Kazemi playing only way he knows how for Sixers

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Kazemi playing only way he knows how for Sixers

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Sixers fans will quickly grow to love second-round pick Arsalan Kazemi.

The Iranian-born 23-year-old is a hustler who is constantly in motion and finds his way to the backboard.

“He is amazing,” Sixers assistant coach Michael Curry said. “It is easy to see why his teammates and all his coaches like him. He just plays hard. Not the most athletic, not the fastest. Very seldom does he miss an assignment. He is always in the right place. He makes effort plays and he gets a lot done because of that. He has been doing well. I am happy to see that.”

Kazemi scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting Thursday afternoon in the Sixers’ 90-89 loss to the Magic during Orlando Pro Summer League action (see story). The 6-foot-7, 226-pound forward also grabbed six rebounds.

Kazemi hopes to make a reputation on the glass in the NBA just like he did in college. In three of his four collegiate seasons, Kazemi averaged double-figure rebounds. As a senior at Oregon he pulled down 10 per contest, the 15th-highest mark in the country.

From 2004 to 2006, the NCAA’s leading rebounder was Paul Millsap, who averaged 12.7 boards per game at Louisiana Tech. Millsap was selected 47th overall by Utah in the 2006 draft and has since averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds a game in seven seasons with the Jazz. That production landed Millsap a two-year, $19 million free-agent deal with the Atlanta Hawks this offseason.

Kazemi, who was selected 54th overall in last month’s draft, has closely followed Millsap and would like nothing more than to follow in the forward’s footsteps.

“As a rebounding guy, Paul Millsap was leading the nation in college for three years,” Kazemi said. “I was on top for a while and he came into the league and started improving on his game, so that is the closest guy I can think of [having a similar game].”

Kazemi’s offense is nowhere near that of Millsap when the Hawks’ new big man entered the league in 2006. However, Kazemi is sure he can develop his overall game with time.

“I have to get stronger and I need to work on my outside game and shooting from the corner,” he said. “Those are the two big things I need to work on.”

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie has no doubt that Kazemi will put in the work to become a solid NBA player.

“He is a lunch-pail kind of guy,” Hinkie said. “People may say he is undersized, but I say look around and see there are a lot of undersized guys that make an impact bigger than just their size. I think he has shown who he is this week. He is a winning basketball player.

“He knows who he is, that’s important. And he plays hard all the time. That’s not refreshing as a fan. That’s important if you care about winning and he does and he shows it on every possession.”

The summer league is a time to experiment. In Kazemi’s case he has seen action at the small forward after playing mainly as a power forward in college.

“He plays the four the best right now,” Curry said. “Athletically that fits him. He is not quite the size. Some matchups at the three he is able to do a really good job as well.”

“I like to play the three,” Kazemi said. “I played the three for my national team during world championships, so I know that I can play both positions.”

Given his status as a second-round draft pick and the Sixers’ need to have some ready-made NBA players to fill out the bench, Kazemi’s grip on a final roster spot is uncertain. Still, at some point Sixer fans will see more of the player nicknamed “The Beast From the Middle East” and he is sure they will enjoy how he performs on the court.

“I kind of felt that at Oregon they didn’t know me at the beginning, but after awhile they really liked me because of the way that I play,” Kazemi said. “Fans and coaches all love that player that plays hard, so I am just going to keep on doing what I am doing. As a rookie going into the league you just have to play defense and make the hustle plays and bring energy to the team and that is what I am going to do.”

Charles Barkley: Sixers can be 'really good, really quickly'

Charles Barkley: Sixers can be 'really good, really quickly'

Charles Barkley is jumping on the Sixers bandwagon.

"I think the Sixers gonna get really good, really quickly, but it all depends on (Joel) Embiid," Barkley said. "They're not gonna win a championship the next couple years, but I think they can really become a perrenial playoff team in the next three years."

Sounds good, right? Not so fast. There are a lot of "ifs" according to Barkley. 

Most of those "ifs" ride on the health of center Joel Embiid. If the big man gets healthy, and the Sixers can resolve the "glutton of big guys," Barkley likes the Sixers chances.

"I think the most important thing they need to figure out is if Joel Embiid is going to be healthy. ... I like (Jahlil) Okafor and I like (Nerlens) Noel, but they gotta figure out if Joel Embiid is going to be healthy. 

"I like Ben Simmons, but that team's got a long way to go," Barkley said.

To hear more of Barkley's thoughts on the Sixers' future, watch the full video above. 

 

 

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS -- New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power -- and dominant on the inside -- the U.S. men's basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"There's a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "These are very good guys."

A U.S. team that hasn't lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

"Nothing is for sure," Durant said. "We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way."

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

"Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world," Argentina's Luis Scola said. "That's a big difference in their favor."

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren't any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

"The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be," Krzyzewski said. "But we really have an inside presence on the boards."

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony -- the only two players from the 2012 team -- to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green's 12 minutes the least played by any American.

"We're going to have fun and we're going to enjoy ourselves," Anthony said. "If it's not fun it's not worth it. We're going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we're going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal."

Durant finished as the game's high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

The Spurs have been one of the most consistent NBA teams for nearly 20 years. They have made 19 consecutive postseason trips and won five championships during that span. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are entering a phase of building a new foundation with a group of young players. They are working to improve upon a 10-win season, let alone making the playoffs.

Yet four-time NBA champion Manu Ginobili saw more than records when weighing his options in free agency. The veteran point guard looked to the Sixers sidelines and was intrigued.

Head coach Brett Brown previously worked in the Spurs basketball operations department and on the coaching staff under Gregg Popovich. He was part of four championship teams in San Antonio. When the Sixers approached Ginobili this offseason, he gave them consideration before returning to the Spurs, where he has spent his entire 14-year career.

“The fact that Philadelphia had a great coach and a person I appreciate so much as Brett Brown, made it more appealing in the case the Spurs didn’t happen,” Ginobili told The Vertical on Thursday. “But the Spurs happened and they always had the priority.”

The Sixers reportedly offered Ginobili, 38, a two-year, partially-guaranteed deal worth around $30 million. The Spurs first offered him a one-year, $3 million contract. Ginobili ended up re-signing with the Spurs for one-year, $14 million. 

“It was not my main option. I never wanted to leave San Antonio,” Ginobili said. “But I had to listen to all the options that are there.”

Ginobili averaged 9.6 points, 3.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 19.6 minutes coming off the bench last season. The Sixers are adding veteran leadership, and Ginobili is one of the most experienced in the game. In addition to his reliability at the position, he could have been a mentor to the entire team and worked with Ben Simmons to help hone his point guard skills as the rookie big man plays point-forward. His years of international competition would have gelled with incoming players such as Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Sergio Rodriguez. 

The Sixers signed point guards Jerryd Bayless (three years, $27 million) and Rodriguez (one year, $8 million) this summer. T.J. McConnell and Kendall Marshall still are under contract. Last season's starting point guard Ish Smith signed with the Pistons at the start of free agency.