Nerlens Noel likely would have been the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft if not for injuries. He was thought to be a piece of the Sixers' puzzle. But he is becoming more than a part of Sam Hinkie's master plan -- he is evolving into a franchise-caliber player.
Last Friday night, Noel went off for a scintillating 30 points and 14 rebounds against a formidable Clippers team that features a front court of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin; a tall order, no question, but one that Nerlens had no troubles with. The blossoming rookie then accounted for 19 points and 14 rebounds Monday night against the Lakers.
We knew that he could rebound and defend, but he is now showing how his offensive game has evolved and how he can actually stay on the court and avoid the injury bug. Noel is averaging 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 31 minutes of action. He also has played 71 games of a potential 75, which is shocking to many.
Make no mistake: This kid is locked in right now, confidence bubbling over, and I am hoping Hinkie doesn't deal him on draft night in late June.
Noel has had two five-game double-digit rebound streaks this season. The last rookie to do so was Griffin. The accomplishments get better. How about being mentioned in the same sentence as Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson? Yes, those four iconic big men.
From March 4 through 11, Noel had a stretch in which he compiled 10-plus rebounds and four-plus steals over a four-game span. That matches a feat that Olajuwon accomplished in 1988.
On March 6, Noel went for 10 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists against Utah. He was the fourth rookie to accomplish that. Malone did it in 1985-86. Tom Gugliotta and Chris Paul also put together that stat line as rookies.
Exactly two weeks later, Noel put up 23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocks. That was a feat that Shaq pulled off during his rookie campaign in 1993. Finally, on March 25, Noel had 14 points, 15 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 blocks, which was also executed by Robinson back in 1989. (Stats courtesy of the Sixers, via Tom Moore of Calkins Media.)
Noel is evolving into a franchise player. To be that, you don't need to be a 25-point-per-night player, you don't need to be in the running for MVP, and you don't need to be Anthony Davis.
I would argue that big men such as Dikembe Mutombo (in Denver) and Ben Wallace (in Detroit) were franchise-caliber players who never filled the stat sheet with points. Yet they were impact players who made their respective teams formidable and set a tone within their franchise. They had an attitude, a toughness, energy and swagger that rubbed off on the rest of the team.
There's zero question in my mind that Noel can be a 15/10/2/2 stat-line contributor for a decade. Put that production from Noel around Joel Embiid, potentially D'Angelo Russell through this year's draft and Dario Saric, and I think you have a nucleus that if all goes well could result in a 50-win team in a couple of years. That is of course, if Hinkie doesn't get an itchy trigger finger and deal Noel for other picks or players, or if the Sixers get the first pick and select Duke's Jahlil Okafor.
You can't guarantee anything in Hinkie's world. But this much is certain: Noel is evolving into a franchise player, and it has been fun to watch during Tank-fest 2.0.