Season (Kind of) Preview


It feels like a long time ago that the 76ers were playing regular season basketball. After Joel Embiid went down for the season at the end of January, the 76ers still played some meaningful and competitive basketball, including wins over the Clippers and Celtics. Richaun Holmes flashed, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had his moments and Dario Saric was the focal point of the offense. With the Philadelphia season set to begin Wednesday night, I decided I will write on this site regularly about most 76ers games I watch. There will be gifs, thoughts and just random observations.

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Joel Embiid, five* more years


He made his NBA debut almost a year ago. The atmosphere was electric. You could feel something special in the making. I was there with my cousins Mike and Pat. The game had everything. It was Russell Westbrook’s first game without Kevin Durant following a dramatic summer. It had a doctor flip off Westbrook with not just one, but two middle fingers. And then there was Joel Embiid.

Embiid, the bruising, enthralling seven-foot-two center from Africa, made a nifty turnaround jumper in Andre Roberson’s face for the first two points of his career. It didn’t matter the 76ers lost the game.

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Summer League Debut


NBA Summer League’s product isn’t usually exciting. The quality of basketball looks like a bunch of non-NBA players trying to make an impression on NBA teams. That’s the nature of the league. NBA rookies and some second-year players, however, sometimes demonstrate why many expect them to eventual be superstar-type players. Jaylen Brown owned the first game against the 76ers Monday, prompting many to say he shouldn’t even play the remaining summer league games for the Celtics. Jayson Tatum flashed his scoring potential, particularly late, as Boston used a late surge to complete a comeback win. Tatum, the third pick in the 2017 draft, had the eventual game winner. The 76ers’ top pick, Markelle Fultz, was supposed to be a Celtic as last month’s draft approached. But Danny Ainge thought Tatum was the better prospect, trading picks and receiving a sweet future first via the 76ers. Monday’s game then wasn’t just Markelle’s first NBA-action it was his first opportunity to show Ainge he made a mistake.

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All in On Markelle Fultz


Markelle Fultz didn’t seem like a possibility a month ago for the 76ers. The final trade parameters are official, or at least reported as such, the 76ers send the third overall 2017 pick and the 1, 6-30 protected Lakers 2018 pick. If the pick falls 2-5 next May, the Celtics get the pick. If the pick falls anywhere else, the 76ers have to send a top-1 protected 2019 Kings pick. It’s a strange trade, provided the protections, but it definitely helps Philly that at least one of those beautiful assets will stay in Philadelphia. And keeping that pick if it miraculously becomes the top pick was essential for Colangelo.

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One Week Until Draft Night


The 76ers finally have a top prospect visiting their practice facility Thursday with just a week remaining until draft night. Malik Monk arrived in Philly on Tuesday according to his Instagram. (Side not: Monk’s a fan of the band the 1975, and they are freaking awesome). Monk has been lost in the shuffle certainly because he’s considered a reach at three. But Philadelphia clearly has interest in the six-three two guard as it should. Monk’s a natural scorer, and he’d help spacing big time as early as this year.

The most popular rumor deals with Sacramento trading the fifth and 10th picks to Philadelphia for the third. If Sacramento offers that deal, Bryan Colangelo better have the league office on speed dial. This time of year, however, there’s always rumors. Some of them end up being relatively true, but usually they are just smoke. Another popular rumor is one of the top-three teams assured Josh Jackson he’d be selected in that position. Jackson cancelled a workout with Boston, and scheduled a second with the Lakers, prompting many to assume the Lakers were the team that promised Jackson. The Lakers won’t reveal who they’re picking even a day before the draft. There’s no reason for them to do that, and plus Los Angeles will bring Lonzo Ball in for a second workout. It’s been reported that Ball didn’t necessarily impress the Lakers brass in his first workout, but Ball isn’t the type of player to impress in individual workouts, and the Lakers know that. Ball’s the second best player in this draft, and if for some reason Los Angeles passes on him, the 76ers better not deal three for five and 10. Ball better be a 76er in that scenario.

