By Sam Bush

Close you eyes and imagine Nerlens Noel blossoming into a full-fledged NBA star.

Whereas last year, the then-Sixers rookie impressed us with his defensive prowess and his gradually improving rebounding and offense, this year he has opened the eyes of everyone, especially his tough-to-impress coach.

“I see daylight,” Brett Brown said last night after the Sixers lost at Cleveland.

Noel is beginning to emerge as an offensive threat. In his last two games, Noel has 35 points on 17 for 34 shooting, and with 12 rebounds in back-to-back games, he is averaging 10.8 rebounds this season, good for sixth in the NBA.

What impressed Brown was Noel’s five steals, which helped the Sixers forced the Cavs to give it up 17 times.

“I think the five steals shows how well-rounded he has been playing,” Brown said.

“He’s just growing up right before our eyes. He feels comfortable taking an 18-foot jump shot and when he misses it doesn’t look ugly. It looks like he is capable. When he puts his mind to it and he wants to pound, he can go right jump hook, left jump hook and he can get to that freely. I thought he made some good moves in the open court.”

Noel also was matched up against All-Star Kevin Love, a stretch-four known to cause mismatch problems for many teams. But against Noel, Love shot just 5 for 16, including 2 for 10 from three-point range.

Still, last season at this stage, Noel wasn’t about to stray outside of the paint to size up a jump shot. That’s just more proof of how far his game has come.

“It’s a variety of things,” Noel said. “My skill set is a little better and my confidence has grown a lot. I’m comfortable on the block and I can react a little better with the same moves.”


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