Carter-Williams' leeway with Sixers paying off

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Carter-Williams' leeway with Sixers paying off

The Sixers are just 15 games into the 82-game season, but some things are clearly taking shape, starting with a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.

Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists and three steals in 36.2 minutes a night.

All of those numbers lead their respective categories among rookies.

There is only one other rookie averaging double-figure points, and that's Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (12.7). Only eight first-year players average at least 20 minutes.

Carter-Williams is on the fast track to being the first Sixers rookie since Allen Iverson to be named Rookie of the Year. Since Iverson won the award in the 1996-97 season, the lowest selected player in the draft to earn Rookie of the Year was Amar'e Stoudemire, whom the Suns drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2002 draft.

Carter-Williams came to the Sixers last June at pick No. 11.

“I think there is nothing like opportunity. Let’s start there,” Brett Brown said of Carter-Williams' early success. “He is getting big minutes. He has a green light and a freedom to play and at times make mistakes, and I think that counts for a lot.

“But once he has had that situation, his talent and his skill level is far greater than I imagined. The thing that I still stand by is there is a toughness and a leadership emerging in him that he projects out, and I get excited. He has a far greater intellect as a point guard than I also would have guessed.”

“I came to a great situation,” Carter-Williams said. “I was fortunate and lucky to play and have an opportunity. That is a big part of it, but you also have to perform.”

One could argue that Carter-Williams is putting up All-Star numbers. He and Chris Paul are the only two guards in the league averaging at least 15 points, 6.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game.

If you take away the rebounding category, there are 12 guards averaging a minimum of 15 points and 6.0 assists, but just four play in the Eastern Conference. In addition to MCW, the guards from the East include Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings and Kyrie Irving.

All-Star appearances seem to go hand-in-hand with paying dues, but it can happen for a rookie.

Carter-Williams has shown no lingering effects from the bruised arch he suffered in his left foot that sidelined him for four games. He declared the injury “completely fine.”

MCW feels he is getting the hang of the NBA, but like all players finds answering the bell on a consistent basis to be a work in progress.

“Maintaining every single day,” Carter-Williams said was the hardest adjustment from college to the pros. “Just going out there and performing every day whether it is at a practice or in a game.”

It is interesting to see the identity of the Sixers transforming with Brown pacing the sidelines and Carter-Williams running the on-court show.

Two years ago, their leading scorer, Lou Williams, came off the bench and averaged 14.9 points -- fewest among leading scorers on any NBA team.

Now the Sixers are one of three teams in the league that boast three players averaging 16.7 points or more with Carter-Williams, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes.

Golden State has the scoring trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee, while Portland has LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews.

With the Warriors becoming a true threat out West and the Blazers riding an 11-game win streak, the Sixers hope their future is just as bright.

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”