This weekend Fox is supposed to visit Philadelphia. The interest, I’m sure, is real, but it’s hard to see Fox making sense in Philadelphia. The 76ers don’t appear desperate to draft a point guard for the sake of drafting one. Some teams consider Fox the third best prospect, I’m sure. Sacramento does. Maybe Philly’s bringing in Fox not just because they have interest, but also to show other teams picking after Philadelphia the team has interest. The best scenario for Philly, outside of Markelle Fultz magically becoming a Sixer or the Lakers bypassing Ball, has to be Sacramento trading five and 10 for three, which I’ll breakdown now.

Five and 10 give Philadelphia endless possibilities in a real impressive draft. According to Draft Express, the fifth would be Jayson Tatum and the 10th Frank Ntilikina. If the trade happens, Ntilikina would be an absolute dream at 10. As for the fifth pick, Jonathan Isaac would be the guy I’d hope Philadelphia draft. In this scenario Philly adds two of the most versatile players on offense and defense. Ntilikina might not be a solid shooter right away, but he’s a great fit next to Simmons defensively. He’s also not expected to contribute right away, which is 100 percent OK with the 76ers. The NBA Finals, again, demonstrated the importance of versatility. Colangelo focused on adding wing depth last draft, adding Furkan Korkmaz and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Luwawu-Cabarrot made positive contributions in his first season, while Korkmaz appears to be a player who will make a splash in the NBA as soon as he arrives from Europe.

Let’s say the 76ers keep the third pick with Fultz and Ball presumably gone. What happens now? Jackson appeared to be the guy immediately following the lottery. He’s still could very well be the guy. There hasn’t been much chatter about him in Philadelphia outside of a source saying he was assured a top-three selection. Ian Begley, from ESPN, reported how some in Philly’s front office remaining super interested in Dennis Smith Jr. There’s no such thing as reaching for a player at three as far as I’m concerned. Obviously if you have the opportunity to move down and still get the guy you want, do it. But this notion that Philly picking Smith at three would be some kind of mistake seems trivial. This won’t help anyone, but at this point no name would shock me as Woj reveals Philadelphia’s pick eight minutes before Adam Silver does.

The NBA’s playoffs were a drag. The draft and subsequent offseason, however, will not be. There’s potential for batshit crazy things to happen next week in Brooklyn. What’s LaVar’s reaction if the Lakers bypass on the homegrown superstar? Could Paul George or Jimmy Butler be dealt on draft night? What about Kevin Love? The likelihood of something truly shocking happening appears low, but the NBA has never been short on drama.

 

Photo from Getty Images (Andy Lyons)

Future 76er Josh Jackson?


I didn’t watch the lottery. Work got in the way of seeing the genius Sam Hinkie trade from two years ago come into fruition. The Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia swapped picks. It’s a beautiful thing to have happened. Of course one of my best friends cheers for the Celtics while the other loves the Lakers. And the same thing that happened last year happened this year as all three of our teams made the commercial break to guarantee a top-three pick in a loaded draft.  The results, however, were in reverse with Boston claiming the top pick, Lakers staying at second and Philly picking third. The attention immediately flips to who Philly will select third overall, especially after the presumption of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball going one and two. It’s Josh Jackson, and I don’t think it’s particularly close.

Jayson Tatum’s name will surface. As will Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith. But Jackson’s the guy for the Philadelphia 76ers to add to an already fascinating core. The potential perimeter defense of Robert Covington and Jackson appears substantial. Covington made waves as a dominant wing defender during last season, and Jackson’s defensive potential draws comparisons to former 76er Andre Iguodala. It’s a beautiful situation for Philadelphia to be in from a defensive standpoint. In today’s space and pace NBA, defensive flexibility is a must. Jackson makes too much sense for Philly’s efforts to become the best defensive team in the NBA. Head coach Brett Brown would be enthralled with the idea of pressuring teams with Covington and Jackson with Joel Embiid protecting the rim.  There’s another aspect of basketball, however. And on offense people will question whether Jackson’s the right selection or not.

