Over the last few weeks, the most improved player on the Philadelphia 76ers has been quite obvious.
He’s also one of the centerpieces of their future – Nerlens Noel.
On Feb. 20 in a 106-95 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Noel became the first rookie in NBA history to register at least 12 points, nine rebounds, nine blocked shots and four steals in a game since blocks and steals were officially tracked in 1972-73.
Last Saturday in a 92-84 win over the high-flying Atlanta Hawks, Noel had 11 points, 17 rebounds and five steals for his second straight double-double, fourth in the last six games and his rookie-best 11th of the season.
Noel is the first rookie since Shaquille O’Neal on March 27, 1993, to post at least 11 points, 17 rebounds and five steals.
Aside from the impressive statistics, Noel continues to compete at an extremely high level.
The increased energy level has been noticeable.
“I do think he feels an added responsibility since the trade,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the deadline deals involving Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels. “He sees that we need him. We are trying to grow leaders and leadership groups with our young guys. I think the fact that we have played 63 games and he has only missed four games -- he is playing again. I would not have guessed that he would miss that few given his body type and the rigors of the NBA.
“His leadership, his toughness and his improvement in his actual game … he’s most definitely moving in the direction that we all hoped he would.”
Noel refuses to put a ceiling of his development as a rookie. He’s simply focusing on improving as much as possible.
“I think I could have a little more,” Noel said of his statistics. “I feel good. I am 20 years old and I am moving well. I am just looking to get better and better. I have a lot more work to do. I’m excited about the rest of the season and helping the team get better.”
Noel played only 24 games as a freshman at Kentucky before suffering a torn ACL. After sitting out all of last season, he’s been thrilled to be back on the court.
And the progress has been evident.
“Nerlens has so much talent and he’s going to be a terrific player,” said Sixers veteran guard Jason Richardson. “He’s so gifted in so many ways. We see it every day in practice. He’s just beginning to show what he can do. I can’t wait to see the finished product.”