March 21, 2015
While the rest of the sports world was watching March Madness (including me), Nerlens Noel continued to pick up steam down the stretch of his rookie year. If the 82-game NBA season is equivalent to the long 1.5-mile track at Belmont Park, the 6-foot-11 center is the jockey that makes his move down the backstretch and ruins a Triple Crown bid. In this case, Noel is attempting to nip other Rookie of the Year candidates, particularly Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins and Chicago's Nikola Mirotic, at the finish line.
Wiggins is probably going to win the award in a runaway because POINTZ, but I actually think Mirotic is the only guy Noel should be chasing. The 20-year-old Sixer dug a huge hole with his lackluster early-season offense, but even that part of his game is creeping toward respectability. Exhibit A: Friday night's destruction of Lou Amundson, Cole Aldrich, and the rest of New York's depleted frontcourt corps. Man, the Knicks are hot garbage. Noel finished with 24 points (9-14 shooting, 5-7 free throws), 14 rebounds, 1 assist, 5 steals, and 3 blocks as the Sixers collected a 97-81 win:
When Noel's offense is clicking like it was against the hapless Knicks, he's a two-way force. The prospect of pairing him up front with Joel Embiid is pretty interesting, especially on the defensive end. For now, it's nice to see the Sixers' most important player going forward (currently on the floor, that is) playing a high level.
Unfortunately, and I'm not trying to be all Debbie Downer, there's a benefit to being really, really terrible like the Knicks. New York will likely get the most ping-pong balls on lottery night, that is if Phil Jackson doesn't trade the pick for current help. With the victory, the Sixers are actually even with the Lakers in the win column for the fourth-worst record.
There's little the Sixers can do differently — They play a million young guys, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and an injured veteran — but while you're a bad team, you might as well take a serious swing at the lottery. The downside of Noel's emergence is how it could hurt their ability to do just that.