Jackson shot the ball well from three during the second half of his lone season at Kansas. But it was a small sample size, and college three-point shooting success doesn’t always translate to NBA three-point shooting success. Free-throw shooting usually determines NBA three-point shooting at a more consistent rate, but Jackson struggled from the line. It wasn’t Aaron Gordon bad (42.2 percent), but it wasn’t much better (56.6 percent on 173 attempts) Philly fans probably cringe anytime they hear a prospects a jumper away from being a bona fide stud. Memories of Nerlens Noel working on his jumper, and Michael Carter-Williams clanking shot after shot come to mind. Yeah, Jackson has to re-tool his shot. It’s not a pretty from a mechanical perspective. Kevin O’Connor,  of the Ringer, provided this assessment of Jackson’s shooting mechanics: Poor shooting mechanics needing an overhaul: wide base, elbow out, brings ball to shot pocket early, low and slow release, has a hitch. (By the way, please check out Kevin O’Connor’s NBA Draft Guide, it’s tremendous. I trust Draft Express the most for NBA draft material, but the NBA Draft Guide better be bookmarked on your computers).

Can Jackson ever be an average three-point shooter? Will spacing work with non-shooter Ben Simmons? Don’t the 76ers need to draft Monk to be the team’s perimeter, go-to scorer? These are valid questions. Some won’t be answered until years from now. It takes the top-picks plenty of time to figure the NBA out. And Jackson won’t be any different. Jackson, however, has the superstar potential every NBA team desires. Jackson also isn’t just this athletic wing with little offensive diversity. Jackson was a playmaker at Kansas, averaging three assists per game. His ability to quickly drive by his defender and find a teammate with a solid pass will translate to the next level. The idea is for Embiid to remain healthy. Jackson doesn’t have to be the absolute workhorse on offense. Philly’s style of play will be team friendly. Everyone will get touches, and it’s Embiid who will be the focal offensive point. In that respect, Jackson makes more sense for Philly’s offense than a guy like Tatum. Tatum is a throwback, DeMar DeRozan-type scorer capable of scoring from all over expect from three. Jackson could play some power forward, too. I admit Monk would be the perfect offensive fit for Philly, but basketball is a two-way game, and Jackson’s just a much better overall prospect than the sharpshooting Kentucky freshman.

It’s unclear who Bryan Colangelo favors for the 76ers. Two years ago I tweeted something along the lines of: welcome to Philadelphia, DeAngelo Russell. I assumed Los Angeles would pick Jahlil Okafor. But we know how that ended. The Lakers are destined for Ball, but crazier things have happened. Embiid said after the lottery he expected Fultz and Ball to go one and two, and the two guys he thinks Philly would chose are Tatum and Jackson. I tend to agree with Embiid, but the guy has to be Josh Jackson.

And Jackson tweeted this out in January:

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Featured Image-Andy Lyons / Getty Images

NBA Draft Lottery


The NBA playoffs haven’t be super competitive. The Rockets/Spurs series ended in a dud of a  Game 6 while the Wizards/Celtics has been interesting to say the least. The best is yet to come as the eventual Cavaliers-Warriors Part 3 sets up in early June. But before the conference finals and NBA Finals begin, the marquee May event happens early next week: the NBA Draft Lottery. This year, between $495 sneakers and top-three protected picks, the lottery might be the most interesting it has ever been. The consensus seems there are several All-Star type players in this draft, but maybe only one clear superstar in the making: Markelle Fultz. Some teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic, are apparently enamored with Lonzo Ball and his crazy but “smart” father. If all goes according to plan, this will be the last time the 76ers are in the lottery. Well, except for 2019 with an unprotected Kings pick or the unprotected 2018 Lakers pick. But besides Sam Hinkie’s second (and fourth?) greatest achievements, this could very well be Philadelphia’s final time in the lottery with their own pick. After four straight seasons with top-four odds of landing the top pick, it’s refreshing to know it’s finally over. Playoffs appear around the corner. But for now, let’s get ready for the lottery. I blame the curse of my friend’s house  for Philly selecting third in back-to-back lotteries. Over the years I’ve gone to their house for various events. It’s uncanny how often Philly sports have been eliminated when I’m over the Finnegan’s. The 2010 Phillies, the 2010 Flyers, the 2008 Eagles. I could go on and on. In 2008 I watched Game 5 of the World Series at their house. The game ended up delayed due to rain in the middle. The baseball gods knew the Phillies couldn’t win their second ever World Championship with me at the Finnegan’s. Two days later at the comfort of my own house the Phillies won. So, Philly fans, I apologize for stupidly watching the lottery at the Finnegan’s. It won’t happen again. Last year I watched the lottery with my brother in our basement. This year I have work during the lottery. I don’t know what to do. It’s just a city council meeting, so I can have my phone on for updates. This could be a great self-control practice if I’m able to keep my phone off for two hours and not know the results until afterwards. It’s going to be a game-time decision, for sure.

