LOS ANGELES - It has been 62 years since someone averaging fewer than 11 points per game won the NBA's rookie-of-the-year award: Fort Wayne Pistons forward/center Don Meineke averaged 10.7 points to win the inaugural award in 1953.
This season, 76ers center Nerlens Noel is making a case to follow in his footsteps.
The 6-foot-11, 223-pounder is averaging 9.5 points and leads all rookies in rebounds (7.9 per game), blocked shots (1.9), and steals (1.8). He is also the only player to rank in the top 10 in blocks (seventh) and steals (ninth).
In Friday's 97-81 victory over the New York Knicks, Noel finished with a career-best 23 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocked shots. He became the first rookie to finish with those numbers since Shaquille O'Neal had 27 points, 17 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocks with Orlando in 1993.
Friday's performance marked Noel's 13th double-double, which was four ahead of Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, the rookie with the second-most double-doubles.
And it's not that Noel is taking over games - he has been flat-out dominant since the all-star break. The 20-year-old has been dunking on and rejecting elite post players such as Roy Hibbert, Pau Gasol, and Andre Drummond. He has been mentioned in the same sentences with Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson after recent performances.
But is it enough for Noel to get the votes for rookie of the year? Not likely.
The league is obsessed with scoring, and because of that, offensive-minded players have dominated voting for the award. So if Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Andrew Wiggins continues to produce double-digit scoring, it will be tough for Noel to get the support he would need. But he's worthy of consideration.
"You saw it last year with [former Sixers point guard] Michael [Carter-Williams]," coach Brett Brown said. "Michael burst on the scene and kind of won the award on the opening night and never let it go.
"Andrew has retained the crown for the duration of the season, and you can see why. He's had a [heck] of a year."
Wiggins has scored at least 10 points in 15 consecutive games and in 40 of his last 42. The Canadian also has scored 30 or more points three times this season.
"I feel the award should go to the best player," said Noel, making his case. "Scoring is scoring. Flash is flash. But then again, who helps their team win games and keeps them in games in so many different ways?"
Wiggins' highlights include scoring 33 points in an emotionally charged game against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted him first overall in June. Cleveland traded him to the Timberwolves in August, a month after James signed on for his second stint with his hometown squad.
Meanwhile, Noel's highlights include blocking a rookie-record nine shots against the Hibbert-led Pacers on Feb. 22. He has recorded five or more blocks on five occasions and at least two blocks in 33 games.
Sixers shooting guard Jason Richardson played two seasons in Orlando with three-time league defensive player of the year Dwight Howard. Richardson was asked whether he sees similarities between Noel and Howard, now with the Houston Rockets.
"Yes," Richardson responded. "Not even Dwight - I see Shaq. . . . He definitely could be that. He's so smart on the defensive end with the blocks and steals."
Noel was mentioned along with Olajuwon when the rookie had 10 or more rebounds and four-plus steals in four straight games from March 4 to March 11. That was the longest streak since a four-game stretch by Olajuwon in November 1988.
Noel also is on pace to join Robinson as the only rookies in NBA history to average at least 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals.
"I think I bring a lot of things to the table," Noel said. "Not only just scoring, being able to facilitate, block shots, steals. I try to affect the game any way possible."
Some detractors will say Noel struggled early on. But that can be attributed to his being rusty after sitting out last season. Noel needed time to believe in the left knee he spent more than a year rehabilitating after suffering season-ending tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his lone season at Kentucky.
However, his overall productivity has been improving.
"I think you have to pay attention to Nerlens [for rookie of the year]. How can you not?" Brown said. "His defensive presence, his ability to block, what he's now doing in regards to finishing, I think he has to be in the mix of that conversation."
Nerlens Noel is in the discussion for rookie of the year. Here's how the Sixer compares with the favorite, Andrew Wiggins.
MPG FG% FT% RPG BPG PPG
Noel 30.7 45.8 61.2 7.9 1.9 9.5
Wiggins 35.1 43.3 74.2 4.4 0.6 15.8