Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
It's easy to get excited about the Philadelphia 76ers.
In fact, you can go ahead and pencil them in for a playoff spot during the 2014-15 season, because they're going to get loads better during the summer and still play in the weak Eastern Conference. Don't use pen quite yet, though.
It all starts with Michael Carter-Williams, who has become the shoo-in leader of the Rookie of the Year race.
MCW is averaging 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 40.8 percent from the field. His jumper desperately needs fixing, but the rest of his game is undeniably impressive, and it's made a big impact in the City of Brother Love.
When the rookie floor general is in the lineup, Philly is 13-19. When he sits, the team has gone a pathetic 1-10.
How's that for making a big impact?
The Sixers also boast a few more solid players—Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner—but there's no telling how many of them are a part of the long-term plans. Presumably, one or more will be dealt at the deadline for more future assets.
And Philadelphia already has plenty of those. In addition to cap space, general manager Sam Hinkie gets to work with his own first-round pick in 2014, as well as another selection if the New Orleans Pelicans don't fall down into one of the bottom five spots in the Association.
Since the Pelicans currently have a better record than 10 teams (seven of which play in the East), it's a safe assumption that Philadelphia will be adding two rookie first-rounders in 2014-15.
Actually, that number may be three.
We can't forget about Nerlens Noel, after all.
Per an official release on the team's website during the middle of January, Hinkie said the following about the flat-topped center from Kentucky:
After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens' representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work.
That gives fans a glimmer of hope that Noel may be able to play in 2013-14, but the smarter alternative would be letting him rehab for the rest of the year and then try to follow up MCW as Rookie of the Year in 2014-15.
Regardless, he'll be playing for Brett Brown—who has also emerged as a promising building block—in the future. A future that's very bright for these Sixers.