THE FOUR words could be taken as very flattering by the current point guard and very damning by the former.

Following Monday's 113-111 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in which he scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, forward Nerlens Noel said of Ish Smith: "He's the first true point guard I've ever really played with."

Since the trade deadline resulted in Michael Carter-Williams being sent to the Milwaukee Bucks and Smith was signed as a free agent, Noel's numbers have been skyrocketing.

In the 20 games since Smith's arrival, Noel has averaged 11.1 shots a game, up from the 7.8 before that. He has scored in double figures in 15 of those games and has looked way more natural at the offensive end than at any other time. He is averaging 14.2 points since Smith came on board (8.4 before). In March, the numbers were 14.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 2.1 blocks.

To lay blame on Carter-Williams may not be entirely accurate, but Smith does have a confidence in throwing the ball to Noel in situations that MCW never did. Often times Noel would appear to be open on pick-and-rolls, but didn't get the ball from MCW, who often looked for his own shot rather than dealing. When he did dish, Noel often was caught off-guard and fumbled or entirely missed good passes.

Smith has found a nice relationship with Noel, feeding him the ball more and in better spots than Noel has been used to.

"He making me look good," said Smith. "I know people keep saying [it's me], but he's making me look good. All I have to do is put it somewhere around the rim and he's going to get it. We're still trying to shore up some things. Like in Cleveland, they did a good job in the second half taking the lob away. So we're still trying to figure out how, down the stretch, we can figure out some different things. Coach [Brett Brown] was talking to us about it. We're still trying to work out some kinks.

"I've never really clicked with somebody that quick, that fast. I've never had anybody that I've played with that athletic. Well, Dwight [Howard] was pretty athletic. But Nerlens, he goes and gets everything."

With a defensive ability that could reach elite status, improvement at the offensive end for Noel could produce a serious staple in the rebuilding process.

Said Brown: "When I see those two talk at the level that they talk at lately, and it's not force-fed by a coach, it's just two players talking to each other and [Smith] saying 'Hey, I think I can get you early on a pocket pass. I don't always have to go one extra dribble and throw it to the corner of the backboard and let you go get it because they're collapsing. I can hit you here or flip the angle of your screen.' And Nerlens will say, 'No, no, no. I kind of like rolling out to my left.'

"It's a relationship that is growing. Ish helps Nerlens and the communication that they have is free and just very productive and very healthy between a point guard and a post man. [It's] really encouraging."

Eye-opening, really. To think that Smith is the point guard of the future for this organization isn't realistic. Perhaps he has cemented himself as a backup, once the team finds its lead guard of the future. What Smith has done is bring out an offensive confidence in Noel that many didn't see coming, at least not this quickly.

"He finds me whenever I'm open and, honestly, he's the first true point guard I've ever really played with," Noel said Monday. "He said I'm one of the few elite big men that he's played with so I think we complement each other so well."

On Twitter: @BobCooney76

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