THE FAVORITE, maybe soon to be signature, move is a catch on the low right block, a turn to face the basket, a jab-step toward the baseline to throw the defender that way, then a power dribble with the left hand, followed by a ridiculous thunder dunk, with his eyes right around the rim area.

For now, Nerlens Noel hasn't exactly perfected it when he goes against teammates Jarvis Varnado and Brandon Davies in practice.

At times, he'll make the move, but stop short of the power step to the hoop and start dipping his shoulder or bringing the ball down to the defender. Other times the ball will be swatted away, as his dribble stays too high, making it easily available to a defender's swipe.

But when it does work, when that fake toward the baseline has the defender leaning toward Noel's right shoulder and he can cross that right leg over and get the defender on his right hip, take that one strong dribble and rise off his right foot to undefendable territory, it makes you sit up in your seat.

For the past couple of days, Noel has been on display for the media to see. Monday it was in Atlanta following the team's shootaround. Yesterday it was at the team's practice facility at PCOM. The rust from not having played since a torn ACL in his left knee toward the end of his only season at Kentucky felled him is more obvious than anything. But there are just so many signs that he could be everything that people thought he could be in the NBA before the injury that dropped him from the undisputed top pick to the sixth overall.

This very well may whet the appetites of 76ers fans, but that hunger probably won't be satisfied this season. The first time Noel is in uniform could be Summer League play in July.

"I'm sorry to say the same, old answer and he's just moving forward and I can't even really give you a rate," coach Brett Brown said. "You see what I see. Whether he is going to play or not is still up in the air. But I think just to watch him, how can you not get excited about what we're all seeing?

"The first thing that I've fallen in love with is that he is beyond competitive. There is a dog in him, there is a toughness in him that I misjudged, because you look at him and he's got those big eyes at 19 years old and there's a naiveté that no doubt exists within him, as it should. So you're talking to him and he doesn't talk a lot, he listens a lot, he's a fantastic listener. As you go through all those months shooting one-handed with him and then all of the sudden you see him come out here, he's a tremendous competitor. For me, it's the No. 1 quality that makes somebody special. Then you get into the athleticism where he's got that bounce and he can jump twice. People that can miss a blocked shot, hit the floor and go back up are special. And he can do it both with his right hand and his left hand. I think the growth of his actual foul shot will carry over to his real shot, [which] has been excellent this year. I'm proud of the time that we've spent with him. I see a far more mature type of player having gone through all the film sessions and the weight room sessions and on a team bus. He's been with the team, he just hasn't played. This year has been invaluable to him."

It may not be what the fans envisioned, but in this season of building for the future, allowing the knee to fully heal, restructuring a righthanded shot that was being launched from the left side of his body and building a skinny body into one that can handle the rigors of daily NBA life in the paint was the plan. So while the losses have mounted and a losing-streak record tied, the light at the end of the tunnel shines a lot around the 6-11 center with the 1990s hairstyle. The first glance of the product probably will come in the summer.

"He'll do what everybody does. He'll play too fast, he'll try to rush things, he won't let the game come to him, he'll try to impose himself on the game," Brown said. "He's going to be very erratic, he'll be turnover-prone and foul-prone. He'll be all those things that we expect. And apart from that he hasn't played in so long he has such a fantastic instinct and athleticism. Everything is going to be amped up for that reason, also. But that's to be expected. I just think for him to be doing what he's doing now in itself is exciting. The city should be excited."

Six shots

Michael Carter-Williams was named the NBA's rookie of the month for the third time this season yesterday. He also won in October/November and January. For the month, he averaged 14.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists, becoming the first rookie to average at least 14, eight and six in a month since Grant Hill in 1995. He leads all rookies in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.