,” Brown said. “I haven't really isolated him on the wing this year and I certainly haven't isolated him like you would a point guard at the top of the key. I think to continue to motivate him to continue to guard and take our team that was down and do things like we did. I will continue to do that.”
Jordan had 17 points and 20 rebounds but Noel was able to attack effectively on the offensive end.
In order to take the next step, Noel understands he must be able to find consistency. Not an easy task for a rookie.
Even for one making tremendous progress.
“Every time I play against guys like (that), I want to continue to get better and better,” Noel said. “I try to play my best to help my team win any way possible. It’s really all to my teammates. Ish (Smith) is doing a great job facilitating this offense and getting me the ball whenever I’m open and that’s all you can ask from a point guard. We’re continuing to progress.”