ATLANTA - Be honest. Some of you think that the 76ers would be better off trading Nerlens Noel. Your comments on social media after - and during - the games in which he struggles prove it.

You hope that the Sixers get the first pick of the NBA draft so they can select Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor. Some of you think that the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor would be a better complement to rehabilitating rookie center Joel Embiid than Noel.

And you could make a good argument for that, considering Okafor has more offensive skills and is sturdier than the 6-11, 217-pound Noel. As a result, some of you believe that general manager Sam Hinkie should ship Noel away for more assets on draft night.

But that would be a bad move - one the Sixers could regret more than trading Nik Vucevic to the Orlando Magic as part of a four-team trade in August 2012 that brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.

"At times, when I saw Nerlens, with all due respect to Andrew Wiggins, I thought maybe we have the rookie of the year," Sixers coach Brett Brown said after Friday's 103-94 victory over the Wiggins-led Minnesota Timberwolves at the Wells Fargo Center.

That's why the Sixers can't afford to make the same mistake they did with Vucevic.

Vucevic's toughness was questioned when he was a Sixers rookie. He eventually took a backseat to Lavoy Allen, another Sixers rookie post player.

But after being traded, the 7-0, 260-pound Vucevic turned into a double-double machine the Sixers wish they still had. At the time, it looked like a great deal. We all know how that ended up - with Bynum's missing the entire season because of knee injuries.

Shipping Noel away also would backfire on the Sixers.

The former Kentucky standout still is learning how to play the game. As he improves offensively and bulks up, Noel will live up to the hype that once projected him as the first overall pick of the 2013 draft.

But some of you have been hard on him, because of that hype and the year he spent doing nothing but supposedly working on his shooting. I get it.

While Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams went on to become the rookie of the year, Noel missed the season to rehabilitate a left knee injury.

He was raw and rusty, which led some to quickly label Noel a bust when he finally started playing in the preseason. But as the season has progressed, Noel's solid performances have overshadowed the lackluster outings.

He made 7 of 8 shots Friday night in finishing with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, and a career-best 6 blocked shots. Going back to the 1985-86 season, David Robinson (twice in 1989-90), Chris Webber (1993-94), and Kevin Garnett (1995-96) are the only other rookies to post those kinds of numbers. He became the first Sixers rookie to post six blocks and four steals in a game since those statistics became official in the 1973-74 season.

In addition to averaging 8.2 points, Noel led all rookies in rebounding (7.2 per game), blocks (1.7), and steals (1.6) heading into Saturday night's game at Atlanta. He is on pace to join Robinson as the league's only rookies ever to average at least 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks.

Yet some criticized him for being dominated by league MVP candidate Anthony Davis in Monday's 99-74 road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. And they point to his finishing with only one rebound in a 104-93 home loss to the Houston Rockets on Nov. 3, another reason to have Okafor replace him.

But what you don't realize is that letting go of a player with Noel's upside could result in a lot of regrets for the Sixers.

@PompeyOnSixers

www.philly.com/deepsixer