By Ray Boyd

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The season of rankings and predictions is upon us. Every other day, there is a new list as we await the starts of the NFL, NBA and NHL seasons. ESPN has been ranking several categories across the NBA and released their predictions for the likely winners of the Rookie of the Year Award.

Sixers center Nerlens Noel came in third on the list behind Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins who appeared first and second on the list respectively. While the odds here certainly are not stacked against him coming in third, Noel may have a much better chance to take home the award than most people might think.

Winning the award would give the Sixers back to back Rookie of the Year winners which would indeed be quite the endorsement for the future first approach that Sam Hinkie is taking. Noel has one distinct advantage over his fellow rookies. He had the opportunity to sit back and observe the NBA game for an entire season. Think about the usage of a redshirt season in college.

There is a lot to be said for being able to sit back and witness the speed and physicality of the game from the front row while also receiving NBA level coaching and instruction. Nothing about the NBA game should take Noel by surprise this upcoming season. The Sixers spent last season grooming him for his first taste of NBA basketball.

Related: Nerlens Noel Summer League Debut Highlights

There is a pretty clear case to look at when you think of Noel’s ROY campaign. Blake Griffin, the league’s 2010-11 recipient of the award, spent his entire first season on the bench for the Clippers. He averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game when he finally got to play and he appeared in all 82 games.

The similarities stop there for Noel and Griffin as their impacts will be very different. Griffin became the focal point of the Clipper offensive attack while Noel is poised to become the anchor of the Sixers’ defense. Voters for these types of awards tend to lean toward offense, but if Noel shows the athletic prowess and defensive acumen that we all expect him to, it will be hard to ignore his impact.

Noel’s speed and leaping ability should fit well into the Sixers’ up-tempo style of offense and because Brett Brown doesn’t have a roster filled with offensive firepower, Noel will get more than his fair share of scoring chances.

The interesting thing about the top three candidates for the award is that they will all have ample opportunities to make their case. As we’ve addressed, Noel will get his opportunity. Parker will indeed be Jason Kidd’s first scoring option in Milwaukee and Wiggins appears poised to be leaving Cleveland, where his scoring opportunities would have been low alongside LeBron James, for Minnesota where he will get ample opportunities to do what he does best.

This will be a fun race to watch as the season progresses. Maybe another Michael Carter-Williams will shock us all and steal the award. Sixers fans may not have a whole lot to cheer for this upcoming season, but back to back Rookie of the Year winners could be the pride of the team.

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