Like mentioned before, this lottery has major implications. The Lakers desperately want to keep their pick since it doesn’t appear they’ve drafted a franchise-altering player in the past three years. It’s top-three protected, and the Lakers have the third best odds to land the top pick. A real movie-like scenario for Philly would be if the Kings won the lottery. The 76ers would then swap picks with Sacramento, and one of the more dumbfounded trades in NBA history would somehow look even worse. It’s hard to find a more stressful situation than the NBA Lottery. There’s nothing leaked. I swear ESPN drags it out longer each and every year. Last year takes the cake as far as most stressful, especially given how brutal the rookie class played this year.

Joel Embiid represents the 76ers this year. There’s nobody I’d rather see on lottery night than Embiid. Embiid has been rehabbing, and beating Justin Anderson in Madden according to his Instagram. The key of the lottery is getting to the commercial break, and you’re golden. This year’s lottery feels different than ever before. Maybe it’s Boston having an opportunity to play a Eastern Conference Finals game the day before winning top pick. Maybe it’s Sacramento having the Pelicans top-three protected pick. Maybe it’s the loaded 2017 draft class that haul comparisons to 1984, 2003 and 2014.  Or maybe it’s the Lakers desperately wanting to keep their pick. Luke Walton assured Laker fans Los Angeles will keep its pick. He said Magic Johnson let him know. Embiid liked this tweet:

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CSN Philly says the 76ers have a 53 percent chance of getting the Lakers pick. A Philadelphia team already won a “coin flip” this year: The Eagles were awarded the 14th pick to select Tennessee’s Derek Barnett at the NFL combine.

Laker fans already created Lonzo Ball jerseys, even though apparently LaVar “don’t need no advice from Kobe Bryant.” Los Angeles want Ball to be its franchise savior. Philly’s in a weird spot because next year the Lakers pick becomes unprotected for the 76ers if it doesn’t convey this year. I’m sort of in the camp that just wants the pick this year to add a guy like Malik Monk or Jonathan Isaac. Mainly because I like the players in that 4-5 range, but also because the Lakers could acquire Paul George before next season begins, which makes their draft pick next season much better. Luke Walton had some interesting thoughts on tanking in January:

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It wasn’t as damning as people made it appear, at least in my opinion. He basically said Philly has some work to do, which is factual because the 76ers have yet to even sniff the postseason. The Lakers had 16 wins in mid January, and for most of the second half of the season it appeared they were all-out tanking for the worst record in basketball. But for some reason, I guess since Walton believes in good karma, began winning games in April. Los Angeles decided to go 5-2 in April for some reason. If the Lakers indeed lose their pick, they have themselves to blame.

Tuesday night franchises will learn their fate. It’s a silly event. Ping-pong balls play a vital role in the future of NBA successes. The Grizzlies just missed out on LeBron James. The worst NBA team in history just missed out on Anthony Davis. Every team in the lottery searches for the franchise-altering guy. Yeah, teams build successes in more ways than just the draft. Yeah, teams build success in more ways than just the beginning of the draft. But some team will learn it has the opportunity to draft Fultz by 8:30 Eastern on May 16. And maybe that franchise will be changed forever.