76ers’ Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor owe part of their success to Ish Smith

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The Sixers improved play as of late has been encouraging to fans of the team. They’ve now won six of their past 16 games which is miles ahead of their 1-30 start to the season.

Since his return to Philadelphia on Christmas Eve, Ish Smith (15.9 points, 8.1 assists, 1.3 steals) has given a spark to the team offensively which has greatly influenced both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor’s numbers across the board.

On Tuesday, both Noel and Okafor were selected to play in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge for Team USA, consisting of the 10 top first or second year players from the United States, against Team World, consisting of the 10 top first or second year international players.

“On behalf of the entire Sixers organization, we are proud that Nerlens and Jahlil were recognized for their talent, hard work and commitment to their craft,” Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie said. “This is a recognition both for them and their families, who have sacrificed and supported Nerlens and Jahlil during every step of their basketball journeys.”

Noel, who participated in last season’s Rising Stars Challenge, is averaging 10.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals this season. His 52.7 field goal percentage ranks ninth in the NBA.

Okafor is one of the NBA’s best offensive rookies, leading his class with 17.4 points per game. After hovering around 45 percent shooting for the first half of the season, Okafor has been on a tear in 2016 where he’s shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.

Their play speaks for itself, but it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the return of Smith. Coach Brett Brown said it best earlier in the season.

“I think we have such a young team that [Smith’s] personality pairs up with their youthful spirit a lot,” Brown said. “He can get those guys wound up, and they follow his charisma. He’s got big energy. He’s got bounce.”

The Rising Stars Challenge will be a good time for both Noel and Okafor to showcase their talent on a national and now international level.

The game will take place in Toronto on Feb. 12 at 9 p.m. on TNT.

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